Employee retention improves with virtual routing systems

Employee retention improves with virtual routing systems

Baker, Alfred

One of the greatest internal threats to today’s call center is high agent turnover rates. For the call center of the ’70s and ’80s, agent turnover was a minor nuisance and in some cases, a welcome occurrence. At that time, the call center was a cost center driven by call volumes and average speed of answer goals, and closely tied to restrictive cost structures. Some call center managers actually feared that if too many agents reached a high seniority level based on years of service, they would drive the center’s largest cost area, salaries, above budgets. Also, the recruitment process for agents was simpler, the available agent pool was larger and customer satisfaction was loosely judged. In today’s call center, customer retention, one-to-one marketing, competitive advantages, revenue achievements and employee retention are critica! Call centers that place more importance on customer retention and revenue growth than agent retention can expect agent turnover rates that will leave the call center short-staffed.

Customer Retention Requires “ent Retetlen

In a recent poll by Louis Harris & Associates, it was estimated that 53 percent of U.S. workers expect to leave their jobs voluntarily within the next five years. For some industries, the turnover rate was 16 percent, while for others it was well over 100 percent. One call center with highly technical agents reported over 200 percent annual turnover. Many call centers today experience anywhere from 30 percent to 100 percent annual turnover rates. The impact of those employees walking out the door is not only felt immediately, in areas such as higher abandoned calls and higher queuing, but there are also long-term consequences, such as burnout of remaining agents, higher training costs and missed revenue opportunities.

Many times the long-term impact of agent turnover to the business is misunderstood, poorly documented and generally understated by the business. While call center managers are monitoring the “front door” to keep call volumes and customer satisfaction high, many have left the “back door” wide open for agents to leave. The connection between agent retention and customer retention will only grow stronger in the coming years. For many vertical markets, such as health care, and some horizontal markets, such as technical consulting, individual agent skills is the foundation of companies’ market and competitive positions.

The Sum Of The Parts Is Greater Than The Whole

This focus on agent skills has its greatest impact on call centers that have implemented advance routing (virtual group routing) solutions, as it is based on each agent’s individual skills. The implied notion is that the sum of the parts is truly greater than the whole, when the parts can apply to their individual strengths. Solutions such as agents in multiple groups (one to six) or even in “super” groups may allow you to provide better service to your customers, but they don’t reach the highest possible level of customer service provided by virtual routing. In the specific area of technical help desk staffing, the competition for technical agents is fierce. Annual surveys show that average salaries are close to 00 nationwide and as high as $70,000 in some markets.

How is a company to keep pace and provide more than just a bigger check to retain agents? In some vertical markets, such as health care or financial institutions, call center agents have the skills comparable to industry analysts. Only virtual routing environments can provide the means to give such agents a professional career and not just a “short-term gig.” Some virtual routing solutions actually provide resume-like methods for identifying, tracking and rewarding skills achievements. Virtual call routing enables agents to fully utilize their skills, such as language and computer, and other professional experience. As these skills become more high-level, their resumes will be updated and their impact on the call center will increase.

This type of technology and methodology communicates to agents that both they and their job are important to the company, which reveals itself in age* fresponse to customers. Agents who *feel special treat customers in a way that makes customers feel special. In the help desk example it was noted that most agents didn’t leave for more money, rather that they didn’t feel respected as technical people. They were just frustrated from feeling that they were an insignificant part of an over-worked and under-staffed customer support group.

f MaI Have Skills I Haven’t Even Used Yet Today’s advanced call center routing systems not only collect a wealth of information about the caller, from DNIS, ANI, IVR prompts and database lookups, but can also support the collection and storage of distinct skills lists associated with each agent. Picture an employee during a one-on-one session where the call center supervisor is listening and making a list of all of the talents the agent attributes to himself. Then picture that supervisor illustrating how these specific skills can be utilized in the call center’s new strategic focus of “one-to-one customer service.” The supervisor goes on to specify how she can set the right skill level and/or preference level in the virtual routing system, and only those customers who match the agent’s skills and level will be sent. Also, the supervisor notes that if the agent takes advanced classes in language, technology or business skills, those skills can be added to the virtual routing system, utilized by the agent and rewarded. At the end of each quarter, the call center manager reviews the goals and achievements reached by the call center and, in turn, each supervisor shows his or her agents how their specific skills helped in reaching those goals. This picture is becoming a reality for some centers today.

The impact new agents could have on the call center, based on this type of technology, can be significant. A welldesigned skills list allows call center managers to place agents on the phone after three or four weeks of training, instead of two months, bringing immediate impact to the call center.

Supervisors can now set up training schedules based on specific learning curves that are reasonable for new hires. New agents will sense that there is a career path with this company and that there are reasons to stay beyond the salary. Customers will be connected to agents who match their customers’ specific profile and not be sent to new agents who may be taking calls beyond their skill set or level. Senior agents will also appreciate that they can be segmented and rewarded for taking on the more challenging calls and more significant callers. All agents will begin to see more long-range career prospects with the company. This is where the payoff begins for the business. Call centers that utilize virtual group routing technology as part of their employee retention plan can see dividends in many areas.

low Much Will It Cost Me If I Don’t Treat Mv Agents As Indiiduals

The lack of competitive differentiation from other companies that provide similar call center services can significantly cap the potential market share and revenue a company can achieve. One of the hidden payoffs for companies that build agent retention plans based on virtual routing systems is the positive statement their actions make to the market. First, repeat customers will appreciate and reward that level of service that can only be provided by agents who have developed a relationship with them over time. Second, all customers will applaud the shorter hold times usually associated with a call center using a skills-based virtual group routing system.

The hard cost savings of an agent retention plan can also be significant. Some companies will spend between $4,000 and $8,000 a head to bring on new hires. This includes recruiting staffers, processing paperwork and paying state unemployment insurance. These prices are going up as more highly skilled employees enter the call center environment. Call center managers are spending inordinate amounts of time recruiting and training new employees, with less time to support and manage existing staff, creating still more employee dissatisfaction. Employee departures will often have a negative effect on worker morale, agent productivity and revenue generation.

One company has reported that employee departures were having a direct impact on their bottom line as high as $60,000 annually. For revenue-generating call centers, the real issue is missed opportunities based on insufficient staffing. One business estimated that a 10 to 15 month increase in agent retention, from 3 months to over a year, could add an additional $1 to $2 million to their net revenue. For example, some companies have not had enough skilled agents to handle calls during the Christmas buying seasonorlost key senior agents right before they ran a major promotion. Some businesses have been forced to move the release dates of a new product out months so they can hire and train more agents to support the expected call volumes and skills required. These real-world situations can dest-and have destroyed – revenue::;

In most nar s and industries in the U.S., the value of a properly staffed, well-managed and strategically focused call center is measured in quarterly revenue numbers and annual market share data. Many businesses have caught on to this shift from the call center model of the ’70s and ’80s. These companies are implementing new processes, policies, compensation plans and technologies to increase the impact of their call centers. For many of these companies, the move to advanced routing solutions is a key part of their technology implementation plan. What these call centers are surprised to learn is that virtual group routing not only positively impacts customer satisfaction and retention, but also has a positive impact on agent satisfaction and retention. The end result for the call center is the achievement of higher overall customer, agent and market objectives with a direct impact on the company’s bottom line.

Al Baker has worked in the telecommunications and other technologyrelated industries for more than 15 years, holding positions of responsibility in the areas of engineering, product marketing, operations management, strategic planning, sales and consulting. Over the past eight years, Mr. Baker has focused on the call center market with an emphasis on CTI solutions. In his current role as senior manager of Global CTI products at Siemens Business Communications, Mr. Baker oversees the marketing and development of key products such as ComManager and ResumeRouting.

Copyright Technology Marketing Corporation Aug 1998

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