7 New Insights to Reduce Call Center Attrition (2019)


As a contact center leader, you lose half your agents every year. But what is it about the people who stay? What qualities make them last? This piece provides answers. We studied the data and found 7 qualities most tenured agents have in common. Use them to build a hiring strategy, identify durable candidates, and attack attrition through smarter hiring.

The growing threat of attrition

Attrition has always been a problem for contact centers – low employee morale, the high cost of hiring, reduction in productivity, reduction in experienced staff – all these factors hurt performance.

And it’s only getting tougher. Because the market for agents is tightening.

Contact centers are moving back to The United States. Over 66,000 contact center jobs were added in 2017. That’s more jobs into an already tight labor market.

If you want to attack attrition head on, you have to find people who won’t jump ship for an extra ten cents an hour. And that means taking a close look at people who last.

You can learn from your industry

The formula for success varies between call centers, but there are enough structural similarities between them to see patterns emerge.  

Call centers differ in culture, geography, process, management, etc. But they have one thing in common, and that’s the nature of an agent’s job. It’s tough work. Repetition, inflexible environment, high pressure, low recognition, few career growth opportunities, abusive customers – it takes a special kind of person to thrive in this environment.

To figure out what these people have in common, we analyzed data from over 50,000 agents. Here are the 7 most important qualities we found. Use them to predict if a candidate has what it takes to excel in your contact center:

Insight #1 - Mission-driven people tough it out

The most predictive factor for agent survival is how eager they are to “be on a mission.”

Contact centers tightly control quality of service. To do that successfully there are specific workflows and procedures that agents must follow. But sticking to these processes isn’t easy. It helps to have people who have an internal drive to stick to them.

Many people get frustrated by procedures, but mission-driven people are different. They’re motivated by purpose and a sense of team. They want to embody a set of principles as a path to accomplishing a greater mission. The data shows these people last longer in contact centers. They view strict procedures and guidelines are the tools for making a difference, not just part of the job.

How to identify mission-driven candidates:

  • Consistency between beliefs and behaviors
  • A belief in “doing things the right way”
  • Wants to be seen as an authority on a subject
  • Looks for opportunities to implement core principles
  • Interested in working on activities that align with own value system
  • Strong desire to understand the greater context of tasks
  • Loves working in a role where they can represent important company beliefs
  • Openly “share their philosophy” on important matters

Insight #2 - Extroverts last

While there’s no evidence that extroverts perform better than introverts, we’ve found that they tend to last longer.

Working in a contact center is inherently social. You’re surrounded by people and you spend your day interacting with customers over the phone.

Introverts are reserved, reflective, logical, and prefer quiet interaction. They’re perfectly capable of performing well in their own way, but they find this work exhausting. They’re less likely to be retained over time because they’re subject to burnout.

Extroverts are different. They prefer to interact with people in a socially engaging manner and actually get energy from it. They’re more likely to last because they’re better equipped to deal with the stress of dealing with people all day.

How to identify extroverted candidates:

  • People-oriented. Gets energy being around people. Wants to be liked in return.  
  • Very good at promoting ideas and generating enthusiasm in others.  
  • Able to generate team involvement through friendly conversation
  • Trusting in the ability of others on the team to carry out their responsibilities
  • Confidence in the ability to motivate and persuade others  
  • Won’t deliberately antagonize others.  
  • Finds it difficult working in a remote or isolated office
  • Relies on optimism to engage and motivate others.  
  • Positive sense of humor.  
  • Ability to relieve tense moments

Insight #3 - Urgent people get bogged down by process

Call centers are fast paced and highly active environments, so you might think that people with a sense of urgency would be well suited. But that assumption is wrong.

There’s a need to work quickly in contact centers, but the work needs to be done a specific way. People with high urgency work fast, but they struggle with the specifics of process. They have such a strong desire to get work done that protocols only get in the way. They’ll skip requirements or follow them and be miserable, causing high turnover.

Process-oriented people are a different story. They’re highly routine, drawn to the structure provided by process, and can be trusted to get things done correctly. These people align well with contact center work and are likely to last.

How to identify routine candidates:

  • High levels of patience in working with others.  
  • “Long fuse” and is not easily angered while on the job
  • Wouldn’t consider themselves a high risk-taker
  • Prefers maintaining the status quo rather than making changes just for the sake of change.  
  • Remarkable ability to follow procedure with enduring patience.  
  • High degree of internal loyalty to people, projects, and ideals at the organization.
  • Generous teacher, mentor, or coach for complex projects or problems.  
  • High degree of follow-through on even the most complex projects and assignments.  

Insight #4 - Collaborative people feel rushed

When you hire, favor people who take a commanding approach to problem solving.

Solving problems is what an agent’s life is all about. They’re expected to resolve customer issues, but within an appropriate amount of time.

People who solve problems in a collaborative way get stressed out by these time requirements. Their natural approach is to take their time, hear people out, and find a harmonious solution. This is great from a service perspective, but a detriment when they’re required to resolve calls within an allotted time.

Commanding problem solvers have no issues with required pace. They resolve customer calls quickly, assertively, and by the book. They’re likely to last because each resolved call is a reward. They love the feeling of accomplishing as much as possible.

How to identify commanding problem solvers:

  • Loves challenges, competition, and difficult assignments
  • Wants authority equal to responsibility.  
  • Sets high goals for themselves and others
  • Very direct, forthright, and straightforward in communicating with others.  
  • Speaks their mind, and may sometimes be blunt
  • High sense of urgency to get things done and done
  • Resourceful individual, and one who can adapt to many different environments quickly.  
  • Strong individualist who likes to make their own path, and to be recognized and rewarded for such.  
  • Has many ideas and opinions  
  • High degree of self-confidence in taking risks

Insight #5 - Book learners go far

People driven to “learn as they go” get frustrated by highly structured learning processes.

Call center training is rigorous. Between workflows, procedures, and regulations there’s a lot that agents need to learn in a short amount of time. Book learning is mandatory.

People who “learn by doing” struggle with this. They’re confident in their abilities and want to get started as soon as possible. Their style is valuable but it doesn’t align with contact center training methods.

Research-based learners are better suited because they view book learning as a necessity. They stick around because they view theoretical training something they won’t have confidence without, not a pain.

How to identify theoretical learners:

  • A strong desire to pursue knowledge, learning
  • High degree of curiosity in a wide variety of areas.
  • Enjoy learning, even if there is no immediate way to utilize the newly learned information.
  • Significant credibility among coworkers.
  • Others may seek them out to help answer questions about projects or procedures.
  • High interest level in new projects and initiatives, particularly if they require and value forward thinking and ideas.
  • Excited about experimenting and trying something new
  • Personal belief in life-long learning.  
  • Desire to learn and go beyond what is required knowledge for role.  
  • Searches for deeper meaning in things.  
  • Many interests outside the workplace.  

Insight #6 - Seek people who love recognition

Contact centers employ lots of people to do the same job in the same way. It seems like people driven by individualism would we a bad fit, but that isn’t the case.

Contact centers embrace a merit-based culture. Performance is celebrated publically and rarely goes unrecognized.

Individualistic people want to be seen as mavericks, but they want recognition above all. While there isn’t room for self-expression in call centers, an environment with regular public recognition suits them. They endure longer because they have a strong emotional response to this reward structure. They’ll come to work excited to show off what they’re capable of, and be driven to differentiate themselves that way.

How to identify individualistic people:

  • Strong desire to be own person.  
  • Creative problem solving
  • Not risk-averse
  • Drawn to new ideas
  • Enjoys working in a role that encourages them to work things out their way
  • Prefers to make own decisions about how an assignment or project is to be accomplished.  
  • Enjoys working more independently.  
  • Will enjoy carving out own niche in role, identifying an area where they can excel.
  • Comfortable being in the limelight, and will enjoy demonstrating uniqueness
  • Enjoys maintaining and nurturing an image of being a maverick.
  • Will enjoy being controversial at times, just to challenge “business as usual”

Insight #7 - Financial interests predict early departure

Money-driven people aren’t likely to stay long. Make sure there are other motivations to keep candidates interested.

Most agents don’t see their jobs as launchpad for a career. And it’s not their fault. There aren’t as many jobs at the next level. This isn’t motivating for most, but especially not for money-minded people.

These people want to move forward quickly. They want to see personal growth directly tied to financial well-being. The lack of career opportunities in contact centers make it hard for them to stay interested.

Everyone you hire is going to be driven by money to a certain degree. The key is to make sure there are other motivations also in play. Are they purpose-driven? Do they want to be a part of a team? Are they driven by public recognition? There’s much more to consider. 

How to identify economic people:

  • Interested in what is practical, efficient and useful when striving to meet goals
  • Importance to high earnings.  
  • Interest in sales, technical, or management training programs that demonstrate a bottom-line financial gain as a result of their participation.  
  • Respond sto rewards based on “results” achieved rather than “methods” used to obtain the results.  
  • Most ambitious when compensation plans are challenging and include financial rewards, commission plans and being “paid for performance”.  
  • Wants education and training to have a practical and useful focus.  
  • Motivated by financial rewards and bonuses as recognition for a job well done.  
  • Interested in what is practical, efficient and useful in achieving success.  
  • Driven to surpass the achievements of others.

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Chris Hill

Chris Hill

Chris stands on street corners educating people about the new world of data-driven hiring. If lost, please return to Hire Smarter.