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Stop the Revolving Door: Reducing Attrition in the Contact Center

Industry veteran and former contact center executive Brittany Bell and Cresta’s Head of Product Marketing Osman Javed discuss how to reduce agent attrition and ramp time in your contact center. We cover the state of agent attrition, steps contact centers are taking to resolve staffing challenges, and how Cresta is helping customers actively reduce agent attrition. 

Download the full Cresta Insights Report on the current state of agent attrition and ramp time as well as steps that contact centers can take to improve both metrics.

Read on for a transcript of the webinar with Brittany and Osman.

Webinar Transcript

Osman Javed (00:03):

All right folks, welcome to the Cresta Insights webinar, we’re calling this one, Stop the Revolving Door, how to reduce agent attrition in your contact center. I’m Osman Javed, Head of Product Marketing here at Cresta and I’m joined by the one and only Brittany Bell, our CSM and former director at a global BPO. Hey Brittany, how are you?

Brittany Bell (00:30):

Great, thanks, Osman.

Osman Javed (00:33):

Well, before getting started, you have over a decade of experience in the contact center world. What we’re talking about today around hiring agents, retaining agents, coaching agents, you’ve lived this through and through. Would love to just hear a little bit about your time in the contact center world.

Brittany Bell (00:51):

Yeah, absolutely. I was in the contact center space at the very start of my career and ultimately was there for about 12 years. One thing that’s maybe unique to my experience is that I started as an agent and throughout my tenure, I was granted many great opportunities to advance my career and try different channels. I’ve literally worked in just about every single role that a contact center has and I really enjoy being able to see how we can impact all of those different roles to make their lives easier because from top to bottom, it is really a hard job.

Osman Javed (01:27):

Yeah. We’re excited to have you and your experience and your insights on board today to speak a little bit about our insights report that we did. This actually stemmed from a conversation we had last year where we were talking about what are the biggest challenges facing the contact center today and while it’s easy as a contact center technology company to get caught up in tools and processes, there’s actually an HR problem and a hiring problem. The ability to quickly hire, ramp, and also retain agents is becoming harder and harder, especially coming out of the last two years.

Osman Javed (02:06):

What we did is we looked at our data. We looked at data from over 6,000 agents across nearly 4 million conversations, to really look at what is the agent life cycle? How are agents onboarding? How are they ramping? How are we able to coach and manage agents during their time in a contact center? At the end of an agent’s life cycle with a contact center, how are we able to actually retain them? What’s the state of attrition today? We’re going to go through some of that on today’s call.

Osman Javed (02:39):

The first thing to really frame the discussion is this idea of the agent life cycle. When an agent joins a contact center, they have this typical flow, which starts with their onboarding and ramp. Getting that initial coaching, getting that initial training, learning the ropes and getting up to speed and that quickly gives away to what we call the agent performance phase. The goal of this part of the phase of their life cycle is: how do you really help agents upskill themselves, become as effective and efficient as possible, teach them about new tactics as well as new product as they come out and really give them the metrics and benchmarks that they know they need to hit, in order to get to the third phase of the agent life cycle, which is that progression to the next level.

Osman Javed (03:31):

As a contact center, this is where you need to set clear requirements for what goals you need to hit in order to get a promotion, advance to the next level and really continue your journey as an agent with a specific contact center. Obviously along the way, if you don’t have clear and concise and precise goals, it’s really easy for agents to lose interest and turn away and that’s where we see a lot of attrition stem from. Going into that, Brittany you’ve been in the contact center space for quite a while, how have you seen this agent lifecycle play out?

Brittany Bell (04:13):

I think we really kind of hit the nail on the head in the three stages here. What stands out to me is at the agent ramp stage. That stage really includes the entire moment from day one orientation, up until the time that the agent is fully proficient. I say that’s the most important because if an agent doesn’t successfully get out of that ramp phase, if they’re not enabled with the proper tools, training and support throughout that ramp period, the likelihood that they’ll be satisfied in the role is very low. One thing that I saw in the contact center world is that if we could keep people through that initial three or four month ramp phase, they were much more likely to stay longer term, but if they were unsupported during that ramp phase, we were more likely to lose them to attrition or churn and that’s a very expensive problem to solve.

Osman Javed (05:06):

Yeah. As they say, first impressions are last impressions. You want to make sure, especially when folks are getting up to speed, have seen pretty dramatic impact in terms of the quality of ramp and the impact that ramp period has on the duration or life cycle length of an agent. It’s the better, the longer essentially. And I think there’s some findings in the report that dig into that, but this is more of an upward spiral, but there’s also a spiral that is not as good, which we call the revolving door dilemma. It’s this idea that agents take, on average, three months to ramp, regardless of if this is a sales, care or retention contact center. What we saw on average is three months and the average tenure for an agent is only 14 months. What we found was at the end of that 14 months, we’re seeing an average of 84% of annual agent turnover. That’s a huge number and this has actually increased over the last two years for reasons that we’ll get into shortly. This is really a leaky bucket of sorts. Three months to get somebody fully productive, 11 months later they’re out the door and more than a fifth of an agent’s time spent with a specific contact center is spent ramping. They’re not even at a point where they’re productive as yet.

Osman Javed (06:50):

This is a challenge. This is a problem. This is a very expensive problem. Retraining new folks, losing old folks, sourcing folks to hire, is not an easy proposition and it’s only becoming harder with remote contact centers making the fight for talent much more competitive. With that said, Brittany, would love to understand from your perspective, what are some of the recent macro trends that you think are driving this revolving door dilemma?

Brittany Bell (07:21):

The biggest thing that comes to mind right now at a macro level is the concept of the great resignation, especially over the past two years. Even employees who had spent a great deal of time with a single organization were suddenly more prone to leave because their work environment changed involuntarily during the pandemic. As a result of that, what’s had to happen is that organizations, to stay competitive, are offering additional compensation, whether that’s greater benefits, greater pay, et cetera. They’re making themselves more attractive to those employees who are suddenly willing to consider a career change. The big macro trend is that you need to really differentiate yourself at the contact center, at the organizational level, so that someone who’s offered a 10% pay increase isn’t immediately intrigued at leaving and trying out a different opportunity. I think the cost of living has certainly gone up over the past couple years. With people being willing to leave, great employers being willing to pay more, it’s just a recipe for disaster if you don’t have a good plan in place.

Osman Javed (08:29):

Yeah. I think the important thing I hear there is, while people may be particularly cost sensitive right now and looking for slightly extra pay, the ability to deliver a differentiated and memorable employee experience hopefully cuts through that noise and is able to drive some kind of impact on retention. I guess in terms of additional factors, we talked about at the macro level, but what are some things at the individual contact center level or use case level that you’re seeing? Is there something about the nature of work that influences the severity of the revolving door dilemma?

Brittany Bell (09:12):

Absolutely. We’re becoming a more and more technologically advanced society and that means that when consumers purchase things or they need support with things that they’ve already purchased, the likelihood of that particular product being exceptionally complex, having a ton of different features or the reality that we need to be extremely consultative in what we’re selling and how we’re presenting all of these very unique feature sets to the consumer or the business representative that we’re talking to, essentially the more complex the topic, the longer the ramp time, the more difficult it is. In theory, we’re having to hire more skilled agents in the contact center to handle these. We’re having to give them longer training and they’re also being, basically thrust into these very complex conversations very early on in their tenure and ultimately when we feel uncomfortable in a role that’s very challenging, as humans we’re very likely to try and remove ourselves from that discomfort as quickly as possible. Complexity can be a blessing and a curse in this space.

Osman Javed (10:20):

Yeah. That’s definitely a trend we’re seeing in the contact center space with average handle times increasing, more and more calls being deflected, leaving only the most complex for agents to handle. I think in that scenario, what are the processes or cadence of training or tools that you’re giving agents so that they’re well equipped to handle that complexity. It creates the case for really high quality and really frequent training. With that, if we look at, obviously folks are aware of the revolving door dilemma, they’re trying to take measures to resolve it and some of the common measures we see are listed here. Brittany, I was hoping you could walk through some of the common approaches you’re seeing contact centers take to fix the revolving door today.

Brittany Bell (11:12):

Yeah, sure. Pay is an obvious one. Everyone’s looking for an extra buck. Another thing that’s been very popular recently are things like a tenure bonus or a sign-on bonus to try and attract top talent and get them to stay through that ramp phase. A lot of organizations are also looking toward gamification as a way to differentiate themselves. Give their employees an opportunity to learn and grow and earn some bragging rights, which is always helpful in that contact center space. Returning to the office is kind of a hot button. It could be seen as a very great thing. It could be seen as a very bad thing. It’s important for organizations to recognize what’s best for their culture and their employees and make an informed decision. Finally, training and coaching. I’ve spent some time at some contact center conferences recently and a huge piece of interest across contact center leaders is really providing an amazing employee experience where they’re receiving all the best training material, it’s presented and designed in an elegant way, and that we’re really building relationships with the employees, as opposed to just thrusting knowledge at them and hoping that they can retain it all.

Osman Javed (12:23):

Yeah. I think the common phrase, drinking from the fire hose is not the way to train and coach. Even thinking through how are you sequencing your training and coaching in such a way that it is delivered at the right place at the right time or when an agent needs it, is becoming more and more of a need. Brittany, you had some thoughts on gamification and strategies around gamification that you’ve seen work well in the past.

Brittany Bell (12:51):

Yeah. I think ultimately the strategy is just to structure it properly to find a partner that understands the concepts of gamification and can get it rolled out in a seamless way. It’s not something that you want to build while you’re already flying and it’s important to make sure that agents see it as an asset to their current role or a pathway to a future role, where they’re not just being asked to complete something for the sake of completion, but they can see how it’s going to impact them today and in the future.

Osman Javed (13:20):

Looking at these tactics, these are not necessarily new tactics, right? They’ve been around for a little bit and folks have experimented with them in different ways, but what are some of the challenges you’ve seen with these approaches? I know you mentioned just something around their scalability. I’d love to talk about how you’re seeing that play out.

Brittany Bell (13:42):

Absolutely. All of these things require money, right? It requires investment, but it also requires effort in facilitating all of these projects, so it is cost-prohibitive to consider. There’s also not a lot of cost reduction at scale. Whether you’ve got 100 employees or 500 employees, your cost for each of these incentive buckets is going to be relatively similar per agent. The other thing to consider is that once you’ve introduced a benefit, it’s really hard to consider eliminating that benefit. It becomes the status quo, so it’s important to recognize whether something is being done as a result of the current state of work and labor in the United States or whether it’s being done as an ongoing forever program.

Osman Javed (14:28):

Yeah. You don’t want to get into a scenario where you’re putting bandaid over bandaid. I think one thing that was really interesting that you had mentioned is trying to string all of these together, maybe not return to the office, but how do you get gamification to influence pay? How do you get gamification to be a result of your training and coaching? I think having that more cohesive approach is pretty impactful.

Brittany Bell (14:57):

Absolutely.

Osman Javed (14:57):

Obviously, we’re a technology company. While these tactics that are relatively linear and don’t scale are interesting, there’s also, how can you use technology to help scale the impact and also slow down the revolving door if you will? That’s where we really see Real-Time Intelligence come into play. Real-Time Intelligence is the category of technology where you’re able to extract insights from every customer conversation, evaluate those insights, use them to inform training and then scale that training across agents, with Real-Time Agent Assist.

Osman Javed (15:37):

Real-Time Agent Assist is the product that agents are able to use on every conversation and in real time it’s delivering recommendations on what to say, how to behave and recommend answers to customer questions. What that really does is it takes that training and coaching, that is usually a very frequent, but also periodic form of teaching and makes it more continuous. On every conversation agents are receiving little tidbits of knowledge and upskilling themselves on every call. We’re seeing that as a pretty impactful way to change the standard training and coaching model and really actually make it scalable with AI, where you’re able to enhance and coach on every single call without having to hire thousands of thousands of coaches.

Osman Javed (16:34):

Then on the manager side, we’re also seeing this Real-Time Intelligence play out where managers today have a kind of relationship with agents where they see a problem area, they try to find a call that they can evaluate to support that problem and then deliver coaching, but oftentimes agents see this coaching as biased. They’ll say, I had 100 calls and you found the one bad one, but what about all the 99 other great ones that I had? With Real-Time Intelligence evaluating every call, managers are able to immediately see the problem areas as analyzed by AI and then zoom in on the problem areas and use that as the backing or the foundation for their coaching and then have a more collaborative approach with agents where they can go through, leave comments, evaluate the conversation and give agents the context of here’s the conversation you’re struggling with, here’s the moment of that conversation you’re struggling with and here’s some feedback that I left for you.

Osman Javed (17:38):

We really see this as a two-pronged approach. It’s not just improving agent coaching through AI, but also improving manager efficacy and manager visibility through AI as well. Brittany, maybe you can tell us some of the results you’ve seen as a CSM working with some of our clients?

Brittany Bell (17:55):

Yeah, absolutely. It goes without saying that when you’re getting that constant and consistent feedback at an agent level on every single interaction, you’re going to get the hang of your job better and that has an immediate impact on attrition. If you feel like you’re doing good, you’re less likely to leave. Also, we want you to be able to do better. The agents that are utilizing Cresta most often tend to have much higher performance. Across our study of those 6,000 agents, we saw about 35% higher performance against KPIs that we’re measuring.

Brittany Bell (18:28):

Finally and this is perhaps the most important to this conversation, is that when new hires are enabled with Cresta, they’re 32% more consistent in what they’re doing. What a new hire craves more than anything is just consistency in the experience and getting to a point where they can learn and work within a habit framework. When we’re able to provide them real time guidance, almost like a roadmap or following along with Google maps on where they’re trying to go, they’re able to be more consistent in delivering a great result and ultimately that makes the new hire much more likely to be retained into that performance phase.

Osman Javed (19:07):

Yeah. I think exactly on the last point of that ramp period is so important. If you can not only improve performance, but also make that more consistent, the agent’s automatically going to feel more supported, more confident and get off to a better start. This approach with Real-Time Intelligence, we’ve seen some pretty dramatic results across our customer base. We’ve seen material reduction in agent attrition. Across the bottom here if you’re looking at… Sales contact centers, we’ve seen a 13% reduction in attrition annually. For some of our care contact centers, we’ve seen a 22% reduction attrition annually. What I really love is these two quotes at the top, which I think sum it up pretty well. On the left, an agent, no matter how much training and coaching you receive, when it comes down to the moment and you’re under pressure and you’ve got an angry customer on the call or you have a hard question that you’re not familiar with, it’s easy to blank out and completely forget all the coaching that you’ve received.

Osman Javed (20:16):

This quote captures it perfectly where, with Cresta, they’re on the call reminding them about key behaviors that they’re working on. It actually helps them remember to say what they’re working on, whether that’s a behavior, a skill, assuming a sale or overcoming an objection or as simple as just an automatic response that is presented to them and they know exactly what to say.

Osman Javed (20:41):

The next piece is really just on that onboarding time. Really reducing the ramp time and the time it takes an agent to get productive. Not only do we make them better, faster, but we get them into the agent performance phase of that agent life cycle sooner and that’s a great way to drive confidence in a new hire, is getting them proficient quickly. With that, hope you folks enjoyed the conversation here today. Please reach out to us at cresta.com if you’d like to learn more about our Real-Time Intelligence for the contact center and how it can help your agents, your managers and ultimately your business. Thank you very much. Have a good day.