How to Keep Quality People in Your Call Center

By Marsha Lindquist

Losing talented, quality employees is always difficult for an organization, but especially for a call center. Not only does it mean finding and training replacements, but also losing all the knowledge and understanding that those people take with them. While it is true that in today’s environment no organization can realistically believe they will keep an employee for twenty or thirty years, companies can reasonably expect people to stay for four to six years.

Essentially, you need to keep your people as long as they fit within what your organization is trying to accomplish and as long as they add value. You want to maximize the relationship as long as employment is productive for both sides. You certainly don’t want people leaving because they become disenchanted with the job.

Many employers believe that people get seduced away by the allure of larger companies, greater benefits, more pay, or a desk with a window, but those factors are rarely the real reason people leave. What really causes many people to change jobs is that they don’t understand where they fit and how their role impacts the call center’s or organization’s overall goals. They may feel like their work doesn’t affect the company’s success or they don’t develop mutually respectful and open relationships with their bosses and managers. When employees start feeling this way, then they start shopping around for other jobs. Unfortunately, many times people are seduced away by another organization that promises all these things, but doesn’t actually deliver them. Then the process begins again.

So how can you keep your quality employees for as long as possible? You must make their impact on the organization’s success clear by building a corporate culture around the right mindset. Use the following process to refocus your organization so your employees don’t feel compelled to change jobs so frequently:

Lay the Foundation

The mindset you create in your call center will permeate everything you do. It will affect your strategies, the type of clients you go after, and the kind of people you hire. For example, many leaders focus frantically on fire drill types of tasks, that is, the things that need to get done immediately. In the process, they allow the tasks that need to be planned and prepared for to go unattended and uncompleted. When the leaders operate in this rush, rather than in a cool-headed manner, they spread it through the entire organization.

Your actions and mannerisms reveal the mindset you maintain from day one. Even when you interview people, you communicate the corporate culture to them. So set your intrinsic values right away to avoid bringing in people with a work-here-awhile-and-leave mindset. Rather than just covering benefits, rules, and vacation time, the most important part of your orientation process needs to focus on your culture, how you work with one another, how you cooperate with one another, and what kind of clients you pursue. Spend less time on the rules and more on the way of thinking.

The foundation of every call center is the attitude of the people within it. Therefore, the senior managers and leaders of your organization must create the right mindset for the entire staff. They must determine how the organization’s goals are established and communicated, the importance of those goals, and the way your staff works with each other.

Strengthen the Structure

A strong organizational structure stems from strong focus. To strengthen your focus, set goals and objectives and then communicate them clearly throughout the operation. Limit your list to two or three realistic goals, rather than a laundry list of items. This focuses your employees on the most important things, rather than a cadre of different things. Then hire people who are open to changes, can focus on these goals, and can adhere to the culture you maintain. Many times people hire the skill set first and the attitude second, but it needs to be the other way around. You can teach skills, not attitude.

What about the people who have been in your call center for a few years and are already with the program but seem to be veering off course? If you’re trying to change the organization’s culture or make an impact on it because you’re headed in the wrong direction, then you need to communicate and work with everyone to show how things are changing.

Most important, communicate to your call center agents how they contribute to the new goals. What do the employees need to do to continue to grow with the company? What skills do they need? What attitude do they need to adopt? What personal investment do they need to make? How will the organization support that? While most organizations only cover these issues once a year, you should communicate this at least twice every year to maximize effectiveness without it becoming a burden.

Add the Finishing Touch

Once you’ve created a mindset and strengthened the focus of your organization, you must maintain these elements by staying involved with your employees. The employees need to trust that honest conversations can occur. Talk to them about what you see for them in the future and ask how they want to accomplish that, not, “This is what you need to do; now go do it.”

Also, go beyond business and the bottom line. Take an interest in what employees do to be happy and healthy outside of work. Many organizations see that healthy, happy people have the right attitude at work.

Staying involved should filter down through all levels, from the executives, to the senior managers, to the department directors, to management. It shouldn’t be a huge load for one single person. When you do this, you also instill responsibility to the lower supervisory levels, which helps them become better managers. Trusting the lower levels to become involved also builds the mindset.

Keeping Your Employees Through the Years

Even though you may be able to hire an equally skilled replacement for less money, the knowledge your organization loses when an employee leaves is extremely difficult to replace. While no one stays with the same company for their entire career anymore, you can expect to keep employees for a few years, but you need to make them clear on how their job and responsibilities affect the company’s success.

Start by creating a mindset in your call center and then develop goals that everyone can focus on. Let your employees know how they contribute to those goals and the organization’s success. Finally, stay involved with your employees and allow them to have open conversations with you to build relationships. When you follow these steps, you will create a corporate culture that inspires your employees to stay with your organization long into the future.

Marsha Lindquist is a business strategist, author, speaker, and a Principal of The Management Link, Inc.

[From the August/September 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

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