When I was growing up, I always imagined that I would have a revelation and discover my dream career. As I later discovered, this is a bit naive. While there are many people who follow a career path directly linked to their college degree — that wasn’t me. As a young professional, I’m still discovering my career path. I’m always evaluating whether the work I’m doing is setting me up for success long term.

Each job I’ve had of course has its pros and cons. And once the cons start to outweigh the pros, I start questioning what’s keeping me at the job. Do I like my work? Do I make fair pay for the effort I put in? Could I see myself doing this for longer than two, three years? No matter the department or company, management has to be aware of these questions. What drives your employees to start weighing the pros and cons?

Gallup found that engaged employees are 59% less likely to seek out a new job or career in the next 12 months. On the other hand, over 70% of “high-retention-risk” employees want to leave because they see no future advancement in their current job.

Attrition is incredibly costly. Every time you lose an agent, this loss costs your contact center $35k to $105k. Not to mention the knowledge and training efforts that disappear when that agent walks out the door. Considering that the average call centers in the US have turnover rates as high as 30-45%, it’s time for call center management to focus on retaining and engaging agents.

Often, call center customer service positions are perceived as entry level jobs you take just to pay the bills. This doesn’t have to be the case for your agents. Let’s focus on how you can foster career goals for your customer service representatives to set them up for success long term.

Know Your Agents’ Hopes and Dreams

It’s important to have awareness of each employee’s career trajectory right from the start. Begin career conversations during the hiring process in your interviews. Then, once your new hire starts their job, you have an idea of their passions and hopes for the future. Show your customer service reps that you care about their professional future right at the beginning.

On day one, take time to discuss what your new agents are interested in. What are their strengths? And, where do they want to grow? What are they seeking to get out of this job? Be sure to highlight what skills they gain by being a customer service representative, too.

Show how different personalities and skillsets apply to roles in the customer service industry. Emphasize how they can grow in their soft skills. Communication, writing, organization, problem-solving – these are all critical CX skills that are practical for any future career goals your customer service representatives might have.

Not every agent is looking to stay in customer service forever. So, as you identify what their hopes and dreams might actually be, your investment in them is more intentional. When you’re aware of your agents’ career goals, you seek out opportunities and set appropriate success metrics for them. Awareness and intentionality goes a long way to show your employees that their career goals matter to you.

Strategize Internal Growth that Benefits Employees and Customers

Employees that see that they have no future in your organization wouldn’t think twice before they leave. McKinsey & Co. found that engaged and satisfied call-center employees are:

  • 8.5x more likely to stay than leave within a year,
  • 4x more likely to stay than dissatisfied colleagues,
  • And, 16x more likely to refer friends to their company.

Part of keeping employees engaged and satisfied is showing them they have a future that you care about as their manager. Expose your agents to other roles and growth opportunities inside your company and they won’t need to look somewhere else when they’re ready for a change.

Make sure to have frequent and open dialogue with agents about their interests and growth goals. Then, provide agents with cross-functional opportunities and exposure to other departments. Some contact centers encourage their agents to spend time shadowing other teams.

Shadowing promotes greater cross-functional collaboration and understanding. Also, it helps agents understand what other positions in the organization they may be interested in pursuing in the future.

Contact Center and HR consultant Todd Marthaler recommends the following steps:

  1. Make time for team members to shadow areas of the business they’re interested in. Each quarter, provide agents with a few hours to sit with someone from a different function. This way they can understand what a typical workday is like for that employee.
  2. Establish check-ins with the agent after shadowing other areas. Did they like it? Is it something they would like to pursue? Are there other areas they might be interested in the next quarter?
  3. If they have an interest in another area, work with that department’s leadership to understand the expectations, training, skills required and potential timing around future openings.

For example, say you hire a new customer service rep who also has some experience in graphic design. They’re interested in cultivating that skill more, but aren’t sure how it fits into a business strategy. Find opportunities for that CSR to do graphic design. Maybe they partner with your marketing team on a customer-facing campaign. Or, maybe they help jazz up some of the self-service materials you offer customers.

They can learn from your marketing team and explore whether they would like to pursue a marketing career in the future. Plus, they’re contributing by bringing customer insights and stories to your marketing team.

When agents know there are growth opportunities within the organization and they’re valued, they’re less likely to seek out “bigger and better” opportunities elsewhere.

Fighting Negative Stereotypes in your Call Center

Stereotypically, customer service reps tend to be overlooked by organizations. The role is often perceived as an expendable job that requires a limited skillset. As a result, these front line employees are stuck getting paid an hourly wage for a challenging (and vital!) job. And, they aren’t given the training and care they need to succeed.

In spite of the value call centers bring to both their companies and customers, these stereotypes get perpetuated. Thus, the average customer service representative may not believe it’s possible to create a legitimate career path out of their work.

This doesn’t need to be the case. And, it shouldn’t be. Without good customer service from knowledgeable and friendly agents, customer loyalty and your business outcomes suffer.

So, what can you do as a manager to create a different reality in your contact center?

1. Recognize and reward good performance, not seniority

Staying at an organization for a long time doesn’t give employees a free pass to slack off. It may be tempting to reward senior employees with greater growth and promotion opportunities. But, this can set you on the wrong path for retention long term. In fact, Gallup found that seniority-based customer service career advancement results in under performance.

In the most successful centers, agents advance their careers through outstanding performance — not seniority or experience. Set the expectation that your organization recognizes hard work. It shouldn’t be a surprise that recognizing good work improves employee engagement. When your employees get praised for bringing value, they’re more likely to stay with your organization.

When promotions open up, advocate for your agents who show the best performance. Agent tenure, experience and knowledge should not be direct qualifiers for increased pay. While tenure and experience can, in many cases, determine high performance, they shouldn’t alone determine how customer service representatives reach career goals.

2. Set the right goals in your contact center to show the value your agents bring

Metrics connect the day-to-day duties of your agents with the overall company strategy. KPIs give significance to even the mundane tasks your customer service representatives do. Metrics craft a narrative for your employees to see the impact they can have on the big picture. All the while, metrics can be great tools for professional development so your customer service representatives can reach their personal career goals.

When metrics are specific and measurable, they have the power to give significance to even the smallest of tasks. For instance, when you measure how quickly an agent resolves a customer issue over the phone, then compare it to the CSAT score from the interaction, your agent knows how their efficiency impacted customer happiness.

However, agents must feel that metrics are truly under their control. If you hold agents to a standard they believe they can’t affect, morale and engagement decline rapidly. So, create attainable metrics for each member of your team. And, when you can, connect metrics with their career goals to give agents a legitimate career path. Start today.