How Successful Call Centres are Tackling Demotivation and Attrition


Every individual call centre has its own vibe – from the moment you walk in, you can feel the energy and enthusiasm. If you sense a different mood altogether, it’s a big problem, not only for daily client sales targets but for the success of the call centre in the long term.

There’s a strong connection between employees and success – your people power growth. But attrition, already high on the agenda for call centres, is a hindrance to any company trying to expand.

The ‘usual suspects’ at the root of attrition look like this:

  • Boredom, burnout, dissatisfaction or better job opportunities perceived elsewhere
  • Staff servicing multiple different clients can lose focus easily
  • Poor customer service becomes company culture due to disengaged employees
  • Clients need clear reporting and accountability

The cost of replacing experienced staff is a burden on profits: an Oxford Economics report* concluded that the bill for replacing a single member of staff is more than £30,000 (USD $44,000) in time, recruitment, training and productivity.

But the fact is, if we can make people happier, they will stay and they will perform well. If staff feel loved and valued, they will take responsibility for their own continuous high performance and think twice about leaving.

What are the top hiring companies doing?

Internationally, the picture is familiar. A recent monthly report from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics** showed that workers aged 20-24 stay with an employer on average 1.1 years, while workers aged 25-34 stay 2.7 years; in both cases, this is less time than they would have remained with an employer in the 80s and 90s, and call centre staff spend even less time at the same place.

On this side of the Atlantic, a Scottish call centre claimed to become the first stand-alone call centre in the UK to pay its employees a voluntary Living Wage from New Year’s Day. It’s a savvy introduction that could combat high staff turnover, and timely because January is a month when employees are struggling to overcome post-festive winter ennui by browsing for new jobs.

This Living Wage – which is more than the government’s National Living Wage that came into in April – could see the basic salary become a powerful defence against the issue of continuous leakage of talent. The Scottish company, VOCA Telemarketing, is looking to create more jobs in the first quarter of 2016, and a healthy basic salary arguably fosters employee loyalty (retention) and overall performance (growth).

VOCA Marketing isn’t alone in offering attractive pay and conditions: Fusion Contact Centre Services in Sunderland, UK, and Afni in Tucson, Arizona, are just two examples (there are many) of call centres that are recruiting on a grand scale, and these thriving companies are offering a broad variety of benefits, such as:

  • Performance-based bonuses
  • Sick pay, healthcare & dental benefits
  • Permanent contracts
  • Training and mentoring
  • Appraisals
  • Attractive on-site facilities like gyms and restaurants
  • Perks like desk massages and Family Fun Days!

This is all about the quality of the job – a job that is a career, and which takes place within a positive culture where employees are – and feel – valued. These tactics raise two important questions, though.

  1. Call centres are no ordinary employment sector: is the high level of attrition so easy to rein in? Are these measures enough?
  2. If all call centres are trying to address the same issue of attrition, how is it possible to become, and remain, a top employer and a thriving company?

On top of pay and conditions, some companies go a stage further and initiate an incentive and rewards programme – (mostly) gone are the days when a team leader would, on a whim, do a floor walk waving a wad of bank notes as motivation! Nowadays, incentives and rewards are structured; a consistent, reliable, engaging programme with a measurable ROI.

“Does my boss know what a good job I’m doing?”

My own experiences of working in call centres are extremely diverse. In my first post, I was given a phone book and a telephone and told to get on with it. This was a while ago, admittedly, and I was eager to please, so I did, in fact, just get on with it. For a short time at least!

While I’ve moved on, I’ve retained very close relationships with call centre clients, and it’s clear to me that the nature of the job hasn’t changed significantly:

  • Call centre work is demanding and can feel like a thankless task
  • You’re bound to a desk for most of the working day
  • What you’re trying to sell or service can affect your mood or motivation
  • The never-ending-calls nature of the job can be draining and monotonous
  • A month seems a long time to wait for the next salary payment
  • Bonus targets seem unrelated to daily activities
  • Selling for multiple vendors simultaneously is confusing
  • Your lack of product knowledge can affect your confidence to perform well
  • Feelings of being stuck in career progression
  • Feeling overlooked, underestimated and undervalued

At the risk of sounding flippant, it’s worth mentioning that, perhaps contrary to the beliefs and assumptions of the general public, call centre staff are emotional and aspirational. They are also competitive and driven. All these needs should be met by the employer to get the most out of them – including loyalty and commitment – and can be using incentives and rewards.

How to differentiate your company culture

Some call centres are still using ad hoc rewards, like the chap waving the wad of cash. The problem with ad hoc rewards is not everyone will be a winner – your star representatives will get the prizes time and time again – which could actively demotivate the rest of your team. A structured approach will ensure everyone can be a winner.

For example, around 20% of your salesforce will always make a sale. Using a points-based programme means everybody is equal in the race for rewards and gets something, while those who sell more will get better rewards.

Let’s look at how your clients do things. Vendors are always running campaigns to promote latest products and services, probably using a cloud-based platform to run it, possibly backed up by an event like a SPIF/hype day. Vendors run these because they have measurable benefits that can be analysed from the cloud-based platform and witnessed on the sales floor, such as:

  • Engagement
  • Motivation
  • Productiveness
  • Focus
  • Competitiveness
  • Improved performance
  • Achievement
  • Confidence
  • Job satisfaction

It’s not an approach suited just to sales teams either; where there’s a target, there’s an achievement to be made and potential for the employer to say “thank you – we like this, do more of it.”

So, going back to questions 1 and 2 above about how to tackle attrition in this sector: while pay and conditions greatly improve the strength of the services sector, including call centres, they will not be enough in the long term, in an increasingly competitive marketplace that is already wrong-footed simply by the nature of the job. Recognising and rewarding staff to make them feel useful, proficient and valued will be a necessary requirement.

* As reported by Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service)
** Statistics taken from the Quality Assurance & Training Connection (QATC)

With thanks to Dan Kelly at Corporate Rewards

Published On: 7th Jun 2016 - Last modified: 20th Jul 2017
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1 Comment
  1. You can’t forget that in many call centres staff are tracked in the number of calls they make per day and how long they go for rest breaks; quite militantly in 2 examples I know of. And when this happens often the employee in question usually has their bonus reduced dramatically or are on the end of disciplinary action (in fact, one person has a flawless record and was ill for a day). They instantly lost 20% of their bonus and were on a ‘watch’ list by supervisors. All the incentive in the world is great; but if you have a hard line on discipline, it can also be a factor leading into some of the subjects you mention in the article.

    Ben 8 Sep at 2:26 pm
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