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Top Five Ways to Transform Call Center Jobs into Long-Term Careers

12 Sep, 2011

By: Robbie Brillhart
Employee-focused Strategies Help Virtual Call Centers Retain High-Performing Agents

Two steps forward, one step back. Often times, that’s what it feels like when trying to maintain a skilled workforce to meet the demands of call center clients. Similar to climbing a mound of sand, you find, hire and train the right amount of people, only to have many of them leave, sliding you back down to start the process again. With large outsourced call center attrition estimates being over 100 percent, much has been written on the cost and causes of employee turnover.

There are many issues that factor into call center attrition, yet, some of the problem stems from the fact that so many agents come into the call center environment with the attitude that it is just a job. They see it as a way to temporarily earn income while they finish school or figure out the next move. In reality, becoming a call center agent can be the first step in a long and rewarding career. Nowhere is this truer than within virtual call centers. The double-digit growth of the at-home model provides a tremendous opportunity to help employees reach their true potential, while offering customers a highly-skilled, stable workforce.

Top Five Ways to Transform Call Center “Jobs” into Long-Term Careers

1. Hire the Right People and Place Them on the Right Program. In his book, Good to Great, researcher Jim Collins explains the importance of hiring, or what he describes as “getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats.” According to Collins, hiring the right people reduces the need for outside motivation because they will be self-motivated to produce the best results and willingly work towards the long term company vision.

Following this philosophy, virtual call centers scour the country for the most qualified candidates, recruiting from un-tapped labor pools such as at-home parents, retirees, or veterans. Once identified, applicants are put through a rigorous screening process that evaluates job skills as well as personality traits for succeeding in a work-from-home environment. Finally, newly hired employees are assigned to a program based on the match between their skill sets and the needs of clients. For example, an agent with a degree in finance would be assigned to helping customers of a financial institution.

2. Build a Community. Sometimes, employee attrition within a virtual environment is attributed to feelings of isolation. Building a community connects employees to each other and to the larger company. This can be done by providing online communication through channels such as chat rooms, bulletin boards, video communications and virtual town hall meetings. Some companies have been so successful at building virtual communities that employees think of their co-workers as family. This loyalty is an important factor in employee retention.

3. Be Flexible. Bill Gates predicted that business will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50. If employees are expected to embrace change to benefit their employers, then businesses, likewise, should be willing to be flexible for the sake of their employees. In a virtual call center, this is done by utilizing a flexible scheduling system, giving agents greater input into their schedules. Allowing agents to exchange shifts with fellow workers or pick up extra hours on-the-fly are also great example of how businesses can adapt to accommodate changes in people’s lives, thereby making it easier for agents to stay with the company.

4. Promote from Within. With growth come opportunities for leadership and promotions. When agents know that a company is committed to retaining and rewarding top performers, it is easier for them to see the long-term potential of call center positions. A “promote from within” policy allows companies to identify high-performing leaders and offer them exciting careers. Keeping and tapping into this experience and knowledge is invaluable to the company when it comes to training new employees.

5. Create a Strong Support System. Too often, call centers make the mistake of leaving agents to fend for themselves once training is complete. This sink-or-swim mentality creates anxiety for the employees and results in poor customer satisfaction. A better approach is to support agents at all times with real-time access to coaches, team managers, team leads and online informational databases.

To improve employee retention, virtual call centers must address the misperception that agent positions are one-dimensional jobs. In reality, these positions combine all the benefits of working from home with the tremendous opportunities available in a growing and thriving industry. Through support and communication, the employees you’ve painstakingly hired upfront, will be an invaluable asset for future success. With career-focused employees, virtual call centers will be in an even better position to deliver greater service continuity, higher customer satisfaction and better overall value to their clients.