Don’t Brush Aside the Importance of Providing Appropriate Call Center Agent Pay
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
In my article “Ideas to Better Retain Call Center Staff,” we looked at five tips to improve call center staff retention rates. I first considered compensation, a topic of great concern for managers and which carries a critical consideration for call center agents. Because of its complexities, it’s too easy for managers to shrug and say, “We’re doing the best we can. We can’t afford to pay anything more.” In fact, I’ve shared this sentiment with call center staff a time or two myself.
Survey Your Local Market
Several years ago, I consulted for a county medical bureau’s answering service. As I met with the call center agents, each one had the same complaint: “People working fast food make more than we do.” After two days of repeatedly hearing this grievance, I did some research. I walked into the eight closest fast food restaurants and asked what their starting wage was. Each one paid less, often considerably less, than the answering service.
Armed with this information, I set about correcting the agents’ unchallenged misconceptions about their pay. My research approach was a quick and easy one, and you may want to do a more thorough analysis, but the point is to survey your local job market to know where you stand. Then you can make informed decisions about what your agents should make.
Establish Your Compensation Paradigms
Another answering service I consulted for paid their agents comparable to the local fast food restaurants, which hovered near minimum-wage. I told the owner, “When you pay fast food rates, you get fast food mentality.” This isn’t to imply criticism against fast food workers, because some of them do their jobs with excellence. It is, however, my intent to point out that taking an order for a hamburger isn’t on a par with handling a phone call at 3 a.m. from a hysterical first-time mom concerned about her screaming baby’s high temperature.
Decide what you want your call center agents to make in comparison to other area jobs. Remove the concern of what you can afford from this equation, and focus on what you should aim for instead.
Make Expectations Match Compensation
At this point, I doubt you’ve decided you’re paying too much. Though you could have concluded you’re paying your agents an appropriate hourly rate, you more likely determined that ideally you want to pay them more.
But don’t make the mistake of increasing your starting hourly pay, without making a matching adjustment to increasing your screening processes, employee expectations, and desired outcomes. Pay more and expect more.
Making a significant change to agent compensation is one of the most terrifying decisions to make when running a call center. Trying to make huge adjustments too quickly could produce devastating consequences. Instead determine where you want to get to, plan how to get there, and implement it with care. Over time, make incremental steps to what you pay, what you expect, and what you get in return from your staff.
As you do, you will improve agent retention and increase quality, along with enhancing your employees’ attitude and workplace environment.