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How do I improve my contact centre recruitment strategy?

A recent survey of nearly 20,000 employers around the world found that almost 70% of businesses are having trouble hiring new employees, which is the highest level in 15 years.

In the face of such a challenging recruitment climate, the contact centre industry is in a particularly tough position. Attrition in the UK industry – the rate at which people leave their jobs every year – has been above 20% on average for almost two decades.

That is one person in five leaving their contact centre job every year. And that 20 year average may even understate the current situation, with one US study suggesting 40% of agents plan on leaving roles within the next 12 months.

Such high rates of attrition translate into substantial costs for employers. 

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development outlines where the costs come from

The most obvious ones are: 

  • Administration of the resignation
  • Recruitment and selection costs
  • Induction training for the new employee 

Hidden costs are more difficult to calculate but more serious in the long term and include the drop in productivity of new employees relative to experienced staff who have left. 

Faced with these challenges, how should contact centre operators go about getting new staff and keeping existing ones?

Why is contact centre recruitment and retention getting even harder?

There is a widespread perception that contact centres can be a demanding environment to work in, particularly for agents. This has a knock-on effect on recruitment, with recent UK research confirming that “Entry level roles such as customer service agents and claims handlers are the most difficult roles to fill”

If entry level roles are difficult to recruit for, operators are then hit with the double-whammy of a high turnover of staff. Many of the reasons are longstanding and well-known, including a perceived lack of career progression. 

The shift to remote working in response to the pandemic has added another complication when trying to understand and reduce staff turnover, because younger workers, who are among the most likely to apply for entry level jobs, can be the ones with most to gain from being in an office environment. 

The youngest workers, so-called Generation Z (born after 1997), which includes recent school and university leavers, are the cohort who most want to spend time with colleagues and whose mental health is most likely to be affected by the potential isolation of home working, according to IPSOS research. 

Isolation from colleagues due to remote working can also have a negative effect on training and staff development. 

A high turnover rate of staff can quickly become a never ending cycle. Research has highlighted that:

  • 70% of employees say a friend at work is crucial to job satisfaction.
  • 50% said it gives them a stronger connection to their workplace. When an employee leaves, the chances are that their closest workmates will follow them. 

Recruiting great contact centre staff

It’s not enough to post vacancies on a few jobs sites and wait for the CVs to roll in. Recruitment strategies have to be proactive, and mix and match different approaches.

How will you stand out from other local employers and reach people who might not yet be considering a job as an agent? 

A fresh pair of eyes

There are specialist contact centre recruitment agencies. Why not invite one or two of them in for a meeting, or, more likely these days, invite them to an online meeting, and hear how they interpret the challenge?

Highlight progression opportunities

One of the main reasons contact centre agents give for quitting is the lack of progression opportunities. However, the contact centre industry does promote from within, and managers who started as agents are not uncommon. Why not tell those stories? Not only are team leader and manager roles often filled by former agents, but there are other parts of the business that agents can move into.

Turn a perceived weakness into a strength

Contact centres are often seen as stopgap jobs, but if progression opportunities are properly highlighted, then that can become a strength. Not everyone knows what they want to do after school or university, and a job as an agent is a way to step straight into the world of work, with on-the-job training from the start and a chance to weigh up other roles in the same organisation.

Flexible working, for those who want it

Working from home has become a fact of life during the pandemic, with two-thirds of operators supporting a combination of remote and on-site working in summer 2021. While flexible working will help you attract and retain staff overall, be aware that it is less of an incentive for younger workers.

Values matter for younger workers

In 2025, the youngest workers, Generation Z, will make up 27% of the workforce. Business magazine Forbes reports that these new workers are more value driven than their predecessors when considering which companies they want to work for. 

[Listen] Aligning Culture and Organisational Strategy to Nurture Employee Engagement with Danny Wareham >

Tactics for reducing staff turnover

Once you have found and recruited great people, you want them to stay. Here are some of the ways you can reduce staff turnover.

Ask people why?

The best way to keep people is to find out why they leave. Conduct exit interviews,

and make it as easy as possible for people to be honest, even if you might not like what you hear. That means the exit interview shouldn’t be conducted by the agent’s line manager, and you should make it clear that the answers won’t affect future references. 

Make sure people know how they can progress and learn

Is it clear to agents how they can progress within the organisation? Do they know what is expected of them in order to be considered for new roles? Do they have opportunities to upskill? Make this clear to staff members in order to give them a clear path and something to work towards.

Giving agents opportunities to increase their knowledge and learn new things is vital. A programme of regular training achieves two goals. It helps staff to be more successful, and it shows them that you take their career progression seriously. In an uncertain world, skills are an employee’s insurance against obsolescence. Help agents attain new levels of competence and they won’t feel the need to find them elsewhere. 

[Watch] How to improve staff wellbeing and engagement in your contact centre > 

Team building

Employees feeling part of a team is one of the signs of a company with high retention rates. Team building can begin on day one for new employees with a well thought through onboarding process. As new agents settle into their careers, team building should continue. This means making people feel valued and enhancing the social aspects of work. 

Time is often tight in busy contact centres, but giving agents opportunities to meet and communicate with their colleagues is essential for morale. With remote working, social breaks in the kitchen and quick conversations across the desk are no longer possible, so it’s vital to put regular time aside for colleagues to get to know each other. If having a friend at work is critical to job satisfaction, then opportunities for staff to make social connections can be a driver for better retention rates. 

Show younger workers that values matter to you as a business

You could support local charities and community groups, and why not let agents nominate where the money goes? This needn’t break the bank. A donation of new gardening tools for a community orchard, for example, could make a huge difference while creating positive word-of-mouth marketing for your business. And that will help with hiring the right people in the future. 

In addition, show that your values also include protecting the wellbeing of your workforce. That might mean appointing a mental health champion, or arranging mental health awareness training. Team leaders should use regular one-to-ones to ask agents about stress and workload, and look out for signs they might be struggling. Show you care about the wellbeing of employees and you’ll be rewarded with greater loyalty.

Give agents the tools to do the job well

It can be frustrating to have the right training and motivation to do a great job, then feel let down by the software you have to use. In one survey 80% of agents said having up-to-date software was critical to their engagement with the job, but only 30% said it was available in their current job. That gap speaks for itself. 

The key ingredients in your recruitment and retention strategy

The fact is, recruiting and retaining good agents isn’t easy at the best of times, and it may be particularly difficult during a time that some have dubbed the “Great Resignation”.

But contact centre businesses can help themselves in this regard, creating the conditions that make them more appealing to a broader range of potential employees. Highlighting opportunities for progression, offering flexible working for those who want it and creating a caring and values-led environment are clearly key ingredients in any recruitment and retention strategy.

In other words, contact centre work may have an image problem, but confound expectations and you can attract and retain the professional workforce your business needs. 

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