SQM Group

Agent Career Development

A Best Practice for Retaining Agents and Improving Customer Service

March 10, 2022 | 3min read

Agent Career Development Program

The essence of an effective agent career development program is to have a formalized plan to achieve alignment between an agent's career aspirations and the contact center's workforce needs.

Career advancement opportunities are an essential motivating practice for agents to improve their call resolution and customer satisfaction (Csat) performance. Therefore, a well-defined agent career development program should include career advancement, growth opportunities, talent capabilities, and succession planning.

When unemployment is low, higher-performing agents have more opportunities to seek employment with other organizations. However, SQM's research shows that one of the top reasons agents leave an organization is the lack of career advancement opportunities.

Furthermore, our employee exit interview feedback shows that higher-performing agents who leave their job do so, in many cases, because they feel the agent's job is repetitive. Also, they have to deal with angry customers, feel they are 'chained to their desk,' and over-measured on metrics such as average handle time, quality assurance, attendance, and occupancy.

Interestingly, these same agents also feel they would have stayed longer working in the contact center if more career development and/or advancement opportunities were available. Clearly, contact centers need to have a well-defined career development program where supervisors provide agents with career counselling information so that agents want to stay motivated to improve their VoC performance based on their understanding of the career development opportunities that the supervisor shared with them.

Team Building

Best Practices for Agent Career Development

Given the importance of career advancement for motivating agents, career advancement and development opportunities should be based on agent call resolution and Csat performance.

Career development is a two-way street between the organization and employees. Therefore, career advancement policies and practices must be communicated to all employees through frequent career counselling sessions. For example, when agent career counselling sessions are conducted on a semi-annual basis, the supervisor communicates the Voice of the Customer (VoC) performance expectations that an agent needs to achieve to be eligible for a promotion.

Agent Advancement

At these agent career counselling sessions, agents also receive a written VoC training and coaching plan to assist them in career advancement within the contact center and/or organization. An effective career development program's benefits for the organization are employees staying longer, being more motivated, and developing excellent knowledge and skills. Enhancing agent call resolution knowledge and skills are the development areas that can significantly assist the contact center in achieving world-class customer service performance.

It is important not to over-hire agents with a university degree (in most cases, a good rule of thumb is less than 20% of the agent workforce). In most cases, agents with university degrees typically use the contact center as a springboard to work in the organization and are unwilling to work in the contact center for a long time. It is worth noting that 33% of the agents have a university degree in the contact center industry. However, SQM research shows that call resolution and Csat performance are at the same level for agents who do not have a university degree and agents who do have a university degree. Typically, agents with a university degree leave within one year if they sense limited or no career advancement opportunities. Non-university degree agent's tenure is over three years.

The cost associated with an agent who leaves the organization is typically measured in terms of a new hire cost, approximately $7,500 for the contact center industry. However, the actual cost for voluntary agent turnover is much higher. It typically takes an agent three to six months to be truly at the same level as a seasoned agent for productivity and resolving calls. In other words, a new agent has lower productivity and higher unresolved calls, which results in higher costs and lower Csat. The bottom line is that losing a seasoned, high call resolution performing agent costs substantially more than the cost of a new hire.

A best practice is that all agents must stay in the agent job for a minimum of two years, preferably three, to be eligible for advancements within the organization but outside the call center. SQM's research shows that if the contact center's annual agent turnover is higher than 20%, it can negatively impact FCR and customer service significantly.

Therefore, it is recommended not to hire too many agents with university degrees and, where possible, create both lateral and upward positions within the contact center to reduce turnover in the contact center. Additionally, promotions should be based on VoC performance. Only first and second quartile agent call resolution performers should be eligible for advancement or development opportunities.

Agents that take lateral jobs should be performing at least at the contact center call resolution average. Agents who are fourth quartile call resolution performers should not be eligible for promotion or development opportunities. Career advancement opportunities based on VoC require true grit because it is not common for agents to receive promotions based on VoC performance. However, when career advancement is based on VoC and handled effectively, it is a positive FCR game changer.