Onboard, resign, repeat: The cost of call center agent turnover

Victoria Beverly

December 12, 2023

Call center leaders are consistently being challenged to work with tighter budgets while at the same time dealing with high rates of agent turnover. At its highest rate ever, call center agent turnover remains notorious for the financial burden it places on businesses. The constant need to recruit and train new agents when seasoned ones depart not only disrupts workflows but also incurs substantial expenses. 

To tackle this challenge, call center leaders are focusing on improving the agent experience. By prioritizing the well-being, empowerment, and professional development of call center agents, businesses and their call center teams can avoid the costly cycle of high agent turnover. 

One way call center leaders are doing this is by leveraging conversation intelligence platforms. Conversation intelligence is a powerful technology that analyzes customer conversations and provides data-backed coaching insights to help agents enhance their skills and performance. 

Read more below on the current impact of agent turnover, why it’s a problem that’s worth addressing, and how prioritizing agent experience with conversation intelligence platforms can mitigate the challenges and costs.

Call center agent turnover comes at a price

Employee attrition, specifically in call centers, takes a hefty financial toll on businesses. According to SQM’s 2023 Call Center Benchmark Report, the call center benchmark for agent turnover is 38%: a historically high level for the call center industry. 

After an agent resigns, call center leadership teams are left to figure out what went wrong and what they can do to limit the financial impact. The most apparent solution is to just hire a new replacement–right? Maybe not: hiring new agents costs far more than retaining current ones. Gallup research shows replacing exiting workers costs one-half to two times the employee's annual salary. Assuming an average salary of $37,000, the cost of call center agent turnover translates to between $18,500 and $74,000 per employee. 

The issue of agent turnover is a universal challenge for call centers and their leadership. Given that research shows it costs more to replace than retain, call center leaders must take measures to reduce agent turnover and maximize resource allocation effectively. 

Improving agent experience can prevent attrition 

This cycle of employee turnover not only costs companies but also harms call center operations. The invested time, resources, and effort in onboarding and training can quickly turn into wasted expenses when one fully ramped agent departs unexpectedly. The disruption to workflows and the strain on call center productivity and customer service efficiency are palpable repercussions for any call center agent’s departure. 

So, at this point, you may be asking yourself: what is actually leading these agents to resign? In short: 

  • Agents have insufficient training and limited resources.
  • The demands to meet company standards and performance goals are high, which places stress on agents.

The first issue can lower an agent’s engagement in their role before they’ve even fully completed their probationary hiring period. According to Quantum Workplace research, 79% of employees who had a formal development program were engaged, compared to 58% who said their organization doesn’t have a formal program. When employees don’t have the proper tools and training, they fail–and businesses pay the price. 

The second issue is illuminated by Salesforce's State of Service (5th Edition), which revealed that in 2022, 78% of service agents found it challenging to strike a balance between speed and quality—a notable increase from 63% in 2020. Both the agent and customer experience take a hit when when call centers prioritize speed over quality and call center leaders need to address this issue right away. 

As call center leaders and their agents grapple with these service role challenges and hefty costs associated with agent turnover, resources like a conversation intelligence platform can act as a strategic ally, offering data-backed insights to optimize training programs, improve resource allocation, and empower agents to meet both speed and quality expectations.

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A winning strategy for battling call center agent turnover

One key strategy for improving agent experience is to use a conversation intelligence platform to get data-backed coaching insights and help agents improve. Conversation intelligence uses machine learning to analyze conversation data and extract structured insights about agent performance and the customer experience. These platforms help call center leaders monitor mission-critical aspects of agent behavior like whether agents are using proactive language and action-focused solutions, how often agents are saying they’re powerless to help, and what specific issues cause longer handling times or high-effort calls.

One of Tethr’s customers, The British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), utilized Tethr’s insights to uplevel their customer service agent coaching and overall agent experience. Martin Lampman, Director of Customer Support Operations at BCLC, said, “Team leaders are taking insights from that [Tethr] dashboard and telling their agents how they can fine-tune their conversations. We are able to be more surgical in our approach and really zero in on coaching-specific actions. It’s making training better and easier.” This focus on agent improvement yielded a 56% decrease in difficult calls for agents, a 16% increase in agent advocacy, and a 21% increase in expectation setting.

By leveraging conversation intelligence, businesses gain an enhanced understanding of agent behaviors and performance within customer interactions. This not only increases the effectiveness of training programs but also equips agents with the tools they need to continually refine their skills and performance. The result is a tailored approach to addressing the intricacies of call center agents’ roles, which improves the call center agent experience and retention. Conversation intelligence platforms create an environment in which agents thrive, and reducing costs through agent retention becomes a sustainable reality.

Final takeaways

Beyond the disruption in workflows, the financial toll of recruiting and training new agents can be a significant burden on organizations. By prioritizing the agent experience and using technology like conversation intelligence platforms, businesses can reduce agent turnover and foster an environment in which agents thrive. Conversation intelligence platforms offer a personalized approach to coaching that empowers agents to refine their skills and excel in their roles. 

Call centers can break free from the costly cycle of high agent turnover–ultimately preserving resources, increasing productivity, and securing a sustainable future for their company. Investing in the performance, knowledge, and professional development of call center agents is not just a choice, but a necessity for the continued success of the call center.

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