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Retaining Your Customer Service Agents Takes More Than Money

The customer service field is booming. That’s good news and bad news for employers.

The word Payday circled in red marker on a calendar to remind you of the date you receive your wages, income and earnings so you may budget your finances

First, the good news. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of customer service reps is expected to grow 10% between 2014 and 2024. Even more significant, employment for call center agents is expected to grow 39% in the same period.The bad news is that customer service employees have an unusually high attrition rate. BLS data indicates that call center agents between the ages of 20 and 34 stay in their jobs for about one year. On average, the overall turnover rate for call centers is a staggering 30% to 45% (compared to about 15% for all industries in the US).

Think about that. If it takes these employees between 9 and 12 months to gain competency in the job, and they leave when a year’s up, your company never fully realizes your investment in them. You’re stuck in a cycle of hire, train, then say goodbye.

This attrition rate is a critical problem for employers, and an expensive one. Not only do you keep losing trained staff members, but you also incur related costs. There’s recruiting and training new service representatives, which involves advertising expenses, including job fair participation; screening and interviewing applicants; training new hires; and additional supervisory time. It often means OT fees for the reps who fill in.

Catalyst reports that the median amount an organization spends to replace an employee is about one fifth of that person’s salary, though replacement costs can go much higher. Other ramifications include low morale and added stress in the workplace when others leave, and a drop in customer satisfaction due to an understaffed service center.
So how can you stop this exodus of trained service reps? You might think that offering more money is the obvious answer, but it isn’t – especially when you consider today’s workforce.

Millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) comprise 25% of the workforce today and are projected to account for 50% of the global workforce by 2020. It’s important to understand them and what motivates them.

Employers should be aware of particular traits of Millennials. For instance, they cut their teeth on technology. Millennials are digital natives, so you should leverage this innate skill when recruiting and training them. They prefer to communicate electronically. They want career progression, constant feedback, and encouragement from managers. They’re attracted to employers whose values they admire as consumers. And Millennials want work/life balance.

In their whitepaper, Millennials at Work: Reshaping the Workplace, PricewaterhouseCoopers points out that “cash bonuses come in at a surprising third place” when Millennials were asked to identify the most valuable benefits from an employer. Training and development came in first place, followed by flexible working hours.

This suggests there are far more effective ways to retain customer service reps than by giving them more money. Consider these five:

  • Give agents a career path. Develop and advertise defined opportunities for advancement and growth.
  • Reward your agents’ successes. Establish methods for giving your agents regular feedback and encouragement.
  • Offer work/life balance benefits. Wellness and wellbeing are important to employees today. They value things like gym membership and flexible scheduling.
  • Provide professional development. Millennials expect to keep growing in their jobs. They crave new skills and new knowledge. Well-designed training and development programs can help motivate them to stay.
  • Make sure they have the tools they need to succeed. For example, the call center software your agents use must be intuitive, comprehensive, and based on logic. If agents can’t find answers to customers’ questions, they’ll grow frustrated. Employees don’t want to fail at their jobs. Give them the resources to help them succeed.

So what’s better than a raise? You’d be surprised. Consider other rewards when attracting and retaining a customer service staff. It’s often the quality of one’s work life, professional development opportunities, and a comfortable work/life balance that lead to employee satisfaction.

Stephen Pappas

With more than 20 years experience in enterprise software sales and operations, Stephen Pappas manages all aspects of Panviva’s North American operations. He previously served as a Director of International Sales with Harte-Hanks Trillium Software, where he took their enterprise data management offering to 54 countries. Other roles have included Executive Vice President of a SaaS software start-up and Director of Sales and Business Development at PageFlex.

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