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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – As more and more credit unions reach the size where a call center starts to make sense, they’re discovering jobs fielding hundreds of calls a day may create one of the highest turnover rates they’ve seen. A recent report by MarketWatch ranked telemarketing and customer service jobs among a list of 10 occupations that generate the most turnover, or churn. How much turnover? Peter LaBlanc is senior vice president of Sibson Consulting, a human resources firm in Raleigh, N.C. There’s lots of data and it’s hard to get an overall average, he says. But he estimates that if 35% of a call center’s employees leave each year, that’s actually pretty good. If churn reaches 60 to 80%, you’re in trouble – and many call centers exceed 100%. Jason Kovac, senior compensation analyst at WorldatWork (formerly the American Compensation Association and Canadian Compensation Association), Scottsdale, Ariz., confirms that. He once worked in a retail establishment where call center turnover reached 120 to 140%. Both experts cite stress, high volume and high expectations as factors behind those figures. Yes, pay is low, but neither LaBlanc nor Kovac see that as the leading or only factor. “There’s constant customer contact,” LaBlanc notes. “Unfortunately, a lot of that customer contact is unpleasant. Sometimes there’s pressure to sell. When there isn’t pressure to sell, there’s pressure to solve a problem. There’s also pressure to educate the caller, such as how the interest rate was set. “It’s hard for a person to explain all that, over the phone, when there’s also pressure to get through the call as fast as possible. The intensity of the work, and the duration of the intensity, are factors. You face constant monitoring and feedback.” “Stress is there because organizations want the calls to flow in and out and maybe average three minutes,” Kovac adds. “Employees would like to actually help people. They feel they can’t do that in three minutes. “The organization needs to step in and say, `When someone calls to ask for their account number, that may take 30 seconds. You may spend five minutes on the next call and you’re still averaging three minutes.’ ” Call center supervisors may not always be the best people for the assignment, LaBlanc suggests. People are promoted into that job who are not ready and not trained. They transmit pressure. If you’re a savvy call center supervisor trying to spot employees who may soon leave, LaBlanc says the signs will vary from person to person. People preparing to leave may be at their work station physically, but they’ve pretty much already resigned. They may be unusually quiet. Someone who typically asks a lot of questions no longer bothers. They may have a bad attitude. They’re not trying as hard, they’re not listening well, they’re not following instructions. Kovac agrees the signs of burnout depend on the individual. Supervisors need to know their employees. It’s a question of demeanor. An employee ready to quit may come into work late or not come in at all. They simply look unhappy. It’s a generalization, he continues, but people who have worked in the call center for two or three years aren’t as likely to leave as newcomers. They know the flow, they feel comfortable with what they’re doing, and they’re taking on more responsibility. Training is critical, Kovac stresses. “ If they just sit in front of a computer and answer questions asking if a certain call comes in would you select A,B, or C, that’s one thing versus actually sitting with someone else on a phone to see how those calls go,” he says. “Try to give them a more holistic view of what the job entails. A lot of people are looking for that training opportunity so they do understand their jobs and feel comfortable with what they’re doing.” LaBlanc says it’s not that hard for someone to find another call center job. After all, rapid turnover means there are almost always openings at other call centers. If you can bring experience with you, you enjoy a definite edge. The low pay also means you can readily find another job outside a call center that matches what you’ve been earning. The Wal-Mart and McDonald’s down the street are hiring. Both LaBlanc and Kovac offer some tips for shrinking call center turnover: * Look at the work environment. Take your foot off the gas pedal and create a more relaxed, involved atmosphere. * Give employees as much control as possible. Form your best call center people into a team and ask them for ideas on what management can do to improve call center conditions. * In fact, management should ask for feedback from all directions – call center employees themselves, the supervisor and the supervisor’s peers. * Reduce the complexity of the job. Call center employees are expected to know a wide range of products and services. Employees always go to the place where they’re the most comfortable. One employee may enjoy spending time solving a particularly difficult problem. Another may be a natural at cross-selling. When a call comes in about credit protection, direct that person to a call center employee who is interested in and well-versed on identity theft and credit protection. * Moving people up the ranks based on seniority is not necessarily the best idea. Recognize each person is an individual, and develop a skills set chart. When an opportunity occurs, move someone with appropriate talent and interest into that job, not necessarily the person with the longest time served in the call center. * Look at scheduling. Maybe there is a way to manipulate the schedule so employees have an extra day off, come in late or work staggered shifts. A good supervisor should be able to determine when call volume is highest and assign schedules accordingly. * Consider extra rewards such as a discount at a gym or movie tickets. Little things that aren’t a great expense to the organization can go a long way. -

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