By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
When I worked as a consultant, one healthcare call center client’s staff kept complaining, “People working in fast food make more than we do.” After hearing too many such complaints, I visited the seven fast-food restaurants within walking distance of the call center. The staff was wrong, but the misinformation had gone unchallenged. After hearing the lie too often, the staff soon believed it as truth. My client had some work to do.
Compensation is a huge issue for call centers. Pay too little and turnover shoots up, training costs increase, and morale decreases. Pay too much and expenses exceed income. No organization can remain viable if it loses money every month.
But what is an appropriate pay rate? Fortunately, the answer is close to home, back at our local fast-food restaurants.
Quite simply, if you hire call center agents at a fast-food wage, you’ll get a fast-food mentality and a fast-food performance. Yes, you will find the occasional star employee, but how long do you expect to retain him or her? Generally, you find people with little work experience. They view the job as temporary, don’t understand customer service, and fail to comprehend the necessity of being at work on time (much less giving two weeks’ notice before quitting).
To succeed, healthcare call centers must pay more than fast-food restaurants, but how much more? Even fifty cents an hour can make a difference. But a dollar or two will have a much greater effect – if you do it right.
What you must avoid when raising your starting wage is to merely make it easier to find the same caliber of people; you must raise your standards, too. When you pay more, you can expect more.
To determine the appropriate hourly rate for your call center agents you could pay someone thousands of dollars to do a wage study, or you could just visit your local fast-food restaurants. Then distinguish your hourly rate and corresponding expectations from theirs.