This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2012 issue of CUSTOMER
For anyone tasked with managing a call center, recruiting the right talent is among the primary goals. When the center experiences attrition, management faces the high costs of finding, hiring and training replacement agents. And, as it takes time for new workers to fully orient themselves to the job and the work environment, the call center may not provide the desired level of service to customers, which can impact business results.
To avoid the high cost of turnover, savvy call center managers have implemented retention strategies to ensure they hang on to their best agents. When it comes to retention, one puzzle that managers are still trying to solve is how to connect and engage the youngest members of the workforce. Known as Generation Y, this demographic has a tendency to be less patient and to job hop more than previous generations. However, the new generation of workers has many positive qualities that make them valuable assets to any call center – as long as their managers know how to keep them motivated and engaged.
Understanding Generation Y
The individuals making up Generation Y, commonly considered those born between the early 1980s and late 1990s, are unlike any generation before them. They are the first generation to have grown up in the era of personal technology, and cell phones and other devices have changed the way they think, react to their environments, and deal with personal interactions. Generation Y is accustomed to things being done quickly, and members of this group are self sufficient, preferring to use self-help options before asking someone else for help. And, just like the video games and online experiences familiar to them for their entire lives, they expect instant and frequent feedback and gratification.
People from Generation Y are typically more self-confident and likely to question the status quo. While these qualities might make them seem unreliable, it also means that they are constantly looking for ways to develop their skills and prepare for their next challenges. Indeed, the new generation is accustomed to getting what they want, when they want it – and that extends to the workplace.
It is therefore crucial that call center leadership understand how to motivate and manage these new workers, who will be quick to leave if they become dissatisfied. So how can the call center engage and retain Generation Y agents? By creating an environment of enhanced communication, continuous feedback and coaching, strong work/life balance, and ongoing development and growth that encourages individuals to stay in their positions while preparing for new roles within the organization.
Communication is Key
To better connect with a generation used to looking for and finding information quickly, constant communication is needed. Relevant information about the business should be shared with agents on a regular basis, ensuring they understand company goals and what the call center is doing to meet those objectives. If the center isn’t hitting its targets, the agents should be told what needs to happen to improve performance.
Also important is to solicit the agents’ ideas and feedback about how they can contribute to enhancing company performance. Unlike previous generations, members of Generation Y enjoy the opportunity to voice their opinions and help develop solutions. When such dialog occurs, employees become more involved with the company, gaining a better understanding of the big picture and how their individual roles contribute to success.
However, it is crucial that they feel their opinions are being considered; if not, they will become disengaged. Even if some suggestions are unfeasible, leadership should still address them and explain why those ideas might not be possible. Two-way communications that make Generation Y employees feel they have a say in business decisions – and that their opinions are acknowledged – is critically important in developing and retaining these employees.
An Environment of Feedback and Coaching
For the first time, call centers are employing a generation that not only willingly accepts feedback, but also wants and expects it. Throughout childhood, this generation received constant feedback through online interactions, coaching and mentoring. They don’t mind being told if they are not measuring up and will even go out of their way to seek out this information.
This actually translates quite well in the call center, where robust monitoring and coaching processes are already in place. However, while listening to agent calls and providing feedback is a common practice, Generation Y wants more than just a monitoring form. Many prefer one-on-one coaching sessions, where they can discuss their performance They also respond well if the coaching sessions are supplemented with agent-related data delivered through an app. If they are lagging in certain areas, they want a coach who can help them in their development and progress. Without this personal level of coaching, they are likely to become frustrated and feel they are trying to do a good job, but no one is willing to help them improve.
Promoting Work/Life Balance
While Generation X started the trend of requesting more flexibility to attend to needs outside of work, Generation Y practically demands a strong work/life balance. This can be difficult in call centers, which have traditionally provided fixed schedules and expected agents to adjust their lives accordingly. Adding to the complexity is the 24/7 nature of many call centers, which means the number of employees needed at any given moment varies greatly.
Many call centers have found that hiring more part-time workers not only provides employees with the work/life balance they want, but it also improves service levels. After the initial costs of recruiting and training a larger number of part-time workers are absorbed, this approach gives the call center more flexibility to staff up or down depending on call volume. Additionally, with a higher number of part-time workers, it is easier for management to swap agent schedules to meet personal needs, while avoiding the costs of overtime. Though managing more part-time workers can bring new challenges, it provides agents with the flexibility they desire and further motivates them to stay with the company.
Additionally, call centers are increasingly allowing agents to work from home. Generation Y is well suited for telecommuting, as this group of people is typically adept at working independently, appreciative of the implied trust, and comfortable learning remotely. And when call centers employ telecommuting agents, they can recruit the best talent from a broader geography, no longer limited to hiring employees within the immediate area.
Continuous Development and Growth
Generation Y members understand that job security doesn’t truly exist, and they must constantly expand their skills to remain employable. Unfortunately, call centers often provide learning and education only during new-hire training. Once agents become fully up to speed and meet their goals, they can become bored and begin looking for the next challenge. If the company fails to provide one, they will seek new opportunities with other employers.
However, call centers can offer plenty of new responsibilities to agents looking to enhance their skills. There are a number of valuable tasks managers can assign, such as:
- acting as an assistant team lead when a leader is out of the office;
- assisting trainers in updating product or service information within training documents;
- filling in on the agent helpline when one of the senior agents is out; and
- mentoring new employees.
Managers often limit themselves to thinking these tasks must be done by staff leaders who own the specific areas of responsibility. However, this fails to provide Generation Y members with the development they expect, and the company misses out on opportunities to groom promising employees for future management positions. By taking the time to develop career paths and provide learning opportunities, the call center not only keeps its agents engaged and happy in their roles, but they can also proactively develop the next generation of call center leaders.
Engaged Employees Lead to Satisfied Customers
While call centers will always experience a certain level of turnover, the arrival of Generation Y into the workforce has brought about new challenges to reducing attrition. If younger employees’ expectations are not met, call center turnover will continue to rise. To retain the best agents, it is crucial keep them engaged; fully motivated and engaged employees are more likely to enjoy their jobs and work environments and, in turn, will be more productive.
When management constantly shares information and provides continuous feedback, agents are likely to stay in their roles longer, as they can continue to learn and develop their skill sets. And as any call center leader is aware, experienced agents provide higher quality and more consistent service, and such positive interactions with customers lead to improved satisfaction and loyalty. By keeping their Generation Y workers motivated and excited about their jobs, the benefits extend beyond the call center and help the entire company improve both its top and bottom lines.
Edited by Brooke Neuman