How Has COVID-19 Affected Call Center Agent Turnover?

Call Center | 7 minute read

The COVID-19 pandemic threw a wrench in the works of many contact centers. We found a surprising and concerning trend during our analysis into the State of the Contact Center in 2020: agent attrition is getting worse.

Despite that, the end to your agent attrition woes may be in sight. They say the night is darkest before the dawn. Similarly, COVID-19 could be the best thing to happen to contact center agent attrition for a long time.

To understand why let’s explore how COVID-19 has affected contact center agent attrition so far…

Read the Full Industry Report Here:

The State of the Contact Center in 2020

How COVID-19 Impacted Contact Center Agent Attrition

The last few years have seen several reassuring trends in the contact space industry. More contact center managers understood the importance of agent satisfaction. And executives were ready to spend money to solve it.

But the contact center executives we spoke to this year indicated three worrying trends:

1. Despite considerable investment, agent attrition is getting worse

Worryingly, one of the most common themes in our research was that agent attrition levels weren’t just stagnating; they were getting worse.

More than 80% of respondents indicated that attrition had either stayed the same as the previous year or increased. For an industry that relies on human resources, this paints a troubling picture.

2. The cost of hiring and training agents is increasing

Compounding the impact of increasing attrition is the increasing costs of hiring, training, and retaining agents.

“Not only are agent attrition levels worryingly high and growing, but the cost associated with finding new agents and developing initiatives to keep them is also climbing.

 

This creates a disturbing situation for contact centers, considering the impact that the vicious cycle of agent churn has on customer experience.”

 

Peter Ryan

 

Peter Ryan,Snr. Advisor, Ryan Strategic Advisory

3. Contact center budgets will probably stagnate next year

Contact center executives who have already submitted their 2021 budgets won’t be surprised to hear this news: you’re getting less money next year. That goes against another trend we saw over the last half-decade; investment in CX was a growing priority.

COVID-19 has played a big part in this. But at a time when contact center workers are in demand more than ever, cutting budgets seems shortsighted. Mind you; there was a fair bit of that at the beginning of the crisis:

“The first thing that stood out to me was how many CX professionals got laid off at the outset of the pandemic — and then how quickly they were hired elsewhere. Suddenly customer insights became the golden ticket!”

 

annette franz headshotAnnette Franz, CEO of CXJourney, Official Forbes Coach, Keynote Speaker and Author

Our research shows that contact center executives are still very keen to solve agent attrition. Nevertheless, it would be naïve to assume budgetary prudence won’t impact agent attrition in the coming months. However, it would be just as naïve to think the demand for contact center agents will decrease over the next two years.

Why is Call Center Agent Turnover Increasing?

We identified a few key reasons that agent turnover may be increasing: 

Contact Centers Have Neglected the Agent Experience Too Long

Agent satisfaction — the main driver of agent turnover in the contact center — has long been an issue. And it’s one that’s been ignored by contact center executives for many years. The reasoning seems fair: how much should you invest in employees that only stay for a year and a half, if that?

The prolonged neglect of agent satisfaction has finally reached the point where it’s impossible to wash over it with a minor investment. It will require radical changes to improve. Don’t let that put you off, though!

“Another thing that surprised me about the impact of COVID-19 was the realization by many businesses that change is possible! Especially when the alternative is that the business ceases to exist.

 

Stop fighting change just because you can; it’s possible and, more often than not, it’s necessary for survival.”

 

annette franz headshotAnnette Franz, CEO of CXJourney, Official Forbes Coach, Keynote Speaker and Author

There are Better Options for the Contact Center Workforce

While the nation’s top companies poured money into improving employee experience, many contact centers relied on the (seemingly) endless chain of young, unqualified people to manage their phone lines.

When searching for employment in the past, those young people had a choice: fast food, retail, or contact centers. Today, they have far more options, thanks to the gig economy and companies like Uber, DoorDash, TaskRabbit, etc.

COVID-19 Exacerbated Everything

One important point to note is that the COVID-19 pandemic should have positively impacted agent turnover. But the way many contact centers responded likely exacerbated the underlying issues.

Industry analyst, Kate Nasser, highlighted this issue when we spoke to her:

“The COVID-19 global pandemic has challenged contact centers in ways that other crises have not. Contact center agents had to up their listening and their empathy beyond what they had ever faced before. 

 

COVID-19 tasked the agents to sustain others while they were likely worried about their own safety and families. All those who have suffered personal losses may find themselves questioning if they want to stay in the contact center industry.”

 

Kate Nasser headshot lrgKate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, Customer Service & Leadership Coach, Author of Leading Morale

How Will COVID Impact Contact Center Agent Attrition in 2021?

Contact center executives know that agent turnover is costing them a fortune. And they know they can’t ignore the problem because it’s detrimental to their customer experience — and profitability. And that’s why we think that COVID-19 will positively impact agent attrition.

Remote working will become the norm

With the pandemic looming over next summer, the WFH home situation will likely continue for the near future. Even once there is a vaccine, it’s unlikely to return to the pre-pandemic normal. 

“60-80% of agents moved to work at home during shelter in place and ~30% will continue to stay home once there is a vaccine.”

 

sheila-mcgee-smith_2020Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center Analyst, President of McGee-Smith Analytics

And that’s a good thing for everyone.

“The move to remote work and a better quality of life for contact center workers will be a big trend. When contact center employees can effectively and happily work from home, customers will reap those benefits.”

 

evan kirstel headshotEvan Kirstel, Podcaster, Telecoms, Tech & Social Marketing Influencer

Increasing empathy will promote agent satisfaction as a KPI

As Kate Nasser touched on earlier, we’re expecting COVID-19 to foster more empathy in the business world, particularly in contact centers. It may not seem like it, but the general public recognizes contact center agents as heroes of the pandemic.

“I believe COVID will have a human empathic impact on the CX industry and contact centers.

 

As people who have been touched or have known personally someone affected by COVID. Support matters may be looked at more sincerely and authentically with a true ‘Walk in the customer’s shoes’ mentality.”

 

david-beaumont-headshotDavid Beaumont, Customer Support Expert, customerserviceisreal.com

Public scrutiny and a wave of post-pandemic empathy will force contact centers to implement many more benefits: paid vacation, flexible working hours, extended health insurance, etc. These will profoundly affect the lives of contact center agents and will do a lot to make it a more attractive vocation.

In the long run, this will reduce employee turnover in the contact center.

“Customers are showing they want to do business with companies that align with their values, and that’s not going anywhere. They’ll look for ways employees are treated and how brands contribute to their communities as a basis for deciding who they do business with.

 

Younger generations are showing this as a primary driver for their decisions so that this trend will continue well into 2021.”

 

Jeannie Walters headshotJeannie Walters, CEO of Experience Investigators, CX Expert, Consultant, and Speaker

The contact center is in its final days

One trend that has been brewing for several years — but has been slowed by limitations in technology and desire — may finally see its day.

The contact center is one of the last holdouts of the ‘gig’ economy. But COVID-19 has forced many companies to implement the very technology they had complained was too costly. And that’s why we believe that 2021 may be the year that ‘Uber for contact center agents’ starts gaining traction.

“The biggest trend in 2021 will be the ongoing shift of CX delivery toward a gig platform.

 

The interest in gig working by both enterprise executives and potential employees is building to a crescendo, and with platforms being developed to support this business model, watch for it to become the hot topic of customer management in 2021.”

 

Peter Ryan headshotPeter Ryan, Snr. Advisor, Ryan Strategic Advisory

 

Companies like LiveXchange and Contract World Jobs that are providing call center ‘gigs’ have seen rapid growth thanks to the pandemic. There’s still a lot of work to be done to remove the more nefarious players, but with an increasing focus on employee welfare, it’s only a matter of time before gig work becomes the ‘new norm’ for contact centers.

The State of the Contact Center 2020

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