Tips to Reduce New Agent Turnover

By Bob Cowen

Improving retention of newly hired agents will have an immediate impact on your organizations’ viability. Reducing the ongoing cost and effort of hiring and training new agents is one benefit, but the real payoff is that key performance indicators (KPIs) go up and rookie mistakes go down.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of “the power of small wins,” it is discussed in the Harvard Business Review article, “The Power of Small Wins” by Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer. The article contains excellent examples and lessons. It’s a simple concept.

Brooks Mitchell, PhD, describes it as “rewarding the daily homework” in his article, “New Ways to Curb Employee Tardiness, Absenteeism, and Turnover by Using Employee Selection and Online Games.” In part of his tutorial, Dr. Mitchell suggests rewarding early tenure to better retain new hires, thus bridging the gap in the new job morale curve. The same principle applies to solving other challenges. In a call center, the consequences of newly hired employee turnover multiply. The question is how to apply the power of small wins to reduce newly hired employee turnover at call centers.

Step into Their Shoes: Spend a few hours sitting with and listening to the calls of one of your recently hired agents. It’s important that you see his or her emotional state when doing this. How many rude callers do they encounter? How many times are they sworn at or hung up on? If they are playing calls, how many “no, thanks” or similar rejections per hour do you hear?

Would you remain positive and encouraged? Your new agent most likely started the job with high expectations, only to find that much of what they hear is negativity and rejection.

Where Does This Lead? You know the answer. Many of your agents become discouraged and start down a self-fulfilling, slippery slope that leads out the door. They question their abilities and their decision to join your call center. Discouragement sets in because they are steeped in negativity and rejections throughout their shift.

It is a shock to their system, their ego. They wonder, “Am I cut out for this?” “Is this what I want to do for the next few years?” “How does someone do this day-in and day-out?” “I feel so unproductive.” The positive calls they receive can become lost in the overwhelming sea of negativity.

Small Wins to the Rescue: Most organizations don’t review their employees frequently enough, especially newly hired agents. Yes, this can be a labor-intensive process, but even more costly is replacing employees. Remember your days in grade school, high school, and college? You received continuous feedback in the form of grades, quizzes, papers, and exams.

Good feedback reinforced your study habits. You always knew where you stood long before you received your final grade. Going into your final exam, you knew exactly what you had to score in order to get a specific final grade for the course. You may not have realized it, but you were the recipient of “the power of small wins.”

What to Do: The simple answer is to amplify the incentive reward for every positive event for newly hired agents until they have accepted the fact that their day is usually going to be filled with negatives and frequent rejections. An “event” does not need to be an appointment or sale; it could simply be asking for the sale, making a referral, or some other precedent activity.

Offer constructive and positive guidance when you see that a better job can be done. Encourage and reward employees for bonding activities with more tenured agents, giving rewards to both the new and tenured agents. View examples of the new job morale curve, creating one that reflects positively on your organization.

This will be an enlightening lesson. If you measure turnover annually, reducing new hire turnover will have a compounded impact on your annual rate. However, measuring turnover quarterly or monthly results in greater accountability and responsibility for those who can affect it.

What Not to Do: Don’t just accept high turnover of newly hired agents as normal. Simple, inexpensive, cost-effective solutions are readily available when you understand the principles of “the power of small wins” or, as Brooks Mitchell says, what it means to “reward the daily homework.”

Bob Cowen is with Snowfly, provider of Internet-based employee incentives, recognition, and loyalty programs. For more information, call 877-766-9359 or email rcowen@snowfly.com.

[From the October/November 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]