Can Exercise Programs Reduce Call Center Turnover?

iStock_000014641903_SmallCan something as simple as incentivizing your employees to exercise save millions of dollars per year and reduce call center turnover? That’s a tall order, but a tech startup called Tenacity Health is banking on it.

Tenacity is a MIT invented and tested app that encourages employees to exercise more, manage stress and build relationships with coworkers. Employees each choose two partners to help them reach their fitness goals, and when a goal is reached the partners are rewarded with Amazon cash.

Five companies are piloting the app thus far in their call centers. CEO and Co-founder Ron Davis hasn’t said which companies – at least in so many words – but according to Technofyi blogger Alex Kuklinski, Davis strongly hinted in a June presentation that Apple is one of them. He went as far as to share the Apple logo on his screen while referring to the unnamed companies.

The technology will be interesting to watch. It makes sense: We all know that call centers are stressful environments, and it’s well documented that exercise is an effective stress reliever. The larger questions are: 1) How motivational are the incentives? 2) Will companies see a return on investment?

(The app is free for employees, but companies must buy it. No word yet on how much it costs.)

Davis seems confident, according to Kuklinski’s blog post: The CEO said at that June Sprint Accelerator Demo Day that better workplace relationships and lower stress could save more than $2 million for a call center of 50 people. What he didn’t say was how long it would take to achieve those savings.

The Surprising Cost of Call Center Turnover

As you’re probably well aware, call centers are notorious for high turnover rates. A turnover rate of 20 percent per year is considered low in the call center industry, according to Kate Leggett, an analyst with Forrester Research. And some call centers have turnover rates of more than 100 percent per year. Given the high-stress environment, that’s no big surprise.

Turnover is far more than just a headache for call centers – it’s expensive. According to the Center for American Progress, most companies incur more than $5,000 in recruiting, hiring and training costs for each $30,000 employee they lose. Multiply that by 20 percent of the staff  – or more – and imagine the total annual cost.

High turnover also has consequences that are difficult, if not impossible, to measure. When call center employees see their friends and coworkers dropping like flies, morale suffers. Extremely high turnover is also a good indicator of other problems, whether it’s poor training or inadequate hiring. For call centers with very high rates, it might time to look internally and shift your policies.

How to Reduce Stress in Call Centers

We’ve blogged on this topic before, but it never hurts to rehash a few of our favorite tips for reducing employee stress in call centers:

    • Offer rewards and incentives – This is exactly what Tenacity is doing, and it’s a method that has proven effective. In addition to cash, you can offer raises, scheduling flexibility, extra vacation time, restaurant certificates, increased authority – you name it. Just don’t tie the incentives to the length of customer calls. You don’t want to incentive employees to be brief because brief isn’t always in the best interest of the customer.
    • Set career goals – Working in a call center can feel like a dead-end job, particularly if you’re not creating paths for deserving employees to move up. Create a program for identifying and promoting your best employees, and let agents know from day one that hard work can lead to a promotion.
    • Revamp your support system – Many frustrations call center employees face can be solved simply be having a strong support system. Let employees know that they can turn to managers for help when they’re facing a problem. Let them know that you want to provide the tools they need to succeed in the workplace – and be happy.
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