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Companies demand better wages and benefits for contact center workers

Working in a call center was tough work even before Covid-19. But the disruption caused by the pandemic has seen call volumes increase and callers increasingly frustrated.

So more and more customer service agents, tired of spending their days alone on the phone with angry customers, are quitting.

The average number of live job postings in call, contact and customer service centers advertised on Ziprecruiter.com in February was more than double the average for the previous year before the pandemic, according to the platform. recruitment. The average number of job vacancies in November, meanwhile, was more than five times higher than in February 2020, according to the job board, which declined to release specific figures.

Contact center bosses are now trying to reduce attrition rates by better cushioning the human impact of what can be stressful and thankless work. Like their peers in the hospitality industry, they are also increasing salaries, improving benefits and accelerating training.

“Many call centers have really re-engineered the way they measure employees, but also the environment they provide for them,” said David Brodeur-Johnson, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “At a time when being being able to find and hire people is so competitive that they had no choice but to do so.

For T-Mobile US Inc.,

the worst came in July and August, when its client teams’ annualized attrition rate — a measure of the number of employees leaving in a year — hit 65%, up from about 20% before the pandemic, Callie Field said. , the carrier’s main client experience agent. Agents were working remotely just as the company tried to expand contact center operations after its April 2020 merger with Sprint Corp.

T-Mobile’s Chief Customer Experience Officer, Callie Field, pictured second from left, chats with one of her customer service teams. The company reopened its customer experience centers to select agents from May.


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T-Mobile

Many outgoing agents were leaving within months of joining, some because they had been on leave from other companies that eventually brought them back to work. But others were simply exhausted doing the work alone at home, Ms Field said.

“To do this work on your own day after day after day in this climate was exceptionally difficult,” she said.

In an effort to make things easier, T-Mobile this year added an additional 15-minute break to staff’s daily schedules and doubled the number of professional counseling sessions agents could sign up for to five per topic each. grade to 10, Ms. Field mentioned. The company reopened its customer experience centers to vaccinate new hires and management teams in May, and to vaccinate employees who wanted to work from the office in June. He then offered contracts that combined office and remote work, all of which helped bring annualized staff attrition back to pre-pandemic rates, she said.

In August, T-Mobile raised base pay from $15 to $20 an hour and increased salaries by an average of 19% for existing customer service staff.

Others have taken similar steps.

Financial services company United Services Automobile Association, or USAA, in October raised its minimum wage from $16 to $21 and expanded its benefits to include coverage for certain adoption, surrogacy and treatment costs. fertility, said Pat Teague, the company’s director of human resources. officer. It has also decided that it will let staff, including new hires, continue to work from home to some extent even after its offices fully reopen.

“There was definitely resistance to applying for jobs if we weren’t offering them telecommuting or some form of flexibility,” Ms Teague said.

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Alorica Inc., which provides third-party customer service, offers different pay scales depending on location, last year raised the average minimum wage between 15% and 20% when it saw companies from other industries services to do the same, said Colleen Beers, the company’s president of North American and European operations. He also recruited a TikTok job influencer to pique the interest of potential young recruits. To avoid losing staff in the first 90 days, typically the period in which most workers leave, the company has asked managers to contact new hires more often and through more channels than before, a said Ms. Beers.

“Whether it’s phone, chat or email, I basically have to meet my employees where they want to be met,” she said.

The tight call center labor market cannot be attributed solely to resignations. Companies like Alorica and trading platform Robinhood have this year expanded their contact centers or opened new ones to meet growing demand for customer service.

Delta has made several changes to speed up the integration of its reservations agents, after 50% of them took voluntary early retirement. The company expects its customer service centers to return to pre-pandemic staffing levels by March.


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Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Delta Airlines Inc.,

meanwhile, has spent this year recruiting new staff to replace some 3,500 agents – about 50% of its care and reservations team – who have accepted the company’s offer of early retirement as part of its plan to prevent furloughs and mitigate pandemic-related losses last year.

The airline, which has come under fire alongside rivals for long phone wait times, hasn’t had a problem recruiting, said Tori Forbes-Roberts, senior vice president of booking sales and customer service. But its call centers are still staffed by about 25% fewer agents than before the pandemic, and won’t be fully staffed until March 2022.

That’s because the reservation agent role requires months of in-person training, and the physical size of classrooms continues to limit the number of agents Delta can safely onboard at one time, Ms. Forbes said. Roberts. The company has, however, made some changes to speed up the process.

Successful candidates who attend final interviews are offered the job on the same day and can also begin the pre-employment process on the same day. Training schedules have been rewritten to include virtual modules, and staff now start working on the phone three weeks later; before, it took three months. And Delta eliminated training that is now superfluous, such as memorizing airport city codes, Ms. Forbes-Roberts said.

“There’s this thing called the internet where you can search for this stuff,” she said.

Write to Katie Deighton at katie.deighton@wsj.com

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