Losing and hiring frontline customer care agents can cost more than a few lost customers. Can you afford to lose more?
Employee attrition is a natural part of any business cycle. People get promoted, change fields or industries, or have any number of personal reasons to take a break from working. Limited attrition can refresh the organization with fresh ideas, backgrounds, and culture. While the 24-hour news cycle is yelling from the rooftops that the "great resignation" is upon us, research data is showing that it's actually beginning to slow. As Marketplace puts it in a July 2022 article:
"Now, Pollak [Julia Pollak, chief economist at job site Zip Recruiter] said, the mood might be shifting. While the job market is still quite strong, unemployment claims have crept up and we've seen layoffs in the mortgage industry.
Quits fell 41% in real estate and rental and leasing, and that is a sign that workers in that industry, they're going to hang tight and keep the jobs that they've got," she said.
This article goes on to explain that people quitting in mass shines a light on two potential key factors.
Regarding customer care, recent trends show that agents often find themselves in the latter half of the two options.
When your organization is experiencing soaring attrition rates, everything will be affected from NPS scores, employee performance, and your bottom line. Before simply accepting the status quo of hiring, training, resignation, and repeating, look at your customer support agent experience for an in-depth exploration of the who, what, and why agent attrition is a critical factor affecting your organization's cash flow.
Here One Day, Resigning the Next
Customer care agents are absolutely vital to any business, no matter what industry your organization finds itself in. They handle everything from missing order forms to repeating the same common questions repeatedly for unhappy customers.
Even though care agents are part of the business skeleton that enables all matters of customer services, these agents are leaving in record numbers. Salesforce reported that over 70% of care agents have considered leaving their jobs within the past six months. Furthermore, specific contact centers are reporting up to a 100% turnover rate.
According to The Center for American Progress replacing an agent can cost roughly 20% of the leaving agent's salary in training and lost time. What does this mean in practical terms? The contact center with a 100% turnover rate that employs 30 people at $33,000 a year will cost roughly $200,000 annually to replace agents alone.
The Reality of Working as a Care Agent
The C-suite of any organization generally has a vision of the future and stands behind the company's vision statement and purpose. For better or worse, the vast majority of customer care agents will be standing behind their paycheck and not much else. Of course, agents can enjoy their work and take pride in your company, but you have to remember that practically zero care agents believe they will change the world by answering customer questions. This provides context to the top three reasons care agents are hanging up their headsets for good in record numbers.
1. Your customers are emotionally attacking your agents
Let's introduce every care agent's worst nightmare, an irate customer that seems incapable of listening to reason. While dealing with these types of customers is, without a doubt, a cornerstone of the job. Unfortunately, these often hostile interactions leave lasting impacts on care agents.
Clinical psychologist Guy Winch explains this unfortunately common occurrence in a Psychology Today write-up, saying:
"Customer service employees often average up to 10 hostile calls a day and must tolerate personal insults, screaming, cursing, and even threats—regularly. They are required to stay on the line and 'salvage' even the most hostile calls."
Again, this is a part of the job, but it is difficult for anyone to "turn off" work after several emotionally taxing support calls. Being called every curse word under the sun or being told that an angry stranger will find where you live or worse will leave a painful stain on your mind.
After work, as your agents sit at their favorite watering hole or social gathering, they will undoubtedly question if the abuse is worth their average of $33,000 a year.
2. Burnout is an understatement
Khoros' own reporting shows that most contact centers plan on having 2 - 4% absenteeism rates every day. Before even logging into their computers, your care agents are ladened with higher volume and a more stressful day.
This absenteeism rate automatically means that a standard work schedule of seven to eight hours has become nine or ten and sometimes up to 12 hours. It doesn't matter if you love or despise your job; having to work additional hours unexpectedly almost always leads to extra stress and work-life balance problems, leading to higher attrition rates and more money wasted.
This inconsistency flows both ways. If the agent lead schedules more than necessary, expecting agents to call out, but everyone shows up, the lead will send some people home to save on labor costs. This leads to frustration, exhaustion, and loss of hours they often desperately need for the agent.
3. Increasing pay only solves one piece of the puzzle
Across customer support, agent pay has been rising, with some organizations paying up to $30 an hour. However, agent attrition rates haven't fallen much despite these pay increases. To attempt to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, Khoros reached out to former customer support agents on the biases of anonymity to protect both agents and former employers.
The emerging trends the former agents reported parroted the reasons mentioned above, but one question stood out in particular. When asked what it would require for them to return to a customer support role, the overwhelming answer was nothing unless hostile customers received some form of discipline, heavily increased pay, clear career development, and set working hours with generous time off and benefits.
The Human Element Drives the Bottom Line
To some, the reality of the customer agent experience is nothing more than its job description. At the end of the day, this is an entry-level, customer-facing role. There will always be frustrating customers, customer support budgets can only expend so much, and for the majority of people, this is only a stepping stone on their career path.
While all of this might be true, all current data shows that you have to focus on the reality for your agents. The actual agent experience is costing businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars that could improve the business for both customers and agents.
Agents are frequently emotionally abused, asked to work unpredictable hours, and face disproportionate stress levels. This decreases their willingness to perform and gives them great reasons to resign.
Once your agent reaches their tipping point, it will cost more than just the price of replacing that agent. Your customers will have longer wait times to speak with an agent, which decreases your NPS. Your remaining agents will have to take on more responsibilities and volume, which adds to their stress and attrition. The level of detail in your customer care will decrease, further dropping your NPS scores. Former agents will have an unsavory view of working for your company and, if motivated enough, will take their experience to employer review websites like Glassdoor and Indeed. Now, based on one single employee's experience, you have the potential to decrease customer NPS, satisfaction, sales, reputation, and future care agents.
No matter how anyone could cut this, this is losing money on all fronts.
Ways to Save a Boat Load of Cash With Khoros
The reality of working as a customer support agent and the financial implications have been established; what is there left to do? Can your organization maintain functional support channels if customer and employee churn runs at an unsustainable level? The simple answer is to change how your care organization operates fundamentally. Khoros is here to help you make an effective transition.
Everyone touts the importance of "setting expectations.". It's a nice sound-bite to fill space during events, but few are offering explicit examples of what this might mean. In customer care and support, the customer expects that they get the answer to their questions or concerns. Always.
However, the expectations for the agent are a bit more challenging to pin down. It's fair to say that for the agent, it's expected that they will get the nice, neutral, and downright nasty customers in need of support.
What's not made crystal clear is how the agent's leadership team or the organization will support the agent. Being upfront with how the business or leadership will help the agent with training, working environment, what level or style of work they expect, and others will go miles to limit agent attrition and, in turn, be able to invest in your customer care. Khoros is able to make those expectations crystal clear before your agents even log in to the Care suite.
Improved technology and limiting live agent contact
Khoros reporting shows that almost every time a customer needs some form of customer support, they rarely care where or how they receive their answers. This is the crux of what can make or break a contact center's NPS. For some contact centers, agents are tasked with answering every question, and every customer will be routed to a live agent.
If the customer needs more serious assistance, it makes perfect sense to route to a live agent. For a customer with simple questions about finding a tracking number or opening hours, it could frustrate both the customer and the agent, and your agent bandwidth is now plugged with an unnecessary bottleneck.
This is where the Khoros platform comes into play. Our care suite runs chatbots, auto-fill data gathering, and even context-based routing for calls. While context-based routing sounds fancier than it is, this one tactic is a robust tool for limiting attrition and improving NPS across the board.
With context-based routing, almost every potential customer interaction will go to the right place. Suppose it's a simple question such as opening hours. In that case, Khoros' chatbots can understand the question, direct the customer to the appropriate site, or even answer the question directly in the app. If your organization utilizes a community and the customer question is more involved than the chatbots could reasonably answer, this context-based routing could direct the customer to a common question that other customers could easily answer. Lastly, context-based routing could go several ways regarding a more serious problem.
If the customer's stated problem comes with a neutral or positive connotation, you could happily route the conversation to a front-line agent. However, suppose the customer's stated problem clearly shows anger or even hostility, to save your agent's well-being and keep your NPS sailing high. In that case, this context-based routing can pass up this hostile customer's contact to someone on the leadership team freeing up the front-line agents to deal with fewer aggressive customers and provide better service than run to the break room to choke back tears.
Humans are notoriously bad at long-term planning. Exactly why it is a fascinating mystery still being studied today. One possible reason is what researchers call "Hyperbolic Discounting," or when given two similar rewards or benefits, people generally take the reward that pays out sooner.
What does hyperbolic discounting have to do with contact centers and agent attrition? In short, everything. Yes, for the leadership, it is more cost-effective to not invest in new technology or agent health as it will save a small amount of money each month. However, the data proves that no matter how much a contact center saves in the short term, they lose a far more significant amount in the long term in budgets, NPS, sales, agents, and reputation. Before you decide to do anything, ask yourself and your team, are the short-term savings worth the long-term costs?
To further your knowledge and better plan your agent retention strategy, please visit these resources below:
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