This is a guest blog by Ashley Verrill, a market analyst at Software Advice.
When it comes to using worker psychology to increase productivity, call centers have commonly used strategies such as gamification to foster a sense of competition and achievement. There’s plenty of research showing the ability of these tools to increase productivity in the near-term. But this doesn’t necessarily affect the employee’s decision to stay in the role.
This requires a slightly different approach. Even more than monetary rewards and incentives, recent research shows the following psychologically based tactics can (when properly implemented) effectively improve productivity and retention.
Give Them a Reason to be There
Call centers should create a sense of purpose to call center work. I’ll use one example from Appletree Answers to describe exactly what I mean by this.
A few years ago, the company experienced a huge increase in turnover after a series of acquisitions. The company grew from a handful of workers to more than 350, and unity among the team completely disappeared. This was enormously damaging to their returns because the cost to train new employees was so high. Then something interesting happened. The company launched Dream On, a program that encouraged employees to help each other reach their dreams. After six months, attrition decreased to 33 percent and they saved $1 million in hiring and training costs. The company experienced its two most profitable quarters ever.
So what happened? Appletree Answers enforced a feeling of purpose in workers. In this case, the purpose was philanthropic, but it doesn’t have to be.
“High performance is that unseen intrinsic drive, the drive to do things because they matter,” says Daniel Pink, best-selling business author of newly released To Sell is Human, a book about the changing world of work.
He said companies can achieve this same sense of purpose by implementing a “genius hour.” In this scenario, agents are asked to leave the phones for one hour every week to come up with improvements in call processes, new ways to handle workflow or other ideas. Columbia Credit Union, for example, implemented this strategy and has seen huge improvements in productivity and retention.
Wharton professor Dr. Adam Grant suggested connecting call center workers with real customers as another means for giving agents purpose. He authored a book called “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” that involved conducting a series of call center experiments to uncover truths about motivation and work performance.
In one experiment at a university fundraising call center, a group of agents was introduced to a scholarship recipient. The recipient spent five minutes explaining the positive impact their work had made on his life. One month later, agents who had met the recipient increased their weekly phone time by an average of 142 percent and their funds raised increased by 171 percent. Agents who did not meet the recipient showed no change in performance.
Identify Common Personality Traits Among Your Best Workers
Evolv, a San Francisco-based data analysis and workforce probability firm, discovered that many traits commonly screened for in the hiring process don’t accurately predict job performance. For example, their experts analyzed data from 21,115 call center agents and found that “previous employment duration is a very weak predictor of how long a new hire will stay on a job.”
So, if you just look at job history for clues about a candidate’s propensity to stay, this isn’t necessarily the best approach. An emerging field called “workforce science,” instead is based on finding common personality traits among the most successful workers. The result is a description of what characteristics make a worker most psychologically predisposed to thriving in your specific work environment.
“Analytics allows business operators to continuously challenge assumptions about how to expand and manage their workforces profitably,” says Dr. David Ostberg, vice president of Workforce Science at Evolv.
His research has shown that a person’s creativity, curiosity and ability to multitask correlate more strongly with how long they might stay on the job. While call centers each have unique requirements, most traits identified as predictors of retention are relevant to all of them.
About Ashley Verrill
Ashley Verrill is a market analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc., Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.