Carolyn Blunt explains which questions you need to ask in your exit interviews and what to do with the information you collect.
In an ideal world, we’d find the right people, train them up and then they’d work for us forever. But we all know that’s never the case. People move on, want to move up or find something better and they end up leaving. So do we just let them go or do we find out the real reasons they’re moving on?
As uncomfortable as exit interviews sometimes are, they can provide invaluable insights into the organisation. This information can then be used to implement changes that may prevent other good people from leaving.
Don’t underestimate the cost of leavers
High staff turnover is costly for organisations. It’s not just the cost of advertising for a replacement. Think about the value of the time spent training the new person. How long does it take until they are up to speed? In many organisations it can take up to 3-6 months. All that time when they are not operating at optimum capacity is actually a cost to the business, and if they leave, then it’s money down the drain. The simple truth is that retaining good employees makes a business more stable and more profitable. Businesses should focus not only on finding great people but also on keeping them.
Key exit interview questions
The reality is that most people leave because they aren’t happy at work. Sometimes it’s a personal reason, but often it’s because there’s something or someone in the work environment that is making it unpleasant for them to stay there.
Few people will be forthcoming about the real reason they’re leaving. But if you ask, let them talk and just keep asking by rephrasing the question, then often the truth will eventually come out.
They might give several reasons. Listen carefully and zone in on the response that’s the most emotive. This is most likely to be the biggest reason for them leaving. Ask how they think the organisation could have solved the issue or handled it differently. They may have some valuable insights that can help you improve your systems or operations.
Asking them for a solution also makes them consider how valid their reason is. If they can’t offer a solution or have no ideas, then it could indicate that they’re seeing a problem when there really isn’t one, or that the solution is really complex but they have a role to play in it. On the other hand, if the solution is simple, it could highlight a serious blind spot in the business that needs to be attended to right away.
Be sure to include questions that highlight positive experiences of being at the company. Ask questions like: How would you describe the culture here? What made you happiest when working here? How would you describe the opportunities here?
You also want to drill down into different aspects of the operations by asking questions such as: How do you feel about the performance management or coaching process? How would you rate the communications? How do you think the contact centre is viewed by other departments in the organisation? How do you rate the systems / technology / knowledge / management / customers?
Depending on the person, you may want to ask if they would reconsider leaving or where they are headed to next, but keep in mind that all answers in an exit interview are optional and the person leaving has no obligation to tell you more than they choose to.
How to use the exit interview information
Conducting exit interviews is fairly pointless if the information gathered is going to be ignored. Remember the real cost of staff turnover? If you want to lower attrition rates, you need to know what your organisation is doing that makes people leave.
Exit interview information provides key touchpoints that are directly impacting your staff. If you take them to heart and implement changes, it may help you retain your best people. High-performing people are generally not fickle, but after a while, small things can accumulate enough to frustrate them.
If there are particular touchpoints that have come up in interviews, such as systems or performance criteria, sit down with some of your senior call centre agents and managers and get their opinions. They may agree on the flaws in the system or may bring up other problems you weren’t aware of. If you highlight the fact that you value their input you may find they are more willing to share their thoughts.
Giving people an opportunity to contribute to a solution gives them a sense of ownership and belonging. More importantly, when they are proud of being part of something bigger in your organisation, they’re less likely to think about leaving, because they will feel valued where they are.
Carolyn Blunt is MD of Real Results, a contact centre performance improvement consultancy.