[Updated August 2023; originally published January 2023.]
The labor market has undergone a monumental shift over the past few years. Driven by the effects of the pandemic, many workers – and call centers – have gone remote. Attracting similar attention in the headlines, huge numbers of workers have also outright resigned, triggering what’s been dubbed the “Great Resignation.”
The fallout of these developments will continue to be one of the defining features of work in many fields, including the contact center industry. However, at this point, what’s defining one of the biggest call center trends of 2023 isn’t the resignations themselves but how contact centers are responding.
This trend article is part of the Convoso series, “Outbound Contact Center Trends,” helping you stay current with issues, technologies, best practices, and strategies that impact your business. Our aim is to provide tools and guidance that will improve productivity, efficiency, and ultimately profitability for your sales and lead generation team.
From Burnout to Engagement: Why Call Centers Must Zero in on Their Workforce’s Needs
Call centers are no strangers to high turnover rates. In fact, we’ve covered the important issues of call center burnout and agent stress previously on this blog. But something has changed in the wake of the Great Resignation.
Employees have left businesses in droves, citing low pay, lack of advancement opportunities, and disrespect as the top reasons why. This time, it’s been different than the regular turnover, though: due to businesses’ need to add and retain workers during the resulting labor shortage, workers have gained significantly more bargaining power.
So, in the call center industry’s year ahead, businesses will need to be working with both new and existing employees to meet their needs and demands. This focus on improvement, however, presents an opportunity. By placing a focus on the needs of their agents, call center leaders can drive greater engagement and, in turn, greater performance.
engaged and satisfied call center employees are 8.5 times more likely to stay than leave within a year. Not only that, they’re 16 times more likely to refer friends to their company.
How will businesses achieve this call center employee engagement in 2023? These five strategies are a great place to start.
1. Establish Clear Lines of Communication
A lack of communication and support from one’s manager has been cited as one of the top causes of burnout. To develop stronger relationships and build trust and rapport, managers and decision-makers should double down on transparency and establish open lines of communication between all levels of their call centers. In addition to regular interactions and team meetings, managers can encourage openness by scheduling consistent one-on-one meetings with agents, including some dedicated to work-related topics and some that can offer a more casual break time.
2. Provide a Clear Path Forward
One of the biggest benefits of employee-manager communication is—or should be—the ability to establish clear expectations on both sides. Managers can make clear the sort of work they expect. And perhaps more importantly for driving call center agent engagement, said agents can gain an understanding of what they can achieve in return for that work.
Using a template such as a 30-60-90 day plan, teams can work out learning goals and training priorities. In addition, businesses should be able to provide a clear vision of what lies beyond those first months, being transparent and laying out all available opportunities for advancement.
Call center veteran and expert Heather Griffin says a well-developed career progression program is crucial for holding onto your most efficient agents. “[A good program] gives people hope, and it helps with retention.” Establish clear timelines and expectations for agents to take on more responsibilities and move up the ladder. “For example, if you’re here for six months and you meet these expectations, you’re eligible to lead a training program.”
3. Offer the Right Kind of Incentives
There’s no escaping the fact that you’ll need more sound communication and clear expectations to improve call center agent engagement. The right kind of incentives can also motivate agents to be at their best—and drive results for your call center as a whole:
- Make leaderboards. Turn the average workday into a friendly competition with leaderboards that show off top agent performances.
- Create competitions. Supplement this with regularly scheduled sales competitions among your team. Get creative and mix things up over time: Pick a KPI you need to improve and hold a day-long competition that rewards the top performer. Offer mystery prizes for monthly sales leaders. Group your employees into teams to increase cooperation and give a leg up to new agents. The choices for friendly competition at your call center are practically endless.
- Incentivize compensation. Craft a compensation plan that includes rewards for performance against productivity metrics as well as QA and utilization scores. Use other tools like fast start bonuses and spiffs to give out on-the-spot awards.
4. Focus on Building a Successful Culture, Not Just Successful Sales
The approaches above are part of it, but in some cases tackling issues of call center agent engagement, stress, and burnout can require an overall reset of company culture. Not nearly enough organizations appear to have a culture that is truly employee-first when just 24% of employees feel strongly that their organization cares about their overall well-being.
Developing an employee-first culture that’s built on care and camaraderie should be item one on the agenda of every call center looking to better their engagement.
So, beyond setting expectations and offering the right compensation, an employee-first culture is one that invests in its employees’ education and progress. This is the sort of investment that pays dividends: according to LinkedIn’s Workforce Learning Report, 94% of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn.
To do this, sales expert Jason Cutter of Cutter Consulting says to start by making company culture a core part of your agent onboarding. Your agents need to be sold on more than just their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities; they need to be able to buy into your company’s vision.
Beyond onboarding, devise dedicated trainings for individuals and larger groups that focus on both hard, on-the-job skills as well soft skills and team-building. Add to this powerful call center reporting tools that aren’t just trained on essential call center KPIs but are used to identify coaching opportunities.
5. Using Software to Drive Greater Call Center Agent Engagement
While a certain degree of frustrating repetition—not to mention a certain number of angry customers—is unavoidable in the call center industry, today’s software has the ability to eliminate tedium and friction through call center automation.
AI-driven tools like accurate answering machine detection and intelligent virtual agents are making agents’ lives easier and increasing operational efficiency simultaneously. Meanwhile, essential capabilities like omnichannel outreach and workflow automation are increasing the opportunities for call center agents to do what they do best: connect with customers to solve problems and close sales.
Speaking at a webinar on the future of employee experience, consultant Colin Taylor hit the nail on the head when talking about a formula for how contact centers can build a better future: “If we want to have a stable, engaged, and happy workforce, we need to equip them with the training, tools, and support that they need to be successful.”
Ultimately, it’s that simple—and that’s how it will be done in 2023. By shifting a focus back onto the needs of their employees, call centers will drive the engagement and the performance they need to chart a better course in 2023 and beyond.