Latest research suggests robust recruitment will go a long way in reducing contact centre attrition

ContactBabel has carried out research for the 9th annual edition of the “UK Contact Centre HR & Operational Benchmarking Report”, which studies the performance and metrics of over 200 contact centre operations, including attrition, salaries, absence, call cost, speed to answer and many more key metrics.

This blog post from ContactBabel looks at some of the findings of this report, focusing upon agent attrition.

Agent Attrition
For many years, attrition has been one of the greatest challenges facing the industry, and one which has rarely been addressed with much in the way of a truly radical approach. The economic downturn reduced attrition greatly, but recent years’ data shows that this was a temporary respite, with attrition stubbornly remaining above 20% on average, and 1 in 6 operations experiencing annual attrition of over 30%.

Looking at vertical market attrition rates, the outsourcing sector has consistently had a high attrition rate historically (usually 40-50%) – driven mainly by low salaries and lots of outbound telemarketing work – but past years have seen a drop to more manageable levels in line with many other sectors (a mean of 27% in 2018), perhaps as a result of a greater focus across the sector on customer service work rather than high-pressure outbound sales.

When considering attrition by contact centre size, previous ContactBabel studies carried out in the US and UK have shown that larger contact centres are more likely to have high attrition rates, and this continues to be the case, with respondents in large operations experiencing median staff attrition rates of 20% on average, compared with 10% for the sub-50 seat operations and 17% for 50-200 seat contact centres.

There is a danger in providing attrition rates by region, as other factors, such as pay, type of operation and working practices are far more important. However, regional variations can indicate the level of alternative employment that is available, although this should be treated with caution. Looking regionally, London, the South-East and West Midlands consistently report the highest levels of agent attrition, with the North-East and especially Wales seeing lower levels of attrition.

Short-term attrition
For many operations, a considerable amount of their staff attrition occurs within the first six months of the agent’s start. This is particularly the case in larger operations, and in those which offer few onboarding methods to their new agents (e.g. social events, meeting senior management, transition training & graduation, buddying / mentoring programmes, etc.).

However, the explanation for high levels of short-term attrition may not be solely due to the environment or working methods. Looking at the various levels of new agent attrition, it can be seen that contact centres with very low new agent attrition rates tend to pay significantly more than those with very high levels of short-term attrition. It may be simply the case that agents being paid relatively more will feel the need to seek alternative employment less often than those who are at the bottom end of the contact centre industry pay scale.

Agent attrition rate within first 6 months VS average new agent starting salary

Agent attrition rate                               Average new agent starting salary

0-10%                                                    £17,982

11-25%                                                   £17,389

26-50%                                                  £16,512

Over 50%                                               £15,291

Looking at the causes for attrition, the stress of the work and the repetitive nature of some contact centre activity were cited as key by a significant proportion of respondents in surveys carried out ten or more years ago. While they remain important, contact centres seem to be giving a collective shrug by consistently putting ‘just the wrong type of person for the job’ into no.1 position, as if there’s nothing they can do about it.

Interestingly, in an industry which outsiders have often deemed as a dead-end job, the lack of opportunity to move up the career ladder is marked on average as being the second-greatest cause of staff attrition.

As for other causes, much of the repetitive work can be alleviated by using self-service (whether voice-driven or web-based), and the blending of tasks (especially email and voice) has been proven many times to counteract boredom.

Rank         Reason for agent attrition

1st                Just the wrong type of person for the job

2nd              Lack of promotion or development opportunity

3rd               Low pay

4th               Repetitive work

5th               Excessive pressure or stress

6th               Competition from other contact centres

7th               High numbers of seasonal or temporary staff

8th               Abusive or unpleasant calls

9th               Poor working environment and conditions

Psychometric and competency testing at the recruitment stage – whether in-house or through a recruitment agency – and the assessment of behaviour and character will go a long way to stopping the wrong type of person for the job at source, with consistent support especially within the early stages of the role being vital to reducing short-term attrition.

*The 9th annual edition of the UK Contact Centre HR & Operational Benchmarking Report will be available in full in Q4 2019, costing £295 + VAT. 

UK-based contact centres invited to participate in research for “The 2019/20 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide”

UK-based contact centres with over 10 agent positions are invited to participate in the research programme for  – the 17th annual report of this kind.

In this survey, hundreds of UK contact centres of all sizes and types provide information about their operations, technology, performance and strategy. All data are entirely confidential, and will be reported only in aggregated form. No participant will be identified as having taken part in the research programme.

To take part in the research for “The 2019/20 UK Contact Centre Decision-Makers’ Guide”, and receive the £295 report free of charge, click here.