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The 4 Leading Causes of Contact Center Attrition & How to Overcome Them

Call center agent next to his work desk

Employee attrition is the number one challenge for talent teams in the contact center world, the industry average being between 30-45%. This is nearly three times higher than the US average, so it makes us wonder if the factors causing the high employee turnover in call center recruitment are unique. 

Many call centers and BPOs have accepted this as a characteristic of the industry, rather than a problem to be tackled. With high numbers of entry-level and remote employees, tasks that involve angry customers, and often low pay, it’s easy to assume that attrition is an inherent outcome. 

However, several industry-leading call centers have proved that is not the case and have stepped up to tackle the challenge. Sitel, for example, one of our biggest BPO clients and a top player in the industry, experienced a 45% decrease in employee attrition after digitizing their recruitment process. 

What’s long been viewed as a necessary evil is actually a problem with clear causes, and therefore, clear solutions. Let’s take a deeper dive into what really causes attrition at call centers.

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What are the types of attrition call centers experience?

Let’s start with the basics and isolate the different forms of employee attrition before we explore the solutions.

The common types of employee attrition in call centers are:  

  • Retirement, 
  • Involuntary attrition, 
  • Voluntary attrition, 
  • Internal employee attrition – when an employee leaves one department for another,
  • Demographic attrition

Retirement and internal attrition are always important factors for talent planning, but the other types of attrition make up the bulk of costly losses for contact centers and BPOs. Let’s take a look at those: 

  1. Involuntary attrition occurs when the organization initiates the separation, either due to misconduct, performance, or changes in business needs. If a contact center suffers from high involuntary attrition, it may mean that candidates who are not suitable are making it through the recruitment process, or employees need further training and development. 
  1. Voluntary attrition is the most costly and difficult for contact centers to manage. Voluntary attrition is when a candidate leaves on their own accord, whether it be during training, during their first few months, or even after several years. Within this category, it’s most critical to focus on early attrition figures, like 30-day, 90-day, and no show rates. It’s highly likely there will always be some voluntary attrition, as it’s rare for anyone to stay at one company forever. However, high early attrition figures could indicate misaligned expectations between the candidate and the employer. 
  1. Demographic attrition can only be spotted with strong data collection efforts and indicates that a specific group (women, older employees, or people of a certain background) are leaving at higher than average rates. If attrition rates for employees of a specific demographic group are sky-high, it’s important to find out why if you want to maintain a diverse, effective workforce.  

Because attrition is a direct result of who you hire, and how you select them, to tackle the challenge you’ll need to look at your recruitment process. With these types of attrition top of mind, let’s take a look at the four main causes of attrition in contact centers. 

What really causes call center attrition?

1. Mis-aligned expectations 

Customer service roles can be demanding. Between handling angry customers, routine work tasks, challenges when working remote, or even a lack of development opportunities – applicants who are searching for the first job they can find may not understand exactly what they’ve signed on for.

When hiring for hundreds or even thousands of entry-level agents, it’s possible that not every candidate is being well informed about the realities of the job during the hiring process.

With unemployment figures still skyrocketing, many entry-level applicants are applying to every job they can find — be it a restaurant, at a bank, or for a seat in your call center. That means that when you’re hiring, candidates need to get as much information about your organization and the job they’ll be doing as possible.

Sitel implemented realistic job previews in their recruitment process to manage candidate expectations.

As important as it is to sell the job and get them on board, you don’t want to risk glossing over the more difficult parts of the job. To avoid this, your application process should combine selling and selecting.

By providing candidates with a realistic job preview, or an opportunity to experience the job through a simulation, you allow them to opt-out if it isn’t right for them. While it seems natural to shy away from scaring them off, it’s far less costly to lose an applicant than to lose a new hire. 

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2. Poor candidate engagement 

Even with many candidates on the market, there is still a war on talent. Job seekers are looking to find a role quickly. If you move too slow, they may go to a different industry, or even to your competitor. This is especially true when it comes to top talent.

The result of a slow or unpleasant recruitment process is the loss of top talent. And when the quality of your talent pool drops, so does the quality of your new hire class. 

To engage, and ultimately hire, the top candidates who will thrive in your roles, your process should be informative, automated, and allow candidates to move quickly from “Apply” to “Hire” if they are qualified.

Screening candidates using a pre-employment assessment, and allowing those who perform well to self-schedule an interview (or even go straight to on-boarding) means you will quickly snap up the best candidates. 

Rather than going through a sterile, impersonal application and then waiting to hear back from a recruiter, candidates should be able to demonstrate their skills, get the information they need about the role, and be contacted quickly by your talent team.

Automating candidate stage progression, setting up text communication to provide status updates, and allowing your recruiters to identify the best candidates quickly will boost the quality of your new hires significantly.

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3. Poor candidate selection

For entry-level employees, it’s not true that resumes are the best predictor of success. Even past experience in another contact center cannot guarantee a candidate is a top performer. Plus, when you’re fielding thousands of applicants, reviewing resumes is inefficient, extremely manual, and can lead to bias if recruiters take short cuts.

If you’re selecting, and ultimately hiring the wrong candidates – it’s likely to cause a jump to both involuntary and voluntary attrition. 

Rather than spending hours screening applicants’ resumes, and then spending costly work hours on follow-ups and manual stage progression, you need matching technology.

Matching technology automatically assesses candidates on the skills that are relevant to the role and provides data to drive accurate hiring decisions. It helps your recruiters see clearly who should move forward and find candidates with qualities of top performers. 

This is tied tightly with candidate engagement and misaligned expectations. Even if you identify a great candidate — if it’s too slow, or they don’t understand the realities of the role — they may take another job or leave once they see the reality. So, when using matching technology, it needs to be part of an efficient and engaging candidate experience.

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4. Poor employee onboarding experience

A strong onboarding experience is your candidate’s first experience as an employee of your company. The way you onboard new joiners sets the tone for their employment and has a direct impact on their likelihood to attrit

A bad onboarding experience can cause confusion, or alienate a new employee. A good onboarding experience makes them feel prepared, empowered, and connected to your organization.

This is tied hand in hand with your candidate engagement. The way you treat applicants  during the hiring process will build, or kill, their excitement and readiness to begin. A candidate who is highly engaged during the recruitment process will come into onboarding with excitement. And, if the onboarding process is clear, efficient, and convenient — that excited applicant will quickly transition into an excited employee. 

As we mentioned, a great onboarding begins with a great application process. Leverage your hiring process to share information about the onboarding process and address questions.

Then, ensure you have a checklist to cover everything they’ll need to begin: from policies to their hardware and software set-up, documentation, and a training schedule. Employees who feel taken care of and valued will stay longer and perform better – helping to reduce involuntary and voluntary attrition. 

Now, it’s your turn

With the causes of call center employee attrition in mind, you’ll be able to hone in on the steps your recruitment team can take to decrease attrition rates and fully transform the recruiting experience for both the candidates and your hiring managers.

Meanwhile, if you’re curious to see how other leading call centers and BPOs are using our volume hiring software to tackle the industry’s biggest challenge and most costly loss generator, check out the success stories of our clients Arvato and Sitel.

Sitel reduced employee attrition by 45% through digitizing recruitment


How Arvato reduced employee turnover by 63%



Olivia is a Project Manager at Harver who supports the global marketing team. She covers topics including recruitment, digital transformation and DEI.

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