It's a sector where people come and go all the time, but one call centre asks if it could do more

'If they're going to hang on, we have to give our workers a buzz'
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The Independent Online

Like many call centres, Data Base Factory (DBF) is worried its employees could become frustrated.

"We employ 36 agents and only three team leaders, so opportunities for progression are limited," explains manager Peter Gale. "We want to know how to avoid enthusiastic and talented staff getting bored of their jobs."

The extent of the problem hit home when a particularly valued employee of three years told Mr Gale he was leaving. "He said it wasn't the money or that he didn't enjoy his job, but that he simply wanted more. Since there were no opportunities to progress within the business, he had decided to move on."

It's not as if the Hampshire-based company, which currently turns over £3m a year, has any trouble getting employees through the door in the first place.

"I think people like the fact we are quite a small company," he says, "and I believe it also helps that we're based in Ringwood on the South Coast, rather than in an area like Glasgow or Newcastle where there are all these huge call centres competing for staff. There are other centres in our area, but to nowhere near the same extent."

In addition, DBF is attractive to some people because they won't have to get on the phone and sell. Mr Gale explains: "Clients use DBF to outsource any aspect of their customer service or fulfilment, but the lion's share of our business is looking after subscribers for two publishing companies. That involves handling the calls, emails, faxes and letters from those subscribers.

"I think this work attracts a different kind of person to the more aggressive sales-type people required for outbound telesales."

And, at least relative to the problems encountered by the industry as a whole, staff do tend to stay with DBF for quite a while.

"Our retention rates are pretty good for the call centre sector," says Mr Gale. "In some centres, they turn over their entire staff twice a year."

That said, the most enthusiastic and talented staff members at DBF get to a certain point where they either become unmotivated or they hand in their notice. "The work can be tough and repetitive," he admits. "But surely there is something we can do to hold on to them for longer. With 12 agents to one team leader, there is obviously a limit to how many can progress, but we'd like to know what else we can do to keep them excited and happy."

So far, the company has focused on providing training opportunities that will benefit employees even if they don't stay with DBF. "And it's not as though the pay is bad for the sector," says Mr Gale. "However, we'd love to hang on to good staff members."

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Angela Baron, organisation and resourcing adviser, The Chartered Institute Of Personnel And Development

*** "In a firm of this size, it will always be difficult to create career moves, and inevitably Data Base Factory will lose some people. However, a positive culture and good training opportunities will build a reputation as a great place to work, which will help the company in being able to recruit excellent people.

"DBF has already made the first step by finding out why employees are leaving and introducing retention tools such as training. Now might be a good time to review these tools to ensure they are still effective in meeting the needs of staff.

"It might be worth giving people the opportunity to volunteer in the local community, or to go on secondment to client companies, to keep them interested and happy. Perhaps create a rota system so that the more experienced employees get the opportunity to train or coach new starters, adding more variety to their day.

"You could also look to find additional ways of recognising individual achievements."

Anne Marie Forsyth, chief executive, The Customer Contact Association

*** "Call centres as flat structures are not unique, and differentiating between progression and promotion is often a good starting point in this situation.

"Not everyone wants responsibility for people, and even in smaller firms there is a range of progression opportunities.

"Call centres independently accredited by the Customer Contact Association (CCA) model for continual improvement are aware of the need to review the end result for the customer through staff development. The key to good morale lies within that process.

"At DBF there are four customer-contact channels [phone calls, emails, faxes and letters]. That allows for staff rotation and working groups to identify improvement opportunities and retain the challenge.

"Ally that to training and development of staff to do what they do but better (using quality control and mentors) and satisfaction levels will improve and good employees will stay.

"A final thought: a zero turnover rate may not be a good thing."

Stephen Pegge, head of communications, Lloyds Tsb Business

*** "The financial and skills drain is obviously a problem, but the impact that attrition has on the remaining staff can be even more costly. Nurturing your team is crucial to business success, especially where those people are the business.

"Efforts to reduce staff turnover fall into three camps: recruitment, reward and satisfaction. Reviewing recruitment policies and building a flexible rewards package can help attract people more disposed to long service.

"However, measures aimed at delivering job satisfaction offer perhaps the greatest opportunities for DBF. If prospects for continued development are limited then identify them elsewhere. For example, staff secondment with organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau can reap dividends all round. Employees spend time in new and challenging environments while developing relevant and applicable work skills such as empathy and tolerance.

"A realistic approach to staff turnover should involve forward planning to help mitigate the impact."

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