One of the UK's fastest growing business sectors is hamstrung with a major staff turnover problem, a new report reveals. The call centre industry has turnover averaging 25% to 28% and rising to more than 80% in some cases. It is spending more than £100m a year on staff recruitment and training costs, not to mention the lost productivity in this upheaval.

Barnes Kavelle consultant psychologist Annette Forster says there's a simple, low-cost solution. She is the author of the report "Making the right connections? Recruit for top performers in a call centre". It's as simple as finding the right person for the job the first time.

Forster conducted her research at a leading financial services in-bound call centre. She discovered significant personality differences between high- and low-performing call centre agents.

Forster says: "By profiling the character-istics of the high performers and developing a recruitment strategy to identify these candidates, we can help companies cut their turnover and significantly reduce recruitment and training costs.

"Furthermore, having the right people in the right jobs makes for happier and more productive employees. Customers will notice the difference."

Forster's research was undertaken during four months of winter 2000/2001 at a major financial services organisation, which is considered among the leaders in successful call centre management.

With call centres fast replacing face-to-face customer contact in many industries, the call centre agent may be the most important factor in a customer's decision to purchase. Employing the right people for the job can have far-reaching benefits.

Research results
Why is it important for call centres to recruit the right sort of agents?

  • the significant human and business costs of high staff turnover when jobs and people are mismatched - average turnover in call centres is high at 25% to 30%
  • the high cost of recruiting and training call centre agents - at least £2,000 each and likely to be much higher in many call centres.

    Is personality a predictor of performance?
    "Despite popular misconceptions, there is a growing body of evidence that personality characteristics are significant predictors of work performance," says Forster.

    "One of the most common ways to assess personality is to use a personality test."

    She says personality testing is a tool used by some of the largest and most successful organisations. Recent figures from the

    Institute of Directors show that more than 700 of the Times' Top 1,000 companies use psychometric tests.

    Forster identified the following character traits in successful call centre employees:

  • likes helping people
  • likes to know exactly what needs to be done
  • likes clear short-term objectives
  • likes persuading and selling
  • dislikes long-term planning
  • dislikes change
  • optimistic - not easily depressed
  • inclined to worry
  • unlike sales people, they are not competitive and not motivated by targets
  • not ambitious or after a management job.

    Report conclusions
    Personality makes a significant impact on performance, happiness and length of employment in a call centre role.

    Successful call centre agents are more persuasive, optimistic and caring than a comparable group of graduates and they are also more resistant to change, more detail conscious and more inclined to worry.

    There are significant differences between the profile of a successful call centre agent and that of a successful sales person.

    The most successful call centre agents have specific personality attributes which can be used to predict successful future agents and can therefore be used in the selection process.

    The high staff turnover in call centres (averaging more than 25%) can be reduced, making significant savings in recruitment and training by selecting for specific personality characteristics.

    Call centre managers need to re-think where they find their supervisors and team leaders, since the profile of the typical successful agent shows they don't want management responsibility and are unlikely to be ambitious.

    The high growth of the industries most reliant on call centres - financial services, telecommunications, technology - will be limited if enough suitable staff cannot be recruited, trained and retained.

    As technology increases, more and more businesses will be reliant on call centres for order processing and customer services.

    If sufficient staff cannot be recruited in the UK, more call centres will migrate overseas to countries such as India, where larger workforces are available.

  • A copy of the report "Making the right connections? Recruit for top performers in a call centre" is available from Barnes Kavelle. To order a copy, please telephone Giovanna Battiston on 01274 854200.
  • The number of agents employed in call centres increases by about 20% to 25% each year.
  • Call centres employ approximately 1.3 million people. This is more than teaching and farming combined.
  • It is predicted that by the end of 2002, call centres will be employing approximately 2 million people.
  • Call centres spend at least £2,000 to recruit and train an agent and many spend much more by providing additional training. Many spend closer to £5,000 recruiting and training agents.
  • Financial services, telecommunications and technology companies are the industries most reliant on call centres.
  • Call centres that fail to solve their staff turnover problem could be forced to relocate out of the UK to countries in the East where labour is cheaper.