According to ContactBabel’s 2017 US Contact Centre Decision-Maker’s Guide, 53% of contact centres report that it costs them more than $1,500 to recruit a single agent. More worryingly, 11% report that it costs them more than $3,500 to recruit one agent. When you consider that the average call centre has an attrition rate of between 30 to 50%, the annual recruitment cost for a single, 50-seat call centre is a staggering number.

Three years later, we continue to talk to our customers, and we hear that the situation is not improving. All of them are experiencing the same kinds of expensive problems as before. Problems such as high staff turnover, high levels of stress, high levels of absenteeism, and – along with that – high recruitment and retraining costs. These four expensive issues don’t exist in a vacuum or in isolation. They are very much inter-connected and exist in a cycle. Most contact centres we work with are trapped in this cycle, which will repeat endlessly unless proactive steps are taken to break it.

Of course, there are some easy things that can be done. Increasing base salary has been shown to be the single most effective strategy for reducing attrition. However, what often happens is that contact centres would rather invest money on expensive new phone systems than increase salaries. Furthermore, an increase in base salary won’t solve the attrition problem in the long term, because it does nothing to reduce stress and improve the working environment for the agents themselves.

So, how do you break the cycle of agent turnover and drive meaningful, sustainable, long-term change? What’s needed is a systematic approach to lowering that initial first level of stress. At SJS, our whole approach is based around using the latest findings from neuro-scientific research to help you influence others and improve the workplace environment. We know that the way to do this is through S.C.A.R.F.

S.C.A.R.F. is an acronym and it represents five domains that influence human behaviour – in any situation, but especially so in a high stress environment like a contact centre. The S.C.A.R.F. approach was developed by neuro-leadership expert David Rock who states that our behaviour is influenced by our sense of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. Together, they spell out the word S.C.A.R.F.

Status is how important we perceive ourselves to be to other people.
Certainty refers to our ability to predict the future. (Not in the sense that we’ve become psychic, but in the sense that we can be confident about what’s going to happen)
Autonomy is linked to Certainty, and refers to how much control we feel we have over what is happening.
Relatedness is how safe we feel with and around others.
Fairness relates to our sense of how fair we perceive the exchanges between two people to be.

This is important to know, because every time we interact with someone, there are things that we do – both consciously and unconsciously – that either reduce or increase any of these five factors. Any time something happens that lowers our sense of status, or reduces our certainty for example, causes an increase in something called, “social pain.”

“Social pain” is a term that describes a kind of pain that is perceived in the brain. Evidence from fMRI scans has demonstrated that social pain is perceived in the same way, using the same parts of the brain as physical pain. Because the body processes social pain in the same way as it processes physical pain, every time we cause someone to experience social pain, it’s the same as if we had physically hurt them.

Once the body begins to experience any kind of pain, the reaction is certain. If you cut your finger with a sharp knife, the response pathway in the brain, and the physiological response in the body is the same as if somebody treats you unfairly, lowers your certainty or reduces your status. The first thing that happens is always hormonal, because hormones are what cause our responses. When you cause someone to experience social pain, they is a release of adrenaline. This is not good, as it results in the classic “fight-flight-freeze response.

You know which of your agents are the ones that – when they feel threatened, have their status reduced or are given less autonomy – are going to freeze, which ones are going to stand their ground, and which ones will run away. “Run away” could literally mean running away from you but, most often, it translates into absenteeism, sickness and – ultimately – agent turnover.

The good news is, it’s very easy to do things that increase people’s status, certainty, autonomy, sense of relatedness and sense of fairness. When you do this, the opposite pathway is equally guaranteed. Increasing somebody’s status or treating them fairly, for example, not only decreases social pain perception – which is very important – but also causes a different hormone to be released. This hormone is called Dopamine.

Dopamine is the habit-forming hormone, and it is incredibly powerful. Dopamine is the hormone that makes us do things like check our phones every 5 seconds. It is the physiological basis for human addiction, and it activates our reward pathways. When Dopamine is released, people feel rewarded, calm, safe, and relaxed – and this is a very addictive feeling.

Using the S.C.A.R.F. approach not only helps you build capacity and unlock other people’s potential – it reduces stress and it’s the only way you are going to break the expensive cycle of agent disengagement and turnover. The great thing about S.C.A.R.F. is, now that you know a little bit about it, you can actually begin to influence people’s behaviour just by knowing about it. Studies have shown that knowing just the basics behind S.C.A.R.F. gives you self-awareness and self-certainty to subconsciously influence your behaviour in ways that mean you can then influence other people in positive ways. Believe it or not, people will be subconsciously aware that you have certainty – and that will give them certainty. Talk about a win-win situation!

Optymyse from SJS, combined with our in-person workshops and training, will give you the tools you need to break the expensive agent turnover cycle. Get the expertise to start building a truly S.C.A.R.F. compliant contact centre environment: Contact us today to get started.