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A challenge our clients frequently encounter is difficulty keeping their contact centers staffed efficiently with the right balance of experienced associates and new hires. Attrition is a continuing problem, and it can take up to a year for new associates to become fully productive. If that time frame could be shortened, it would be easier for contact centers to achieve the delicate balance needed to operate efficiently while providing positive Customer Experiences.

Understaffing contact centers is costly and results in inefficiencies such as increases in Average Handle Time (AHT) and repeat calls, increased attrition rates due to burnout, and customer frustration over long wait times. The unforeseen increasing attrition rates brought on by the “Great Resignation” and the resulting shifts in the labor market underscore the need to attract and retain just enough high-potential candidates without over-hiring. Despite the rising costs of onboarding and training new contact center associates, they often quit within six months. Many companies will never get a return on the investment (ROI) they make in these resources unless they can increase their ramp speeds.

Associate retention is a top priority and the psychological impact of proficiency within the role is a critical motivator. Moreover, improving ramp speeds can allow employers to realize returns on their investments for more new hires, even those who resign within the first year. If an employer can bring an associate up to speed within six months, they will likely reap the financial benefit of that hire faster and retain them longer. When clients need help adjusting contact center performance targets, we recommend they consider the following:

1. Training

While it is important to allow time for acclimation and for efficiency to build, effective training can reduce the time to full proficiency by months while increasing associate job satisfaction and improving retention rates. Exceptional associates are well-positioned to train the next generation of exceptional associates and are more likely to refer others which creates better-qualified candidate pools. The psychological toll of taking too long to become fully productive leads to premature attrition. Consequently, we often advise clients to target their training curriculum to a limited number of topics so associates can become productive more quickly.

2. Capacity Modeling

Proper forecasting allows employers to hire new associates and bring them up to speed in advance of attrition to prevent service level impact. Workforce Management (WFM) Capacity Models are used to determine how many associates will be needed at a future point so management can proactively plan to ensure the right number of associates will be on staff, trained, and available at that time. Capacity models are used to plan the timing and magnitude of new hires and the training needed to ensure they become fully productive on time. Capacity models predict future agent availability and compare that against predicted full-time equivalent (FTE) requirements to determine if staffing and ramp speeds align with the workload.

For example, an assessment of Capacity Planning processes that Northridge conducted helped a major healthcare insurance client achieve an estimated 20% reduction in overtime and an estimated 25% reduction in new hires in addition to improved customer service levels.

Download Part 1 of Northridge's State of Customer Experience 2023 Research Report for more CX insights!

3. Running Sensitivity Analyses

Sensitivity analyses can be used to determine what the incremental savings or increase in productivity would be if a contact center could reduce associate ramp speed. For this exercise to be productive, all inputs, including costs, must be accurate. Northridge has had success with a data-driven modeling tool that calculates the base level per hour cost for each fully loaded FTE with incredible accuracy.

For example, consider a “what if” scenario in which a contact center employs 100 FTE associates with typical productivity metrics and wants to calculate the impact of increasing their ramp speed from twelve months to six months. Using precise costs pinpointed with our FTE cost calculation model, we can accurately compute the annualized cost savings for each loaded employee. (Savings would increase incrementally for higher-paid associates and would vary based on ramp speed.) We can then determine how ROI would be impacted by the ramp speed improvement in this scenario and whether performance targets should be adjusted.

The Benefits of Increasing Associate Ramp Speeds

A new associate is considered fully productive when they can perform at the same level as an experienced associate. Performance targets for tenured associates are based on time studies and are different for all companies. What is universally true is that if target ramp rates for new associates can be cut in half, the results can be easily monetized. If associates can be brought to tenure in half the time currently needed, the number of associates needed can be significantly reduced.

For every month gained in the pursuit of proficiency, the business realizes a faster ROI and potentially compounding returns. Additionally, more confident associates are more likely to stay longer, become effective quickly, and develop into candidates for supervisory, management, and strategic leadership roles.

Ensuring staffing efficiencies while carefully considering the needs of associates is a difficult balancing act. However, when executed correctly, effective workforce staffing practices can result in contact center resources being utilized more efficiently and cost-effectively. To find out how Northridge can help your organization increase contact center efficiency by increasing associate ramp speeds, contact us.

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