Leveraging Data Analysis and Psychology to Increase Retention Rates

For this blog post, I'd like to thank and welcome Ashley Verrill who is a software analyst at Software Advice specializing in the workforce, CRM and big data space.

Please check out their informative, comprehensive and social assessment of the HR Tech market at softwareadvice.com (and given the recent hype in the marketplace about Big HR Data, I can only hope "workforce analytics" would be a sub-category at some point in the near future).

While call centers have been using data analytics for decades, the way that this data gets used continues to evolve and helps the best call centers create net-new value through different applications and uses of Big Data - in this case, Big HR Data or workforce analytics. Even though this is a call center specific article, the lessons learned apply across many (arguably all) business capabilities and disciplines.


It's well known in the industry that call centers tend to have some of the highest turnover rates. In fact, one Forrester report found that many companies with call centers are facing a 20 percent turnover rate per year, while others can be as high as 50 percent. Traditionally, companies have looked to gamification and monetary based rewards to combat this trend – but new research suggests their best tactic might be appealing to the workers' psychology.

Use Workforce Science to Hire Candidates for Their Personality Traits

Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article about a new area of research called “workforce science.” This strategy allows companies to analyze thousands of worker and managers’ behaviors to identify the optimal personality traits for the position. In other words, find trends among your most successful workers and only hire for those characteristics. Another study found that this strategy can even be more successful than just considering a candidate's work history.

“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, a San Francisco-based data analysis and workforce probability firm.

Dr. Ostberg's team recently analyzed data from about 21,115 call center agents and found that the most successful and long-lasting call center workers are generally creative, curious and extremely good at multitasking. This last component will only become increasingly important as customers gravitate to digital communication channels, and the call center automation software required to manage these interactions diversifies. While individual call centers each have unique needs, these traits found as predictors of retention are relevant to most.

Call centers should leverage this insight to design recruitment, testing and ongoing learning activities that correlate with identifying, applying and further developing these traits. In doing so, HR drives a tangible impact in terms of business value and performance.

Give Your Agents a Reason to Come to Work

Adam Grant, the Wharton School's youngest tenured and highest-rated professor, recently released a body of work that revealed how a group of workers made significant productivity improvements after they were given a philanthropic purpose to work. In a book he authored on the research called “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” he found that performance for some agents in the experiment improved as much as 171 percent.

These kind of productivity gains correlate with workers being truly engaged in work and having a higher propensity to stay; more so than gamification tactics that might prove short-term gains, but do nothing to increase the worker's satisfaction in the job.

“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. “I believe that includes three elements: autonomy, mastery and purpose.”

Appletree Answers, a rapidly growing US-based contact center service provider proved this theory five years ago when attrition decreased 33 percent after the company launched the “Dream On” program – an initiative to help workers help each other to achieve their dreams.

Giving workers “purpose” in work doesn't have to be philanthropic. This can also be achieved by allowing workers power to shape their own processes and procedures. Pink suggests creating a “genius hour,” or asking agents to leave the phones for one hour every week to come up with improvements in processes, new ways to handle workflow or other ideas.

Columbia Credit Union implemented this strategy in their call center and found that agents thrive on the autonomy and purpose the "genius hour" provides.

Use Your Resources to Make the Right Hire

Thanks to progress in data analysis technology and workforce psychology, call center operators now have intelligent tools to help them determine what type of people succeed in call center environments. By hiring the right people and engaging agents in meaningful ways, you can increase retention, reduce hiring and training costs and improve call center profitability.

Ashley Verrill is a software analyst at Software Advice. She has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has been featured or cited in Inc., Forbes, Business Insider, GigaOM, CIO.com, Yahoo News, the Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal, among others. She also produces original research-based reports and video content with industry experts and thought leaders.

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