Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Early Warning on Attrition

It was the early 21st century, and the offshore call-center and BPO industry was booming. People were joining local and multinational companies because they were being paid well. But as the industry flourished, demand overtook supply. And, today, its no secret that the main concern for contact-center employers is agent attrition, with the cost of hiring and training new agents ranging from $2,000-10,000 per agent. And, this concern gets passed on to youthe customerbecause it is eventually you who foots the bill for new hiring and training, and suffers from institutional loss of knowledge.

So, why do agents quit so frequently? Reasons are aplenty, including non-flexible schedules, non-progressive career paths or aspirations to join a more stable industry.

"While combating the problem of attrition, it is important to understand why a person is leaving. Just as important is to proactively address the needs of an individual before he resigns," said Tim Huiting, head, HR, Convergys Asia.

Tuning the Right Chord
Convergys, one of the largest contact centers in the world, developed a system to combat the attrition challenge head-on. They called the it "Early Warning System" (EWS). Since Convergys employs over 63,000 agents in over seventy-five centers around the world, controlling attrition is strategic for them, to continue to provide services at competitive prices to their customers.

Masterminds at Convergys sat down and figured out about fifty distinct triggers, which could be as small as hygiene issues that lead to agent attrition. "EWS utilizes proprietary software that tracks agent behavior and indicates events such as declining or fluctuating productivity, increased rate of absenteeism, rejections for internal job postings, drops in call quality, increased off-phone time and a myriad others," explains Sharad Talwar, site director, Convergys India.

Many others follow this system, though the names are different. Infosys BPO calls it "Attrition Forecasting" whereas Wipro BPO defines it as "People Pulse." But, what exactly is this system?

"It is an IT-based system where team leaders enter qualitative information on a weekly basis after meeting with individual agents," explains Piyush Mehta, SVP and HR leader, Genpact. "The EWS system then compiles and indicates the agents likeliness to leave with a Red, Amber or Green indicator. Red means the agent is most likely to leave within 30 days, Amber indicates the agent is at risk of quitting, and Green means the agent is satisfied and there is no risk of attrition."

"The early warning attrition system is another technology toy. And, it will not be effective unless we put in an emotional touch to it."

Following the indications, team leaders or project managers implement intervention activities to address the factors resulting in those color indications. The EWS system also analyzes attrition in relation to tenure of service in the company, age, job band, gender and education, and thereby allowing the management to combat these potential attrition drivers before they actually result in employee loss.

To date, the use of EWS and associated intervention strategies has had a multimillion dollar financial benefit for both Convergys and Genpact. Convergys contact centers experienced a reduction of 15-25% in attrition in 2006 and the attrition rate in Genpact is about 25-30%, which is below the industry standard.

A Human Touch to Technology
Although the underlying EWS technology is quite extraordinary, technology itself is not the whole story. The EWS technology needs to be fostered with a human element.

"The system is another technology toy. And it will not be effective unless we put in an emotional touch to it," says Nandita Gurjar, VP and head, HR, Infosys BPO. "The management should bond with their employees emotionally. And, that is why we have a Business HR team on every floor. It is a help and counseling desk where agents and team leads can come up any time, and discuss their issues."

Another program that touches the human quotient of an employee is the Performance-based Scheduling program. High performers are given the chance to choose a work schedule of their choice. This motivates agents to work hard and also helps reduce the numbers that leave because of odd-working schedules.

"A right work-flow design too helps bring down the turnover rate to even single digits by bringing down the stress level of the agents," adds Gurjar. "And thats why we have incorporated a right-skills (identification) project where we employ people with the right skills rather than the right people (people with high qualifications). This makes agents enjoy their work and feel less stressed, resulting in low attrition."

The EWS system encourages team leaders to meet regularly and build better relationships with the agents that report to them
The EWS system encourages team leaders to meet regularly and build better relationships with the agents that report to them. The building of these relationships improves two-way communication between the agents and team leaders. These improved relationships also underscore to agents and managers alike that every employee is a valued company asset. But what if there is a problem between the team lead and an agent?

"At Convergys, we have introduced a "Team Leader Transformation" program with an emphasis on training the team leaders to improve their people-management skills. Agents with more effective managers have higher job satisfaction, and are thus less likely to leave," says Talwar of Convergys.

The Customers Role
Effectively managing agent turnover saves contact centers millions of dollars in recruiting, hiring and training costs, and any benefit derived due to reduction in annual attrition rates goes right to the customer. Conversely, high agent attrition rates degrade customer experience and customer satisfaction, which negatively impact the quality of customer care.

So, it is important for the customer to be involved in attrition reduction programsinvolvement in the working of EWS software being one of them.

The EWS not only predicts the number of agents who will quit, but also gives an indication of all those factors that will eventually lead to attrition. Yet the system alone cannot reduce the growing concern. A quick and effective human action by both the employer and the customer needs to be implemented to make the software work most effectively.

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