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Why Your On-boarding Matters


Why On-boarding Matters

The first impression we make with our staff has a lasting effect on attitudes and behaviors

By Eric Berg,

Does your culture say “Welcome” or “Please leave”? A few months ago, I was onsite at a call center as temporary employees were arriving for their first day of work. As soon as they got to the front, it was apparent to me that attrition was going to be high. How could I predict high turnover before the new agents were even on the job? The situation revealed itself two different ways in the first hour.

1. The manager had asked the new employees to arrive by 8 a.m. to start their day. One by one, they arrived on time, only to sit waiting in the building’s lobby until 8:35. The trainer hadn’t arrived yet!

The message from management? Our time is important. Yours? Not so much.

2. Once the trainer was in the building, he rushed the new agents to the training room and proceeded to lecture them o the importance of arriving on time every day. After all, absenteeism and tardiness were the main reasons for termination.

Message? Do as we say, not as we do.

Sure enough, that particular call center struggled with attrition for several months before they finally took action to improve their onboarding process. The actions they took empowered managers to reach out to new-hires in meaningful ways that inspired feelings of trust and loyalty, even on Day 1. But, first, let’s look at the ripple effects of poor onboarding practices.

The Cost of Attrition

According to Response Design Corporation, the average contact center spends $4,000 to hire a new agent and $4800 to train them. It’s easy to imagine that, in smaller call centers, a high turnover rate can mean the difference can mean the difference between profitable and unprofitable. But wait, there’s more bad news.

The Long Shadow of Attrition

While it has always been costly to have uncontrolled attrition, it’s never been so easy to get caught in a “turnover tornado”. In this day of social media and the ability to voice one’s happiness (or discontent), people immediately communicate their experiences with employers, companies, products, friends -- or anything else they know. Their impression is often immediately validated by all their online friends and, potentially, prospective candidates. One disgruntled and well-connected employee can severely dame your reputation and workforce – and in less time than it takes you to get home from the office.

Some employees respond to this very real threat by enacting punitive social media policies – and adding “Facebook Cop” to their list of responsibilities. Not only is that a futile and unmanageable exercise, but it’s an HR headache and does nothing to promote hour business or build your reputation. Is there a better way?

A Process and Workplace to be Proud of (and Brag About)

As employers in the contact center industry, we know that our agents’ attitudes and behaviors hav e a direct impact on each center’s success. We also know that we seem to have more than our share of absenteeism and attrition.

There’s a good reason why the late Stephen Covey was fond of saying, “Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers”. Is it reasonable to expect employees to approach a call with joy and enthusiasm when they are getting a clear message from management that they are unimportant?

See Your Center Through Your Agents’ Eyes

The first positive impression we make with our employees has a lasting effect on their attitudes and behaviors, which, in turn, affects the center’s culture. Before onboarding your next set of hires, take a look at your organization through their eyes. What is the culture and environment they’re entering? Will they be supported in their desire to be successful on the job? Is it clear they’re valued as important members of the team? When they go home after their first shift, will they tell their friends about their new role and that they’re proud to be working there?

Remember, most employees want to do well at their work and enjoy it. They understand that it makes the day go faster to be engaged with and contributing to the goals of the group. Here are a few things I have done to encourage those feeling of belonging and to ensure that the employee’s initial experience is a positive on.

1. Roll out the red carpet – literally. In one of my previous contact center positions, I went to a carpet store and bought a red rug that I put at the entrance to the training room. Every new-hire was required to “walk the red carpet” into the training room. Sure, it was corny, but it was also a great ice-breaker that made the employees realize we were trying to create special experience for them. Perception can be a powerful thing.

2. Give them energy. I have always provided food for my call center agents. After all, sustaining contagious enthusiasm is hard work! Doughnuts are a great way to sugar them up and get the energy in the room going, but I also provide healthy options like granola bars or fresh fruit to prevent an energy crash when the sugar wears off. And, of course, I always Have bottled water or beverages available. Having these items around can help them stay focused and shows them you care.

3. Make it social. Remember that, when onboarding, you have a room full of people who don’t know each. The first weeks can be intimidating and opening up is difficult, even for some of the most outgoing agents. J Plan an exercise that allows the call center reps to get to know one another, perhaps a team building activity or game. By getting to know their fellow trainees, agents can build bonds with their coworkers and, thus, there will be a greater likelihood of remaining an employee – through the training process and beyond. This isn’t just wishful thinking –Gallup polls consistently find that employees who have close friendships at work are correlated with higher customer engagement and higher profitability. In fact, have a best friend at work is No. 10 in their list of 12 key dimensions that describe great workgroups.

4. More about introductions. Put some thought into your one-to-one instructions – behave like you would if you were hosting a dinner party – and share something you know about the people you’re introducing. For example, instead of “Joe meet Sharon”, say something like, “Sharon has been here for two years and she’s a passionate racquetball player. And Joe come to us from Company X, where his role was Y”. The benefits to this practice are considerable. For one thing, you’ve demonstrated that you know something you can share about your employees – as people off the clock—a very valuable investment in retaining them.

5. Drink the Kool-Aid. Brainwashing is a good thing! Well, let me explain further. We need our newest employees to start “drinking the Kool-Aid” and realize that they have a great job at a great company. That means the first day is the best time to brag. Talk about your company’s successes, benefits, opportunities and culture—and don’t forget to mention the rewards and incentives for the contact team.

6. Stop and say “hi”. Want to make your new employees feel valued? Have your executive or leadership teams stop by on the first day to introduce themselves. Feeling like a number is a big reason for attrition, so this presence can have a great impact on new employees. Plus, new employees will likely feel more comfortable approaching leaders with ideas and issues if they’ve already met.

7. Do it every day. Although first impressions are critical, we need to make the employee experience a positive one every day. Ask yourself, “If I were an employee here, would I brag about the timing? The supervisors and trainers? The culture and company? If the answer is unclear, it’s time to make a change.

The Cost of Effective Onboarding

The best part about implementing a strong onboarding program is that tips 3 through 7 are 100% cost free, and tips 1 and 2 are negligible, especially compared to the cost of losing a trained employee. Onboarding is a crucial part of an employee retention program, gut it is not an expensive part. This is a no-brainer—onboarding costs are greatly outweighed by benefits.

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