Dream Manager’s Mike Greatwood on strategies for employee engagement and retention and not just paying lip service.
Contact centres aren’t the only organisations facing issues of staff morale, productivity and high turnover, but they have nonetheless built up a collective reputation for requiring assistance in these areas.
We chinwag with Mike Greatwood, CEO of employee engagement programme provider Dream Manager about his views on the distinction between engagement and retention and the general outlook contact centre management ought to have in order to gee up their teams.
Engagement versus retention
How should one differentiate employee engagement from retention? Answers Greatwood: “They are connected but totally different.
“Retention is the extent to which people stay with the company, whilst engagement is the degree to which they feel attached and motivated by their work, workplace and employer.
“Many companies believe that if they have highly-engaged people, as shown in staff surveys, that employee retention will take care of itself. But the reality is very different. We have worked with a company that had high employee engagement—recorded as 80% on surveys—but they had a 37% attrition rate (people leaving the company). Something is not right if people say they are engaged but then leave.”
Call centres: Why the revolving door?
We asked Greatwood about what he thinks has led to call centres having a poor reputation for employee retention.
He is unambiguous: “It’s all about businesses, contact centre supervisors, team leaders and managers not putting the people first but treating them like an asset to be maximised. You have to let people be people first and if you want great retention.
“You can’t just say it: you have to demonstrate it. People don’t believe words, they believe actions. What are you authentically doing that puts people first and shows them that they are more important than the Net Promoter Score or the first call resolution rate?
“Put the person first and prove it: invest in them and their hopes, ambitions and dreams and they will repay you with loyalty and improved customer service.”
In order to get new recruits through the first few weeks, he suggests: “If companies can actively demonstrate to their employees that they care—for example having an engagement programme as part of their onboarding process or having a culture of listening—it sends a very powerful message to employees that this is a company that really cares about their wellbeing as individuals.”
Whole-life engagement, not token programmes
Greatwood says that one of the simplest things they can change is how staff are thought of: “Treat employees as individuals first and foremost and don’t expect them to be fooled by the usual superficial engagement programmes which are more about the organisation than the people that really matter.
“[It’s important to] understand that what’s really important is to achieve ‘whole-life engagement’: that if an employee is not engaged in their own lives, they can’t be expected to become engaged in the workplace—especially in a challenging environment like call centres.”
In many ways, he is imploring call centre management to be even more considerate of employees than one might expect of a business in another sector.
Simple engagement tactics
There are some straightforward tips Greatwood offers to managers:
“Forget about team bowling nights and balloons on desks. Take time out to listen to your team members and colleagues and in doing so, you can become their friend. This doesn’t mean not being professional and them having less respect for you as their line manager.”
“One easy way to achieve this is to take an interest in what motivates and inspires the people that you are responsible for. Try asking everyone in your team to come to the next meeting prepared to talk about the five places they most want to visit and why, if there were no constraints. See what a buzz this will create and how it will light everyone up.”
Retention rates and engagement stats around the industry
“Retention rates can vary wildly from 5% attrition levels in call centres where employees have a sense of [social] purpose e.g. they are working for charities; to over 50% in purely commercial organisations.”
“What we do know is that when people are engaged and feel a sense of purpose coming to work, they give up to 57% more discretional effort.
“A study by Avaya showed that for every 1% extra employee engagement achieved, customer satisfaction improved by 0.53% and there is also a direct link to sales performance.
“One of the businesses running our programme achieved a 66% YOY sales growth within their field sales team as a result of that investment.”
Will the future be brighter for call centre agents?
We put it to Greatwood that if customer service and the customer experience is to become the great business differentiator that people suggest, it might mean greater investment in contact centre staff training and engagement in future. Why wait, he asks? “If companies are prepared to make the right investments in helping their people to become the best versions of themselves, there’s no reason why working in a call centre cannot be regarded as a long-term career option.
“It’s not about paying people more money and for the vast majority of people, provided they have enough for what they need in life, financial rewards are not that important as a motivator.
“Companies need to remember to put people first, listen to them and appreciate that they have dreams, goals and aspirations beyond their day-to-day work.”
Greatwood points to one of his clients, cleaning company Jancoa, which had a 400% attrition rate prior to their working together. “The end results demonstrated that even people employed to do undesirable jobs like office cleaning will demonstrate loyalty and commitment at work when they know they are working towards something greater and their employer is interested in helping them to get there.
“They took the dead end out of a dead end job and gave people a sense of purpose—the results on the business and the bottom line were amazing.”