Tackling staff turnover: what the experts recommend


We all know the call centre industry has a problem when it comes to retaining staff. But what should the sector be doing to keep churn to a minimum and stop those phones going unmanned? Call Centre Helper talks to seven experts from the industry to hear their gems of advice.

Recommendation from Karen Hodge, head of communications centre at the outsourcer Broadsystem 

With people representing up to 70% of business operating cost, retention of staff is a key focus for all contact centre managers. Incentivisation is a key tool to retaining staff, but it is critical that you get this right or it can prove a costly process with little long-term benefit.
With that in mind, I’d say the following:

  • Identify individual and team motivators, complete forums to identify what works for them
  • Ensure incentives are reviewed regularly so they remain fresh
  • Ensure incentives are performance based and staff are briefed on targets and regularly updated. Team league tables have proved successful at Broadsystem


  • Assume all incentives involve monetary reward. Additional breaks, days off and time away from phones to complete other tasks are equally successful
  • Assume incentives should only target top performers. Incentives that target your top 20% of performers can demotivate the other 80%

Above all, ensure that all staff are engaged in your vision for the business, and that they understand their role in your success!

Recommendation from Michael O’Toole, marketing director at the outsourcer bss 

Contact centres are organisations geared around people, and retention of effective staff is an essential ingredient for success.
bss’s core approach to running services is based upon a non-scripted methodology. The more complex nature of the public service contracts we run means a trained advisor with excellent knowledge systems is the most effective solution. This provides varied and rewarding work, which is a factor in ensuring we typically average around 20% per annum attrition rates.

That said, we feel it is also vital to have a consistent focus on the welfare of employees. bss hold Investors in People accreditation and continually works to ensure staff have good working conditions. We offer all staff an employee assistance programme (EAP), too, providing an independent and impartial telephone and face-to-face supportive advice service on issues including finance, work and family issues.
The service is totally confidential and discreet. However, we do see reports from the EAP service that provide a useful outline of usage and subject areas.

Recommendation from Graeme Kalbraier, managing director at insurance call centre Call Connection

We’re growing rapidly, handling more than 50,000 calls a week, so we’ve created a culture of fun and incentives to retain and motivate our staff and ensure that we’re a great place to work. This policy has contributed to our continued success and also to staff voting us in to the Sunday Times “Best Companies to Work for 2007” listings.
Staff benefit from free Sky TV, free drinks, Internet cafe, showers, kitchen area and snack machines are standard. As part of the drive to ensure the company stays healthy, free gym membership and complementary fresh fruits are also provided, and a massage therapist visits twice a month.
As well as running a company football team – we recently won a charity match at Ipswich Town FC’s ground – we have other incentives. A six-monthly ‘state of the nation’ meeting updates everyone on financial and company performance, key metrics and future plans. Regular tea parties build bridges between the board, managers, supervisors and staff. Last year we paid over 1 million to staff in bonuses and incentives, and this year there are prizes to win trips to Monte Carlo, New York and the Caribbean. We also handle calls annually for Comic Relief, which sees all our staff – including me and the other directors – in fancy dress. It all helps us generate a fun environment, which builds loyalty and reduces staff churn.

Recommendation from Vicky James, employee relations manager at the outsourcer Garlands Call Centres 

Garlands has a core set of four basic rules: stimulate, respect and develop your people; support them with the best technology; create environments that are motivational and encourage team-working; and aim to consistently exceed customers’ expectations. In this way, we not only try and ensure we always deliver the best possible service quality, but also develop and retain our best people.
Generally, the more involved people are in the business (sharing in its successes), and the more opportunities they have to develop themselves (not just in specialist areas but ‘holistically’ as well) the more likely they are to enjoy their work and develop their careers within your call centre operation.

Recommendation from Steve Woosey, membership director at the industry body Professional Planning Forum 

The Professional Planning Forum has worked extensively with many contact centres to reduce attrition. The issue that needs to be addressed is how to balance the needs of the business with the needs of the employee.
Finding a job with a good work-life balance gives an employee a benefit that cannot be matched by pay or other incentives – having the ability to work to live rather than living to work. One way to look at this is fitting work in around your other commitments rather than having to fit everything else around work.
Many contact centres now offer the same kind of flexibility that legislation suggests under family friendly policy to all employees irrespective of circumstances. This may be a step too far, but shows how contact centres understand the benefit of good working patterns.
Giving employees a choice of shift options that match their lifestyle as closely as possible while still matching the needs of the business and supporting this with time off options – such as time banking, shift swaps, shift slides, and unpaid leave – allows employees to have a sense of choice over when they work.
The use of self service technology also gives employees a sense of control and the Professional Planning Forum’s research shows that 40% of those using self service tools for holidays, shift swaps and viewing schedules have seen a reduction in attrition.

Recommendation from Mike Purvis, managing director at the outsourcer Transcom UK 

At Transcom, we aim to communicate our expectations clearly and award the delivery of results appropriately. We have developed a scorecard that allows us to monitor how our call centre operators answer calls. Strong performance – in terms of quality and efficiency – are rewarded and the operators responsible are given ‘superagent’ status, which entitles them to privileges such as preferred shifts and extra vacation time.
We also define clear career succession plans so that our operators feel as if they are setting out on a career path. In these ways, we cultivate an environment where talented staff are retained and rewarded.
As importantly, Transcom has proactive policies for retaining the most talented corporate managers, as well. We operate under a cascading programme for communicating our business objectives down throughout the company.
Every level of management works to create a set of objectives with a senior colleague. Then, in their own teams, these objectives are contextualised further down the chain. This gives staff the flexibility to achieve Transcom’s objectives in unique ways and from different locations.

Most importantly, throughout Transcom we remember the five key values that make up our ‘transvision’: excellence, passion, innovation, honesty, and fun. These principles dictate how we treat our clients, but also our staff.

Recommendation from Andrew Beale, head of V2 recruitment – a division of the outsourcer V2 Communications 

I see it like Gordon Gekko from the movie ‘Wall Street’: churn is good!

Churn has a wealth of advantages. It helps keep existing staff motivated, brings out the ambition in individuals, and serves as a constant reminder that managers must be consistent in maintaining a positive culture.
The important factors are who is controlling the churn, and why it is occurring.
V2 Communications operates an internship programme that ‘unlocks’ candidates who would not traditionally approach this industry. At the same time, we embrace churn because of its inevitability.
In the main, call centres are stopgaps, leading to something else (university funding, in-between jobs, university leavers unsure of direction, etc). Given that an agent is likely to work on up to three campaigns or projects, they become almost synonymous with the client.

The customer gains an already trained resource without the need to use the swathe of recruitment companies, the call centre gets a fee for the recruitment aspect, and other centre staff are motivated by seeing an accession route.
Internship has to be seen as an added value to customers and staff alike. It would be pointless shuffling off poor resource in the direction of a client, similarly wasteful if a future call centre manager was ‘shuffled’.

Author: Jonty Pearce

Published On: 2nd Aug 2007 - Last modified: 28th Oct 2020
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