When Telemarketers Have a Party, Do They Serve Devil's Food Cake?

Recently my husband e-mailed me a list of “Things You Wish You Could Say at Work.” I was mildly amused by such items as “Ahhh … I see the screw-up fairy has visited us again” and “I'll try being nicer if you'll try being smarter.” However, item No. 20 made me laugh out loud: “Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.”

Unfortunately, there are too many teleservices agents who believe that this statement applies to them. In a call center environment — especially an outbound call center — a day doesn't go by that at least a couple of teleservices agents don't comment that they were verbally abused by customers who hate telemarketers. The dejected agents often are left feeling that the outside world does indeed view them as agents of Satan whose ceremonial duties are to call unsuspecting consumers and interrupt their dinner or to leave inbound callers on hold for eternity. In this scenario, hell is sitting in a tiny cube, facing rejection eight hours a day, every day.

The inevitable fallout of such a negative view is extraordinary employee turnover. Turnover rates in the teleservices industry can run as high as 300 percent. Interestingly, while many call center managers view the high turnover rate as an inconvenience, they often fail to recognize the hidden costs of allowing such a situation to continue.

Are Your Profits Being Consumed in the Fiery Pit of Attrition?

Is attrition costing you more than you realized? Take a look at these sometimes hidden costs:

* Higher recruitment costs. Do you know how much you are really spending on the recruitment of agents? Every time you have to run a newspaper ad, post a job on a commercial Web site or participate in a job fair to replace agents — cha-ching! Do you have to maintain a larger human-resources staff to keep up with the hiring? Cha-ching! Do you have to print large quantities of recruitment and orientation materials? Cha-ching!

* Higher training costs. Bringing in a continuous stream of new employees means you have to conduct frequent training classes. There are costs involved for the trainers, the training facilities, the training equipment and training materials, not to mention the cost of paying employees for training time — time that doesn't produce any revenue.

* Lower performance. In most cases, it takes time for training to sink in and for new employees to reach their peak performance potential. When you have to frequently bring new employees onto the call center floor, overall performance is diluted and results can be lower than expected.

* Lower customer satisfaction. If you have high attrition you most likely have a mix of unhappy veteran employees and inexperienced new employees. Unhappy employees generally won't give their best effort, and new employees don't have the experience to give their best effort. Don't be surprised if there is a correlation between your attrition rate and your customer-satisfaction rate. Generally, the higher the attrition rate, the lower the customer-satisfaction rate.

* Undesirable reputation as an employer. Call centers that maintain high turnover rates eventually get a reputation for being a less than desirable place to work. In areas with especially low unemployment rates, this can severely limit your ability to attract even minimally qualified new employees. Eventually you may exhaust the local pool of available labor and have to close the facility and start over elsewhere — adding additional costs and lost opportunity during the transition.

Higher Retention Is Heaven for Employees and Managers

Achieving higher retention rates is a challenge in the call center industry, but there are things you can do to boost retention and agent performance:

Publish a career path. Let employees see that if they stick with the job they can earn more and be given additional responsibilities. Be sure to include such things as attendance and a positive attitude among your criteria for promotion.

Explain the job during the interview so that those who are not a good fit will leave before they are hired.

Acknowledge achievement and reward performance with whatever motivates your employees — it could be money, time off, tickets to local events, etc. This is an area where one size does not fit all.

Be consistent in enforcing policies and rewarding performance. Agents often perceive lack of consistency as lack of fairness.

Hiring smarter and creating a more positive work environment can result in higher employee retention, greater performance and substantial cost savings. And if those above you later ask what inspired you to make such changes, just tell them, “The devil made me do it.”

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