Off Center
The contact center industry has historically been plagued by high employee turnover. Particularly problematic (and expensive) is early agent attrition – new-hires quitting soon after the contact center has spent ample time and resources recruiting, assessing, training and greasing them up to fit inside their cubicle.

While some early attrition can be attributed to poor candidate selection, often rookie reps exit because they get rushed through orientation and initial training then thrown to the customer wolves. Or, in some cases, they receive plenty of coddling and coaching during orientation/training, and then wonder where all the love suddenly went once they’ve earned their headset.  

To help ease rookie agents into the challenging and dynamic customer care environment without the use of mood-altering drugs, many top contact centers have implemented an “extended on-boarding” initiative. Such initiatives spread the transitional phase out over several weeks or months to help foster a strong sense of preparedness and belonging among new staff, resulting in higher levels of engagement and fewer incidents of them vanishing into thin air.

Following are several key components of a successful “Extended On-Boarding” initiative:

“Transition” training. After their trainees complete a couple weeks (or more) of classroom training, many contact centers send them to a special phone bay (or “nesting area”) to take basic calls while being closely monitored and carefully coached by a supervisor (or multiple supervisors, if the training class is particularly large). After a week or so in the bay, trainees may head back to the classroom to enhance their skills and to learn how to ignore the urge to punch customers. Following another stint in the nesting area taking live calls, successful trainees are moved to the official phone floor while their less successful peers are moved to a mental institution.

“Transition” training, as it has come to be called, not only helps to shorten learning curves by providing plenty of practical experience, it works wonders in raising comfort levels among new hires, who love the extra care and attention they get before getting torn to shreds on a daily basis by customers with much more complex problems. 

Peer mentoring. Effective agent on-boarding doesn’t end with initial training. Top contact centers continue to show new-hires the love after “graduation” by pairing them up with an experienced agent trained to assist and inspire. Having a peer nearby to help rookies through tough calls, peak periods and panic attacks is a surefire way to fend against early attrition and help new-hires thrive in what can be an overwhelmingly fast-paced environment.

In addition to raising the retention and performance levels of new hires, peer mentoring has the added benefit of enhancing engagement among the center’s frontline veterans (which can be infectious), who enjoy sharing their knowledge, taking on more of a leadership role, and having somebody to fetch their coffee in the morning.

Social events. Even with peer mentoring in place, feelings of isolation and alienation are common among agents, who must spend most of their time tucked inside a cubicle handling (or waiting to handle) customer contacts. Smart contact centers recognize this, and thus organize frequent events and gatherings aimed at strengthening relationships, elevating morale, and getting agents drunk so that they'll accept weekend shifts. Examples of such practical social activities include team luncheons, bowling outings and barbeques. During these events, managers and supervisors should introduce and encourage interaction with the center’s newer team members, and inform the newer members if they have any food stuck in their teeth.

Specialized satisfaction surveys for new(ish) employees. Just because this isn’t a common practice doesn’t mean it’s not a good one. Administering an “on-boarding satisfaction” survey to agents after 60 or 90 days on the job enables the contact center to gauge the level of engagement among newbies and act quickly on feedback to help prevent early attrition and aggravated assault on supervisors. Agents’ input and suggestions also help the center to improve the overall on-boarding process to ensure high levels of retention and low rates of murder among the next group of new-hires that roll through.

Many managers say that the very act of soliciting such feedback from new-hires helps to increase morale and retention, as it shows them that the organization truly values their opinion and is committed to improving hiring, training, brainwashing and other processes aimed at setting them up for success.

JR Hardenburgh
6/28/2012 11:38:06 pm

A classic Greg Levin article, suitable for the Library of Congress or MAD magazine, whoever will pay more

6/28/2012 11:47:22 pm

Thanks, JR. I'd like to see the Library of Congress and MAD Magazine get into a brawl over who gets the piece. I hear Alfred E. Neuman can scrap.

Derek K.
6/28/2012 11:54:29 pm

I was actually unaware there was a difference between the two....

We did something like this back in the early 2000's when I worked for a large cell phone provider. It worked wonders. We actually had highly skilled and tenured agents who would get 1-2 hours off the phone a day to walk around in the on-boarding area, and be available for immediate questions and help requests. The senior agents felt very valuable, and got a nice partial break. The newbies felt more confident, because they could just raise their hand and get help in seconds.

Of course, eventually we had to make a rule that the senior agents couldn't be at the same end of a row at the same time, because they would fall to talking with other senior agents, and end up distracted, but that's easily solvable....

We also had New Hire Supervisors - basically sups who were particularly good at acclimating the new folks. You came out of training, and went to a New Hire Sup for 2 months or so, and that sup focused on making sure you were hitting your numbers, but also that you weren't likely to flee the building or go rabid. Once you were deemed fully cooked, you moved out to the full floor, and your more permanent sup.

6/29/2012 12:18:37 am

Thanks so much for sharing your experiences, Derek. Sounds like you had some great practices and programs in place, which I'm sure helped keep AGENTS in place.




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