Recruitment and retention must go hand in hand at call centres

Employee
turnover in the call centre industry has nearly doubled as dissatisfied staff
leave companies. And as almost half the firms in the sector do not have
retention policies, Ben Willmott asks what steps they should be taking to keep
the right people on board

Management
training and recruitment procedures among call centres must improve if
spiralling staff turnover in the sector is to be tackled.

These
are two of the main conclusions of the annual benchmarking report by call
centre specialist Merchants, which reveals that staff turnover in the industry
has nearly doubled over the past two years.

The
report, based on a survey of 352 contact centres in 30 countries and five
continents, indicates that the industry experienced a turnover rate of 32 per
cent in 2000 compared with 22 per cent in 1999.

Cheryl
Clifford, HR director at Merchants, said too many call centres focus only on
recruiting staff and not on retaining them, and also neglect management
training.

The
survey shows that 90 per cent of organisations have staff recruitment
strategies in place but only 55 per cent have retention plans.

Clifford
said the study reveals that the industry shortcuts recruitment and selection
techniques and managers do not bother to align staff with business goals or
agree performance objectives.

The
study highlights a failure by call centre managers to use more sophisticated
and time-consuming recruitment techniques, such as group interviews, assessment
centres and psychometrics, when choosing staff. It reveals that only half of
call centre employers check references.

"Our
experience at Merchants has been that a carefully designed and conducted
recruitment campaign saves effort and money later by reducing attrition due to
incorrect appointment," Clifford said in the report.

"The
success or failure of business to attract and retain the appropriate calibre
and volume of people will ultimately affect their ability to deliver
organisational goals."

Current
estimates by the CIPD and the Blue Sky Consultancy are that to replace each
call centre employee costs between £5,000 and £30,000. The figure depends on
whether the fall in performance among those about to leave and the cost of
managing the learning curve of new starters are included.

The
CIPD agrees that recruitment and retention strategies must be developed hand in
hand if the UK’s 10,500 call centres are to begin to curb increases in staff
turnover.

The
CIPD’s training and development adviser, Mike Cannell, said, "There is no
point in just thinking about a recruitment strategy. It is essential to think
about retention in the same way."

Cannell
said organisations should take a longer-term view when they hire staff to
ensure the recruits are matched to the demands of the job.

"It
costs a lot of money to advertise for someone and then train them," he
said.

"If
they are going to leave after six months because they are unhappy, then
something has gone wrong."

The
report recommends that organisations make it a priority to engage their call
centre staff with the aims of the business.

Clifford
said part of the reason for high staff turnover is that too many organisations
treat their call centres like an annexe to the main business.

She
emphasised that call centre staff must be aligned with the business strategy if
they are to feel they play a valuable role in the organisation.

The
CIPD says it is in employers’ best interests to involve call centre staff with
the business, not just to keep them, but also because they often have the most
direct contact with customers.

"They
know what customers are saying, and it is important they get an opportunity to
feed that back to management," said Cannell.

Colin
Mackay, head of quality and standards for the CCA, the representative body for
the call centre industry, said it had produced a best practice framework to
help its members recruit and retain staff.

"If
you recruit the right people in the first place, train them properly and give
them career development opportunities, there is no reason for there to be high
staff turnover," he said.

According
to the Merchants study, another reason that attrition rates continue to rise in
the sector – which employs 400,000 people in the UK – is that salaries for
agents have remained fairly static at the 1998 level of £12-£14,000 a year.

It
finds that this reluctance of companies to improve pay has contributed to the
situation the industry now faces.

"Low
pay is an emotive phrase," said Mackay. "What is not taken into
account is the benefits which contact centre staff often receive, such as
non-contributory pensions and facilities they can use if they are part of a
large group.

"What
is important for employers is that if you do offer benefits you tell your staff
about them."

Although
rewards are important, the report claims that high staff turnover in call
centres can only be addressed if HR plays a more active role in people
management.

Clifford
said, "Agents who work in the repetitive, processing environments need
supportive leadership and HR to provide more individual attention.

"In
addition, if tasks can be made more varied and interesting, they will be more
interested in the work and their contribution."

www.merchants.co.uk

Pay
pushed up by competition

Call
centre pay for managers and skilled staff is rising, according to a survey by
the Hay Group consultancy.

The
salaries of managers at the UK’s larger call centres have increased by more
than 20 per cent in the past 12 months from £59,245 on average to £71,586.

Team
leaders’ salaries have risen by an average of 11 per cent from £21,408 to
£23,698.

The
report also reveals that increasing competition for high-quality staff has
pushed up remuneration levels for skilled call handlers.

A
typical employee handling inbound calls, which require detailed technical
knowledge, now earns on average £21,317, which is 7.38 per cent higher than
last year.

The
survey shows that organisations are stepping up their efforts to make the
working day for call centre staff less stressful and less monotonous, with 74
per cent of respondents allowing short breaks during the day.

Hay
Group consultant Anthony McNulty said, "We are witnessing among call
centres a shift of emphasis away from basic call handling to provision of
sophisticated services to customers. Call centres are trying to shed their
sweatshop image and remodel themselves as contact centres, providing
high-level, technical advice to customers."

The
findings in the Hay Group 2001 Call Centre Report are drawn from 91 UK
organisations that run call centres.

www.haygroup.com

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