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The Benefits Of Blended Agents

By Tracey E. Schelmetic, Editorial Director, Customer Interaction Solutions


In an era when some call centers report annual turnover rates among agents of 100 percent or more, companies are having to think more carefully about retention. The aggregate costs of replacing an agent by scouting, testing, hiring and training a replacement are staggering ' the estimated numbers run from $6,000 at the low end to $10,000 and beyond at the high end. If your organization has 500 call center agents and your turnover is 100 percent per year, you are easily spending half a million dollars or more each year on turnover alone. For a large call center, shaving only a few percentage points off turnover rates can add up to considerable savings.

In the days when call center jobs were commodities, agents would leave for the company across the street for an additional 25 cents per hour. The trick is to make sure agents perceive that working for your call center is not merely a necessary evil that generates a much-needed paycheck. Most call center organizations are catching on, adding perks such as child care, attractive break rooms, regular appreciation lunches, exercise facilities, quality cafeterias, flexible scheduling, periodic visits by massage therapists and a host of other appealing services.

But it's got to be more than window dressing.

It's no secret that turnover among outbound agents soars above that of inbound agents. Outbound is hard work. It takes persistence, an optimistic attitude and a very thick skin to be a good outbound agent. Some agents thrive in the position. Others burn out very quickly, taking hang-ups and rudeness personally. But let's face it: someone has to do outbound work. It's still big business in the U.S.

Technologies that allow the blending of outbound and inbound within the same agent group can cure a lot of what's behind the turnover in the call center. Though many companies have claimed for years that they blend outbound and inbound within the same agent pools, the process was cumbersome and limiting. Data silos, differing inbound and outbound applications and a patchwork of phone hardware made it more of a nightmare than coping with agent turnover.

Using IP telephony, this 'disconnect' between inbound and outbound can be solved. Inbound agents can be switched to outbound during slow times, and outbound agents can be drafted to inbound work during call spikes. All customer information stays in the same place. Convenience and better customer service aside, a blended schedule generally makes for a happier agent. Conventional wisdom says that part of the cause of high turnover is boredom. Variances in agent duties during the day keep agents more stimulated: not only performing both inbound and outbound, but handling chat and e-mail, as well. Agents are more likely to perceive their jobs as careers rather than paychecks, and view themselves as professionals rather than 'butts in chairs.'

But don't give up on the perks, either. A cappuccino and a chocolate biscotti at 3:00 pm can go a long way toward improving attitudes, as well. CIS

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