Boosting contact-center performance through employee engagement


Here is an excerpt from an article written by Whitney Gretz and Raelyn Jacobson for the McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete article, check out others, learn more about the firm, and sign up for email alerts, please click here.

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Companies that can keep service agents on the job longer not only reduce operating costs but also improve customer satisfaction. Actions in four areas can have a profound impact—and they are within every contact center’s reach.
The nature of customer care is changing. Customers are becoming increasingly comfortable with online self-service tools. The remaining live calls to contact centers are often more complicated to resolve, so providing consistent high-quality customer service depends on experienced, knowledgeable agents with proper training and support. Failure to retain these talented employees can have significant repercussions: employee attrition can erode customer satisfaction while increasing operating costs.
Each new agent hire is estimated to cost the contact center $10,000 to $20,000 in training, direct recruiting costs, and lost productivity during ramp up.
Since longer-tenured agents have more expertise and institutional knowledge to bring to customer interactions, improving employee retention also has a direct impact on the quality of customer care. New McKinsey research suggests a need for companies to go back to the basics when interacting with their contact-center employees by focusing on engagement and finding ways to increase workplace comfort and happiness. The impact can be striking: satisfied call-center employees are significantly more likely to stay and to refer their workplace to a friend. Those expecting to remain at their company a year from now are nearly twice as satisfied. In addition, satisfied employees are more than three times as likely as dissatisfied colleagues to feel empowered to solve customer issues. These factors have a direct bearing on the quality of customer service and the operational cost to deliver it.
So how can companies ensure they are creating a supportive workplace for agents that also helps to reduce attrition? Our research found that a handful of factors—and not just wages or job-related stress—have the greatest influence on employee satisfaction and retention. Accordingly, companies should focus on improving the factors within their control to make employees feel empowered. Several activities such as the frequency and effectiveness of huddles, the duration of training (or nesting), the opportunities for socializing, and intentional supervision have proved effective.
Collectively, these activities can be potent tools to foster a sense of belonging among agents and improve agent retention.

Employee satisfaction and retention are intertwined

Employee satisfaction and retention are naturally intertwined. In all, 38 percent of contact-center agents are extremely satisfied with their job, and another 43 percent are more satisfied than not (Exhibit 1). The levels of satisfaction varied across industries: for example, banking, securities, and financial services had the highest proportion of respondents who reported being extremely satisfied at 52 percent, followed by travel, transport, and logistics at 44 percent and nonhealthcare insurance at 35 percent (which also had the lowest overall percentage of dissatisfied employees). Meanwhile, telecommunications and technology earned the lowest marks, with just 25 percent indicating that they are extremely satisfied.

The survey highlighted the impact of employee satisfaction on retention. According to the survey, 61 percent of all respondents expect to be working with their company a year from now, while 19 percent indicated that they were likely to leave their current job within this time period. Among those likely to stay, nearly 60 percent are extremely satisfied with their job and company. For respondents who expect to change jobs, 62 percent are notably dissatisfied with their current situation. When it comes to the likelihood of retention, healthcare insurance; travel, transportation, and logistics; and nonhealthcare insurance have the highest expected retention rates. The survey identified five factors that had the greatest influence on retention as well as the top drivers of satisfaction (Exhibit 2).

The top factor, wages and job security, is largely determined by industry and market dynamics, so executives are limited in their ability to differentiate salaries from the competition. Still, contact-center leaders should ensure that agents are aware of and eligible for financial incentives. However, frontline leaders may find it best to train their sights on the four factors they can fully control.

[Here is the first two of four factors.]

Promotion opportunities

The survey analysis found that promotional opportunities account for 14 percent of an employee’s satisfaction. Care agents who feel trapped in their current role are more likely to pursue jobs elsewhere: the survey revealed that nearly half of agents likely to leave their job have no desire to move into a supervisor role or believe they will not have the opportunity to do so. A lack of interest in promotion could mean agents don’t think they have the skills to be promoted or don’t believe they will be considered for promotion. Since agents who are not interested in promotion opportunities are more likely to leave their job, companies need to focus on this group and help them see a clear career path, become interested in promotion opportunities, and feel their career path is feasible. Employees that move up the ladder will earn higher wages, demonstrating that management can have some impact on wages for high performers.

Management should also strive to understand how the effect of motivating factors may differ for specific agent segments. For example, a recent university graduate who views her job as a career stepping-stone may be much more likely to leave than a more senior employee who has enjoyed a long career and is still working mainly for the sense of community.

Nature and mission

The degree of connection that contact-center agents have with a company’s business strategy and guiding principles are an important factor in retention. About 70 percent of respondents who said they are likely to stay at their position indicated that they strongly support their organization’s mission and enjoy the nature of the work. By comparison, just 25 percent of respondents who reported they are likely to leave felt similarly. Given the importance of this factor, contact centers should seek to promote and reinforce their company’s mission in a customer-centric way on a consistent basis. Leading contact centers are beginning to incorporate meaningful customer reflections at the start of meetings across all levels of the company, from top management and leadership to agent huddles.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Whitney Gretz is a consultant in McKinsey’s Chicago office, and Raelyn Jacobson is a consultant in the Seattle office.

The authors would like to acknowledge Eric Buesing, McGregor Faulkner, Paul Hurst, Paul Kline, and Mary Snider for their contributions to this article.


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