Staff motivation and retention
If I am perfectly honest, my strategy for call centre staff retention currently amounts to plugging gaps as they arise - which is often! Demotivation and boredom are conspiring to keep levels of employee turnover frustratingly high. What avenues - either cultural or technological - should I be exploring in order to slow up staff churn?
Take a progressive stance
A challenge indeed! However, there are powerful steps that, if taken quickly, will not only stem the tide of turnover, but also make your organisation a magnet for prospective employees. Your company will establish a positive reputation for attracting the best people, and for looking after them. First, ensure you provide full childcare facilities - not simply a créche. Second, give people the option - and equipment - to work from home if they so wish. Third, ensure the office is designed in a friendly, community style, not like pigging pens - adopting some Feng Shui principles, perhaps.
Finally, give your staff additional interesting work that involves research or accessing the Internet. Regardless of job type, people's number one motivator is to feel valued. In addition, consult and take heed of your team members: ask everyone, individually, what they feel could be done to make their worktime of greater interest, and act upon their suggestions.
Dr Robina Chatham
lecturer in information systems, Cranfield
Identify and enhance motivators
You should start off by asking your employees about their work and what aspects they like and dislike - you need to know their hearts and minds. You will find that for some it is merely a job that will give little pleasure. For employees who fit into this category, resign yourself to the fact that you can do little to retain them long term.
You will find others, however, who enjoy many aspects of the job. Find out which aspects give pleasure and work to enhance them. It may be, for example, the social element, or the fact that they are helping other people, that make the job rewarding for them. Make sure such needs are satisfied - I have seen one call centre left without any staff when management, in an attempt to improve efficiency, told employees to cut out the "pleasantries" and keep to business. The joy had gone from the job, so they left. Also, find out which aspects demotivate staff and work to reduce them.
A common demotivator for call centre staff is the lack of technical back-up. If technical support people do not fulfil the promises made by call centre staff, those staff will feel they have let their customers down. Get your call centre staff and technical support people together regularly to make sure they are working in harmony.
Build social relationships
A recent survey of call centres showed that the environment and interactions that agents have with others is a deciding factor when looking for an alternative call centre position. Thus, you should start by considering the following questions:
- Are all your agents seated in booths, with little team/people interaction apart from the voice on the end of the phone?
- Do you provide areas for staff to take breaks?
- Are staff incentivised as teams?
- Are there regular activities to build relationships outside the controlled environment of the call centre?
It is important to have "quality team time", while maintaining service standards - good scheduling and the utilisation of resource planning software can greatly aid this. To reduce boredom within the call centre, you should consider multi-skilling agents, asking them to take a mix of inbound and outbound calls, and utilising predictive dialler capabilities within your call centre system.
Use technology to empower
Motivation can be raised by changing from a pure cost-saving culture, to one where the focus is on adding value to the customer's experience. This involves a change in style. Fulfilling customer need and enriching that interaction becomes more important than simply minimising the time of the call and the productivity of call centre staff. This, in turn, demands a new style agent who becomes a multi-skilled customer manager.
Technology, too, can help in this area. Ensuring that agents have as much relevant knowledge of the customers and their requirements as possible enhances customer satisfaction. Organisations also need to ensure that customers find it easy to work with the call centre - for example, by ensuring that they are only asked to provide information once. The effective use of good computer telephony integration enables the operator to service the call in a way that impresses the customer. With today's technology, there is no reason why any company cannot do this and, of course, it will improve the job satisfaction of call centre staff.
The other big technological issue is the Internet. Call centres need to be integrated in the customer interaction systems that will become the norm for most companies. Tomorrow's call centres will be different from those of today. Many of the more mundane tasks will be removed and the significance of the role of call centre staff will increase. This should improve motivation, and call centre management needs to take a leading role in setting and implementing the transition strategy.
More and more organisations are adding heads of e-commerce and knowledge management to their management portfolio, and I sense that mine might soon follow suit. On the one hand, I shall be glad to be free of these issues. On the other, I am wary of ending up as a dogs-body, responsible only for sourcing staff and supplying the plumbing to facilitate these more glamorous roles. I would welcome tips on forging relationships with these new colleagues.