Strategies to Build a Stronger Call Center Culture

Professionals talking on their headsets and typing on their computers

Call centers have long been known for having one of the highest turnover rates of any industry. For U.S. based call centers, the number ranges from 30 to 45%, which is more than double the average for all occupations. Larger call centers have the highest turnover, with rates hovering around 44%, while entry-level agents are the most likely to leave over their more experienced counterparts.

In part, the nature of the business contributes to such high turnover numbers. Call center employees deal with repetitive work that’s often emotionally charged; creating an environment that’s ripe for job dissatisfaction and burnout. Yet it doesn’t mean call centers simply have to accept high attrition as a fact of life. Read on to learn more about the unique staffing challenges in the customer service industry and how to combat them by building a stronger call center culture.

A Closer Look at Call Center Turnover

It’s no secret that a call center can be a high-stress work environment, but lots of jobs are stressful. So why are call center reps so much more likely to leave their jobs than staffers in other high-tension fields? To get a better grasp on call center attrition, we must look at the problem as a combination of diverse factors.

First, the work can be monotonous. Calls are meant to be completed in rapid succession and often involve answering the same questions or dealing with the same problems over and over again. The nature of call center work doesn’t readily lend itself to the engagement that top employees crave. According to a Gallup survey on employee engagement, companies with engagement numbers that fall within the bottom quartile experience 69% higher absenteeism rates, 39% more shrinkage and twice as many safety incidents as companies within the top quartile.

Unlike other repetitive jobs, such as data entry or assembly line work, call center jobs are incredibly stressful in spite of their monotony. Customers don’t typically call into a company to say how satisfied they are! Rather, they call when they’re facing a problem and are upset, frustrated or even downright angry. As a result, call center reps are often subjected to verbal abuse from callers, which creates a hostile work environment.

In addition to being emotionally taxing, the call center environment is a rigid one. In a business where every additional second spent on the phone translates to a direct cost, workers are expected to adhere to a strict set of policies designed to resolve each call as quickly and with as few resources as possible. But employees in greater numbers than ever before are resistant to such rigid work structures, with 96% of U.S. workers saying they wanted flexibility from their jobs.

Finally, in contrast to other high-stress professions like medicine or law enforcement, call center work usually goes hand in hand with low pay. According to Glassdoor data, the average call center worker in the U.S. makes $27,000 a year—barely more than what’s considered the poverty level for a family of four.

When you combine unengaging work, a stressful environment, low flexibility, and low pay, it’s not hard to see why building a strong call center culture is a challenge, but it’s one companies must tackle head-on. High turnover damages the organization from multiple angles, from the high cost associated with recruiting new workers to lost productivity to a drop in morale. If you want to combat these business detriments, turn your attention to your organizational culture.

How To Improve Organizational Culture In Your Call Center

A strong company culture is important no matter what industry you’re in. Having a positive company culture is associated with more productive employees, a better brand image and even stronger profits, not to mention that it makes it easier to attract top talent. In the call center world, though, it’s even more important for its role in helping you hold onto the talent you work so hard to recruit.

One study in particular sheds a great deal of light on the challenges and benefits of creating a better call center culture. In it, researchers interviewed and gathered data on more than 300 employees of a call center in Italy. They found that “enhancing the sense of belonging and organizational identification”—in other words, building a strong organizational culture—could result in higher motivation, greater job satisfaction and reduced turnover intentions among employees.

So how do we get there? Build a stronger company culture for your call center by following these three strategies.

Provide ample training and development opportunities 

One of the key culture pitfalls identified by the Italian study was the lack of opportunities for engagement among call center staffers. The researchers identified several opportunities to increase engagement, beginning with an employee’s first days on the job and continuing throughout their tenure with the organization.

First, we can better engage call center reps by providing thorough onboarding training. This includes not only training them for the hard duties of the job, but preparing them for the emotional aspect of it as well. Candidates should be screened from the very beginning of the hiring process to eliminate those who may struggle with the job’s emotional requirements. Further, the emotional component of employee development should be extended well beyond the training period by providing ongoing resources to help employees cope with customer aggressions and regulate their own emotional responses in a healthy way.

Employee development (link to post on employee development when published) in the traditional sense of industry conferences and seminars may not be as readily available in the customer service field as it is in others like sales. Still, companies can mimic these development opportunities—and gain the same benefits—by creating internal outlets for employees to engage with their colleagues in a group setting like team building events, educational speakers, etc.

Build culture from the top down

It’s interesting to note that the higher up the call center food chain you go, the less turnover is a problem. Supervisors exhibit turnover rates of 7% on average, while the rate for managers is just 6%. This suggests that call center staffers in a leadership role are more secure in their positions and thus, are better equipped to serve as a source of professional support for their subordinates. We can and should incorporate them in our efforts to build a stronger organizational culture by taking a top-down approach.

Don’t leave training and support programs solely to HR. Rather, engage supervisors in the technical and emotional support programs provided to employees. In addition to the resources made available to entry-level staff, programs should be established to help supervisors stay aware of the challenges their teams face and help their employees find ways to overcome them.

Ensure that the organization has a clear and distinct mission statement that supervisors are not only aware of, but able to put into practice through corresponding policies and procedures.

Give employees autonomy 

We’ve already established how the call center industry is one that necessitates a fixed set of workflows and standardized job practices. Still, that doesn’t mean supervisors need to rule with an iron fist. Though there may be little room for flexibility when it comes to things like schedules and workflows, you can build a strong company culture by giving your call center employees more autonomy in areas where they can be independent, like resolving customer problems.

Research shows that one of the biggest keys to employee happiness and wellbeing is an acute sense of autonomy in their daily operations. In a University of Birmingham study of 20,000 workers, researchers found that the more autonomy a worker experienced, the greater their level of job satisfaction.

So with things like flexible scheduling off the table, what do we mean when we talk about autonomy? In this context, it might include the ability to make decisions without having to run everything past a superior, being able to contribute ideas freely and feel like they’re being heard, and being able to hold themselves accountable for fulfilling their job duties without being micromanaged—all of which can be applied in a call center setting.

Turn to the Experts in Call Center Recruiting

If reducing turnover and attracting top talent are priorities for your organization, let the call center recruiting experts at 4 Corner Resources lend a hand. Our call center staffing skills run deep; our president’s background in enterprise telephony gives us a unique understanding of the people skills and technical know-how required to make a call center run successfully.

We have more than a decade of experience sourcing and hiring call center representatives, call center managers, inside sales reps, telecom administrators and more. Our customer service headhunters will match your needs with candidates who bring the right combination of technical skills and personality traits to succeed in the long term. We offer hiring solutions from direct-hire headhunting, contract staffing, and contract-to-hire recruiting. 

Contact us now to get on the road to better hiring and a stronger call center culture today!

Pete Newsome

About Pete Newsome

Pete Newsome is the President of 4 Corner Resources, the staffing and recruiting firm he founded in 2005. 4 Corner is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance, and the top-rated staffing company in Central Florida. Recent awards and recognition include being named to Forbes’ Best Recruiting Firms in America, The Seminole 100, and The Golden 100. Pete also founded zengig, to offer comprehensive career advice, tools, and resources for students and professionals. He hosts two podcasts, Hire Calling and Finding Career Zen, and is blazing new trails in recruitment marketing with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn