Once upon a time, customer service jobs offered a steady paycheck in exchange for mind-numbing, morale-crushing workdays. Most agents were out the door within a few weeks or months. To offset the high cost of attrition, contact center leaders invested as little as possible in training and incentives.
Brands carried on like this for years. But customer service wasn’t a primary brand differentiator. Simple customer issues, call scripts, and quick escalations made agents expendable.
Now that brands and their customers need a lot more from the front line, contact center attrition is a major concern. Three out of five contact center leaders say retaining experienced, high-performing agents is their #1 priority. Attrition not only drives up operational and opportunity costs via hiring, onboarding, and lost sales, but also gets harder to manage as contact centers employ a growing number of millennials.
To these aspiring brand “superheroes,” a lackluster or toxic work environment is like kryptonite. Millennials want employers to be responsive to their needs, and they want much more than steady pay in return for the contribution they make. If the contact center culture or working conditions aren’t quite right, millennials won’t stick around long.
“As seen in previous surveys, companies and senior management teams that are most aligned with millennials in terms of purpose, culture and professional development are likely to attract and retain the best millennial talent and, in turn, potentially achieve better financial performance. Loyalty must be earned, and the vast majority of millennials are prepared to move, and move quickly, for a better workplace experience.” – Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018
1. Job Appeal
To attract the best and brightest and entice them to stay, the job needs to come with serious perks. A “people focused contact center design,” for example, can significantly impact employee churn.
“Airbnb’s new customer experience hub in Portland, Oregon, offers lounges, shared tables, sheltered desks, and ‘duck-ins’—felt-lined nooks where agents can quickly find privacy—located throughout the office landscape. Managers of another center created a ‘Serenity Room’ where agents can go to ‘unwind after a particularly stressful call.’”
Along with human-friendly workstations and spaces for regrouping and socializing, agents should have the freedom to personalize their workspaces. Offer them work-life balancing benefits such as flexible schedules and bonus or unlimited vacation days. Provide an open channel (e.g., Slack) so agents can freely communicate with their supervisors and peers.
Even the name you give your agents—for example, ezCater’s “Customer Service Ninjas”—is meaningful. It elevates the agent’s role, and it serves as a constant reminder of the value the brand places in its front-line team.
Millennial agents want to be able to serve customers well and take charge of their own professional development. They need the freedom to do what’s necessary to resolve issues as well as the means to achieve higher levels of performance.
- Train and encourage agents to own the service experience fully—and perhaps even initiate service recovery when things go wrong.
- Provide easy access to customer histories as well as internal resources so agents can further educate customers and solve complex problems.
- Give agents access to their own performance data so they can participate more fully in the QA process and self-correct between coaching and training sessions.
We’ve mentioned Slack as a tool for encouraging communication and building camaraderie across the team. For new and struggling agents, it’s a lifeline they can use to reach out to more experienced team members for insights and advice.
3. Positive Reinforcement
Too much negative feedback from superiors will sink morale and drive agents out the door faster than almost anything else. In fact, the ideal ratio of positive to negative reinforcement is 5:1. Take advantage of opportunities to praise agents throughout the day so you can recognize excellence, reinforce brand values, and encourage progress.
Of course, everyone needs specific criticism that can help them grow. Even your A-players need to feel challenged and understand how they can fine-tune their performance. Just make sure every criticism is specific and actionable (more on that below).
4. Meaningful Coaching
Group coaching sessions based on days-old interactions have little relevance for agents. They’re likely to leave these sessions confused, irritated, and no closer to reaching their performance goals.
Give your agents what they really want and need: timely 1:1 micro-coaching sessions that focus on a single interaction. You can also make QA sessions more productive by sharing macro and micro VoC data so agents know how they stack up against their peers and how their performance is trending in key service areas.
Whether you’re coaching face to face or via instant messaging, coaching delivery style is as important as the topic being discussed. Treat agents like partners, not subordinates, and work together to identify and address any obstacles to improvement.
5. Recognition and Rewards
For the millennial agent, recognition and rewards go a long way. In fact, there’s no better way to boost morale, incentivize progress, and strengthen brand pride in the contact center. Be sure to shake up the program regularly, and monitor its impact on performance, so it doesn’t get stale.
Some of the least costly rewards, like a license to leave early on a Friday, are the most valued by agents. One of the most coveted and memorable forms of recognition is a personal shout out from the company CEO. If you’re inclined to invest in tangible rewards, consider tying compensation and bonuses to performance goals.
The criteria you use for recognition and rewards is key. By relying on customer feedback rather than internal quality measures (and even letting customers suggest the rewards), your program will be seen as impartial and fair. Agents will take pride in each win, and they’ll work harder to earn more.
6. Opportunities to Help Shape the Brand
Customer service agents are on the front line day after day, hearing directly from customers about what’s working and what isn’t—and not just from a customer service standpoint. If the millennials on your team feel trapped in a silo, they’ll lose their sense of purpose and value.
Give agents a voice, and make sure they understand the impact they’re making. Share the feedback they’re hearing, as well as their own, with company leadership and other departments. Show agents how their work is affecting higher-level KPIs and goals. By establishing this loop, you’ll get your millennial agents thinking like businesspeople—and dreaming of a long, mutually beneficial future with the brand.
Learn How Leading Brands Conquer Attrition for Good
Both startups and establishment brands are lowering their attrition rates in dramatic fashion—with impressive top- and bottom-line results.
- Swanson Health Products found a way to reduce agent attrition by 25% in a single year.
- Motorcycle parts maker RevZilla has not only maintained its core group of “Gear Geeks,” but managed to save $200,000 in annual labor costs.
- Lane Bryant has kept attrition low while transforming its contact center into the brand’s leading revenue source.
The common thread among brands like these? A service-driven culture that uses customer feedback to motivate agents and deliver meaningful coaching, training, and incentives.