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Dealing With Staff Shortages

Tips to Achieve a Full Schedule for Your Call Center

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

For years many call centers have faced an ongoing challenge to fully staff their operation. But over the last year and a half this quest has become even more difficult, with an increased number of people opting to stay home and not work. But this doesn’t mean the task of finding all the staff you need is insurmountable. You can conquer staff shortages.

Here are some tips to better fill your call center agent schedule. 

Avoid Short-Term Gimmicks to Counter Staff Shortages

Tales abound of large signing bonuses, referral fees, and unsustainably high hourly rates. These may get warm bodies in your door, but will they complete training? And if they finish training, will they stick around?

And when existing staff hears of the lengths you’ve gone through to fully staff your operation, they may resent these new hires for the incentives they received, perks that you didn’t offer them. They may resent you too. This disappointing attitude can negatively affect their work and their longevity.

Instead of pursuing short-term tactics, which will produce long-term grief, consider pursuing the following options that are more sustainable.

Embrace Work at Home to Add Employment Flexibility

You have home-based agents or are considering it as an option. But have you fully embraced it? Though it may be wise to start out small and proceed with care when it comes to managing a remote workforce, you must make a full commitment for this to work on a large-scale. This may be the easiest solution to counter staff shortages.

Target Underutilized Labor Markets to Find Qualified Agents

Most call centers prefer to hire in their local labor market. They do this even though they have a work-at-home model. This makes sense from a logistical standpoint. It eases training, technical support, and management. It also allows them to gather in person for meetings and to sometimes work out of your office.

Yet there are probably nearby labor markets that aren’t as close and are underserved. Though not as common as they once were, they’re still geographic areas that have more qualified workers than viable jobs. Dig into these markets and you will likely mine some great employees.

Another type of underutilized labor market isn’t bounded by geography but by circumstance. Some eager and qualified workers are homebound for assorted reasons. This might be a lack of transportation, limited mobility, or social anxieties. But these people can still do an excellent job at phone work from the comfort and safety of their homes. And they’re waiting for a chance to prove themselves to you.

Consider Going Out of State to Embrace Areas with Lower Living Costs

Though you add another layer of payroll complexity when hiring staff in a different state, it may be worth the extra effort. Look for regions with a lower cost of living. Workers in these areas may have a correspondingly lower compensation expectation. If it costs them less to live, they won’t need to earn as much from their job to have a satisfactory lifestyle. 

Review Your Compensation Package 

A common first response to dealing with a labor shortage is to pay more. Yet I list this last because it’s the last thing you should consider. Yes, your hourly rate or benefits may be holding you back from getting the employees you need and retaining the ones you want to keep. Don’t, however, sweeten your compensation package without pursuing the above options first.

Yes, some call centers underpay their agents and suffer as a result. If your hourly rate is less than that of most other comparable positions, you need to pay more. You may need to add benefits to what you currently offer too.

As you do this, however, don’t make the mistake that most every employer makes when they increase their hourly rate or enhance benefits. If you pay more, expect more. 

I repeat: if you pay more, expect more. Don’t pay more to hire the same caliber people that you always have. Increase your expectations and tighten your screening processes. There are qualified people out there, but you won’t encounter any if you’re not expecting to find them.

Staff Shortage Conclusion

Though staffing challenges are part of the call center industry, you can take steps to better deal with finding and keeping the employees you need to run an effective operation. Avoid short-term hiring gimmicks, embrace home-based staff, seek under-tapped labor markets, consider out-of-state hiring, and update your compensation package.

When you do these things with focus and intentionality, you’ll be more successful in hiring and keeping great telephone agents.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.