Monday, June 05, 2006

Word of mouth: Arresting attrition in BPO


In many a media reports, on the menace of attrition in BPO, the spokespersons claim that the rate of people leaving the companies (more of an issue with voice-based BPO) is around 40%. But the fact is that call centers are recruiting daily and the HR managers perform more of recruitment manager role than human resource development.

Can’t blame them? What if you have more than 100% attrition? Yes, that’s a truer number, I have been told by some seniors.

Every morning you come to office and find that you have lost more people that the number you had recruited yesterday.

Apart from the cost of acquiring people, management also spends a considerable amount of money in training people. So much of an investment without a return.

So why do call centre employees change their jobs so often?

One, the lack of a career path. This means that a call centre employee does not know what he will do after 10 years in the industry. If you are in a manufacturing industry, one knows of his progression, in advertising industry there are various path – client servicing, creative, media planning…what about call centre.

Two, the biological clock. Before doing my MBA, I did graduation in hotel management and went on to work for a leading flight kitchen in the country. In the hotel industry, night shifts are quite common. Believe me, working continuously in the graveyard shift is not the best of experience. Every day you find yourself more cut off from society. For the young this is so frustrating.

Of course there are other reasons too. Not many come to call centre jobs with making it a long-term option. Students want to earn handsome amounts of money before they go abroad for higher studies. Identity crisis, because now you have to not only sound western but also assume an artificial fake name. So you will find that Parthasarathy has become Party and Sujata has shortened to Sue.

Well, the issues are many.

Are there any solutions?

BPO companies undertake huge branding exercise – PR, advertising, events…with the hope that people will stick to a brand. The question is, do they?

Companies claim that they are the best place to work for and care for people. I remember eServe campaign, were this overall messaging was broken down into many aspects and communicated creatively.

Hope they have been able to address the problem of attrition.

What is the solution for this seemingly unsolvable crisis?

Have you even heard of the recruitment process of Infosys? Not recently but back in 1999-2000.

I had the opportunity to observe and be part of the preparations my classmates from IT stream went through. To get into Infy, you had to have more than 70-75% right from 10th standard, you will have to have high percentage in graduation/post graduation. Hold on that is not a guarantee. You went through a grueling written and interview process. I remember my friends going through Shakunthala Devi’s puzzle books.

Now, if you got through, it was an achievement. Even passing UPSC exam was not so hard, I guess.

Well, that’s word-of-mouth.

Coming back to what BPO companies should do? Is there any differentiation that between BPO A and BPO B?

Can PR help?

Well, taking a clue from Infy, I believe that BPO companies should create word-of-mouth for themselves. Communicate how good an employer you are, in the most effective manner. This is very important because high attrition indicates that the BPO companies are hiring the same set of people. A word-of-mouth ensures that you get preference.

Word-of-mouth? Yes. But how?

It is not building brand and only paying little extra then others, but as Shiv Khera says Winners don’t do different things, they do it differently.

Yeah. That’s right.

So, I would like to call what a company can follow – a TOUCHPOINT program.

What is a touchpoint?

Right from the time of employment (applying for a job) till exit, a company gets many opportunities to be different and leave a positive impression on its target audience.

Think about it, how does your security person treat a prospect who comes in to drop the resume, how long do you make the candidate wait before he can take the entrance test/interview, how is she/he treated…I am not sure if companies have an SLA on these issues.

There are many more opportunities once an employee becomes part of the organization. HR departments focus more on getting mandatory forms filled up. But an employee’s emotional needs are many more. Some companies have taken up a program called the buddy program where an existing employee becomes the friend of a new recruit and engages him and makes her/him comfortable.

Can this be extended to the entire recruitment period?

Companies must work on identifying such touch points, create standards and make the experience of an employee memorable.

Hmm, well, anyone’s got time? As I said earlier, the plates full for HR (read recruitment managers) to find the next candidate.

How is going to take the lead?
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