Guest Blogger: Ashley Verrill is a software analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM, CIO.com, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.
Even the best contact centers face about a 20% employee turnover per year, while others can climb to as high as 50%, according to one Forrester report. Companies have tried myriad strategies for combating this trend– but new research suggests their best tactic might be appealing to the workers' psychology.
Ignore Work History
Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article about a new area of research called “workforce science.” This strategy allows companies to analyze the behavior of thousands of workers and managers to identify the optimal personality traits for the position. In other words, find trends among your most successful workers and only hire for those characteristics. Another study found that this strategy can even be more successful than just considering a candidate's work history.
“Analytics allows business operators to continuously challenge assumptions about how to expand and manage their workforces profitably,” says Dr. David Ostberg, Vice President of Workforce Science at Evolv, a San Francisco-based data analysis and workforce probability firm.
Dr. Ostberg's team recently analyzed data from about 21,000 call center agents and found that the most successful and long-lasting call center workers are generally creative, curious, and extremely good at multi-tasking. This last component will only become increasingly important as customers gravitate to digital communication channels, and the call center automation software required to manage these interactions diversifies. While individual call centers each have unique needs, these traits found as predictors of retention are relevant to most.
Call centers should design questions and tests that correlate with identifying these traits. If you require a written evaluation, ask “forced questions” that induce self-reflection, rather than others where the correct answer could be guessed.
For example, the second of this set of questions is more effective:
Are you creative?
Choose the statement that best describes you:
(a) I am curious about new things
(b) I stay focused on the task at hand.
Appeal to Your Workers’ Desire for Purpose
Adam Grant, the Wharton School's youngest tenured professor, recently released a body of work that revealed how a group of workers made significant productivity improvements after they were given a philanthropic purpose to work. In a book he authored on the research, called “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” Grant found that performance for some agents in the experiment improved as much as 171 percent.
These productivity gains correlate with workers being truly engaged in work and having a higher propensity to stay; more so than gamification tactics that might yield short-term gains, but do nothing to increase the worker's satisfaction in the job.
“High performance is that unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things because they matter,” says Daniel Pink, best-selling business author of newly released To Sell is Human, a book about the changing world of work. “I believe that includes three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.”
Appletree Answers proved this theory five years ago when attrition decreased 33 percent after the company launched the “Dream On” program – an initiative to help workers help each other achieve their dreams.
Giving your workers a purpose in their work doesn't have to be philanthropic. This can also be achieved by allowing workers power to shape their own processes and procedures. Pink suggests creating a “genius hour,” or asking agents to leave the phones for one hour every week to come up with improvements in processes, new ways to handle workflow or other ideas.
Columbia Credit Union implemented this strategy in their call center and found that agents thrive on the autonomy and purpose the genius hour provides.
Get in Your Agents’ Heads
Thanks to progress in data analysis technology and workforce psychology, contact center operators now have intelligent tools to help them determine what type of people succeed in call center environments. By hiring the right people and engaging agents in meaningful ways, you can increase retention, reduce hiring and training costs, and improve contact center performance.