The Impact of Agent Retention at Call Centers

Turnover in the call center is very much like a fuel leak - only the fuel that is leaking is talent. The impact areas to your operation are multiple, significant, and costly.


If your automobile's gas tank has a fuel leak, you would either have the car repaired or buy a new one. After all, the price of gasoline is just too high to ignore the problem. Turnover in the call center is very much like a fuel leak - only the fuel that is leaking is talent. The impact areas to your operation are multiple, significant, and costly. Agent retention must be an area of focus within any high performance call center.

Turnover is defined as the number of agents that need to be replaced in a given time period. Any and all loss of agents must be calculated as part of a turnover analysis. This even includes what many human resource professionals label as "good" turnover (i.e, when the agent has moved on another department within the credit union.) Because the call center agents are exposed to many different types of transactions and member contacts, they are often sought-after resources by other departments. Unfortunately, the agents still must be replaced in the call center. All turnover occurrences must be monitored closely to maintain necessary rates of proficiency and productivity in the contact center.

Some costs of turnover are more obvious than others. The cost to recruit, hire, and train are among the most obvious. General estimates are that it costs between $5,000 and $20,000 to put an agent to work in the call center. Even though those numbers seem high, the cost of lost productivity, lost institutional knowledge, and lost business often dwarf the cost of hiring, training, etc. The trouble is that these cost contributors are not looked at collectively and the true cost of turnover remains a mystery. Identifying all the costs and impact areas of agent turnover is an important step in gaining leverage and interest in correcting the problem.

The number one defense mechanism for moving away from agent turnover to agent retention is proper hiring. If your organization has a turnover problem, the hiring process must be evaluated. Competency requirements must be clearly identified. These are the skills, knowledge, and capabilities that candidates must have to work in the call center . For example, if you are hiring people to be on the phone, they need to arrive with a pleasant telephone manner, at least fundamental computer know-how, and the ability to think quickly and critically. Many aspects of the job will be "trained", but if core competencies are lacking, the candidate may never achieve true proficiency. The bad news is that the candidate may perform just well enough to not meet the criteria for dismissal; they rarely leave voluntarily.

The call center must have visibility into candidates. HR cannot be the sole party involved in hiring for the center. Phone interviews must be conducted, as the very first part of the process that will allow for early elimination of anyone without a pleasant telephone manner. Many HR departments use a series of screening tests for candidates to further identify core competencies. They may include talking and typing, service call simulation, computer proficiency, personality and culture fit, etc. There are many tests available and a wide variety currently in use. It is critical to choose these tools wisely, use them consistently, and assess their effectiveness routinely.

The call center manager and often one or more of the supervisors may conduct interviews with candidates. Many organizations have the candidate sit side by side with an agent to observe the job for at least an hour, then discuss their impressions. (It is important to let the candidate know the duration of this process, so they can make the necessary arrangements).

When recruiting for any position, there are many "gravity" factors - those reasons why candidates are "pulled" to your call center. These include but are not limited to: compensation, a great benefits package, schedule, location, product discounts, easy accessibility by public transportation, development opportunities, and company reputation. It is important to evaluate not only your internal hiring process, but also your identity in the marketplace as an employer.

Regardless of all the hiring tools and recommended techniques, it is important to remember your "instincts" and follow them. More than one call center manager and HR professional has commented that they "knew" there was something unsettling or "just not right" about a bad hire. That knowledge is powerful and - more often than not - correct.




Aug. 18, 2008


  • Great article. The call center is our most important access point for members. Employee retention and training at the call center have been a big part of our success.
    John Murray