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Industry Research : The UK Contact Centre Operational Review (5th edition - 2007)

The UK Contact Centre Operational Review (5th edition - 2007) is a study of the performance, operations, technology and HR aspects of 211 UK contact centre operations. Taking a random sample of the industry, a detailed structured questionnaire was asked to contact centre managers and directors: the result, a comprehensive study of all aspects of the UK contact centre industry.

The report covers 18 key areas of contact centre performance and operation:

• Recruitment and Salaries
• Attrition and Absence
• Training
• Flexible Working
• Outsourcing
• Security and Disaster Recovery
• Headsets
• CRM
• Contact Centre Performance
• IP and Call Handling
• Quality and Customer Satisfaction
• Hosted and Network-based Solutions
• Information and Planning
• Outbound and Call Blending
• Speech Technology
• Multimedia
• Location
• Contact Centre Strategy 

This industry research focuses upon the steadily increasing levels of staff attrition in the contact centre, and the problems caused by this.

Contact centre staff attrition - key findings

  • Mean agent attrition rates are running at 32% per year
  • This is the fifth successive annual rise
  • Attrition decreases performance and customer satisfaction, lowers morale and increases training and recruitment costs
  • The three main causes of contact centre agent attrition are lack of opportunity, the repetitive nature of the work and low pay
  • Businesses that offer agents a chance to gain external qualifications have fewer problems with staff attrition
  • Providing a range of tasks also decreases attrition rates

Contact centres that do not have problems with staff attrition pay agent salaries that are an average of £1,115 higher than attrition-hit businesses


Agent Attrition
The conventional wisdom has always been that contact centre staff attrition rates are sky-high, typically running at upwards of 40%. A few years ago, this was easily dismissed as a fallacy driven in large part by the experiences of a few large, high-profile contact centres. However, in each of the past five years, staff attrition rates have crept up until they now stand at a point where perception and reality are actually starting to meet.

This year’s figure for mean average staff turnover is 32%, which is considerable, yet the median (midpoint of all respondents’ answers) was significantly less, at 20%. This shows that there are a number of contact centres with very high attrition rates which are pulling the mean average upwards.

Table 1: Staff attrition rates by vertical market


Attrition causes varying levels of problem, depending if the business has planned for them, so we have dug a bit deeper into the problems caused by attrition, rather than simply look at a top-line figure. Of some concern, more than half of operations say that their churn rates are causing problems. Even outsourcer reports having attrition problems in 57% of cases, despite many having built higher levels of attrition into their business plans.

As is usual in most countries, the outsourcing sector has the highest rate of attrition, being relatively poorly-paid and often involving short-term contracts which require shedding staff on a regular basis. The services sector (which this year includes directory enquiries) also has high average levels of attrition. The higher-skilled and better-paid IT sector reports the lowest level of agent attrition.


The Problems With Staff Attrition
It is a fact of life that businesses will experience some staff attrition, and a case can be made for a certain amount of staff turnover being healthy, in that it brings new blood and new ideas into a business. However, once the attrition rates become excessive, a vicious circle emerges that increases cost, lowers quality and prevents the business moving forward:

  • Inexperienced agents provide a lower standard of customer care
  • This lowers performance, customer satisfaction and profit
  • More pressure is put upon the remaining agents to maintain acceptable performance levels
  • This decreases general morale and makes further attrition more likely
  • The contact centre ends up running just to stand still, and with the cost of recruiting and training an agent estimated at £4,000 - £6,000, there is a significant cost to bear.


Causes Of Staff Attrition
In a similar report on the US contact centre industry, poor remuneration was scored as being the single major cause of staff attrition. UK respondents reported that the lack of opportunity for agents and the repetitive nature of some contact centre work were cited as being more important. However, low pay did show in third place, with more than one-quarter of respondents reporting this as a major issue around high attrition.

Table 2: Causes of staff attrition

Solutions For Staff Attrition
The three top reasons given for high attrition are low pay, lack of opportunity and repetitive work.

Self-Service And Speech Recognition
Only 26% of contact centres offer a voice self-service option, which can take away many of the repetitive and boring calls with which an agent has to deal.

Even in contact centres where self-service is not a viable option because of the nature of the calls and/or customers, automating the initial identity verification procedure (where the agent asks for the customer’s name, address and other security details) makes a significant impact on the repetitive nature of the calls, freeing agents up to spend more time adding value to the conversation.

Additionally, this could save a great deal of money as well: although an average identity verification process takes only 20 seconds per call, the UK contact centre industry ends up spending over £900m each year taking callers through identity checks manually.


Call Blending
Within an outbound environment, businesses can consider using call blending to decrease attrition rates through varying the tasks that agents do. Call blending is an element of outbound calling which has perhaps not yet reached its full potential, as it stands against some of the conventional wisdom of the traditional contact centre industry, which implies that the more one can segregate the contact centre into a series of production lines, the better-run the operation will be.

Call blending gives the ability to deliver both inbound and outbound calls seamlessly to the agent, regulating outbound call volume based on inbound traffic. When inbound traffic is low, outbound calls are automatically generated for a specified campaign. When inbound traffic picks up, the dialler dynamically slows the number of outgoing calls to meet the inbound service level. Results can include increased agent productivity, streamlined staffing, and improved customer service. It also seems to have an impact on staff attrition: only 29% of contact centres using call blending stated they had a problem with attrition, compared to 56% of operations in which call blending is not used.

Opportunities And Attrition
Interestingly, in a industry which outsiders often deem as a dead-end job, the lack of opportunity to move up the career ladder is marked on average as being the single greatest cause of staff attrition.

Businesses which provide agents with the opportunity to gain external qualifications (such as NVQs or other vocational skills) suffer with high levels of staff attrition in 45% of cases. However, those contact centres which do not offer their staff a chance to gain qualifications have problems with attrition in 74% of cases.

As this graph shows, some attrition is of a positive nature: 21% of agents leave for a job within the same company, a figure which is higher in the IT, Public Sector, Services, Transport & Travel and Finance sectors. However, more than a third of agents leave for a job entirely outside the contact centre industry, taking transferable skills and knowledge with them.

Salaries
The third major cause of staff attrition is low pay. While there are usually limited opportunities for a business to increase pay dramatically, it is interesting to see how agents’ salaries have added to the industry-wide problems with attrition.

Inflation has risen by 8.4% in the past four years, but new agents’ salaries risen only by 8.5% over that time, meaning there has been almost no increase in pay in real terms. (However, managers’ salaries risen by 27% over the same time period).

IT and telecoms agents tend to be paid the most, with those in outsourcing receiving the lowest salary. The report finds that those contact centres experiencing staff attrition problems pay an average of £1,115 p.a. less to new agents than operations which do not have problems with attrition.
























About Steve Morrell:
Steve has written over 200 reports on the future of technology, people and business processes surrounding the contact centre industry, and is widely-quoted in industry journals and the international media as the author of key studies of the UK, US, Irish, South African and Indian contact centre markets.

About Contact Babel:
Company LogoContactBabel, a contact center and CRM analyst firm, was set up in 2000 by Steve Morrell, a leading expert on the contact center industry.
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Today's Tip of the Day - Security Is A Human Need

Read today's tip or listen to it on podcast.

Published: Monday, November 26, 2007

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