Contact Center Attrition and the RFP: You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

by Patty Isnor in Contact Center RFP, Patty Isnor


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Attrition seems like it should be an easy enough term to define, and determining which bidders’ attrition results best match your own requirements should be easy enough in a contact center RFP.

In this article, we are making the case that it’s not always so straightforward. Not all attrition is created equal, and there are many ways to calculate attrition rates – so the way you frame your attrition questions in the RFP is essential to getting useful data that can inform your decision.

Let’s say you’ve drafted your RFP and you’re ready to release it to your list of prospective bidders. You want to know what kind of employer each bidder is, and how stable their workforce is. You’re looking for a partner whose annual attrition is comparable or better than your own in-house number. So, you include the question: What’s your annual attrition rate? Seems simple enough.

Consider this: One agent on an outsourced program is invested in their work but is also seeking to grow their career. By consistently achieving their performance objectives and adding to their skill set, they get promoted to an advanced role but on a different program within the contact center.

Or this: An outsourcer with 1000 employees supports a global eComm client who sees peak volume in summer months, requiring a 50% increase in frontline employees for a period of four months each year. With a base team of 100 on that eComm program, this means the outsourcer onboards and offboards 50 FTE between May 1 and August 31 each year, for that one program alone.

Or this: An agent is frustrated by the lack of support they are receiving on the job, bored with the work, and can’t see any opportunities for growth on their current team. They see an opening at a competing call center and quit, even though the new job doesn’t offer any more money and the benefits aren’t any better.

These are just a few examples where attrition might look the same on paper, but the numbers will tell you nothing if you’re just asking a generic, wide-open questions like: “What is your attrition rate?” or “What was your average attrition for the past year?”

All the Ways to Calculate Contact Center Attrition

Average call center turnover is commonly cited between 30-40%. But what does that really mean?
Turnover can be calculated in a variety of ways.

      • Voluntary Attrition – also known as pure quits
      • Involuntary Attrition – a broad term that can include any combination of layoffs, seasonal ramp-downs, and terminations
      • Center-wide Attrition – combined voluntary and involuntary attrition across the entire company, including management and admin roles
      • Program-specific Attrition – representing attrition from a specific client program or programs
      • Average Annual Attrition – total departures company-wide (voluntary and involuntary), averaged across 12 months. In some cases, your bidder might take five years’ worth of annual attrition and average that to get your “average annual attrition,” especially in instances where their attrition performance deteriorated in recent years.


Our recommendation is to work with your HR team to understand how your organization measures and reports on attrition and to understand how they will help you assess the data your bidders provide. From there, format your question – provide the specific definition and the formula you want all bidders to use. For example:

Provide voluntary attrition numbers for all frontline positions by month for the past 12 months. Voluntary attrition is defined as a resignation/quit/job abandonment for any reason. It does not include terminations, layoffs, or seasonal ramp-downs after a ramp-up.


Provide your annual attrition rate company-wide, including voluntary or involuntary departures. Do not include data from any programs with planned seasonal (four months or less) ramp-up/down of more than 10%.


Provide voluntary attrition, by month, for the past 24 months for the client/program you currently support that most closely matches our requirements. Provide:

– The current size of the team
– The scope of work/nature of agent tasks
– Summarize how the program is similar to our own requirements

This last example is probably going to produce the most meaningful insight for you. In an outsourced environment, your potential partner may be supporting programs as diverse as enterprise tech support and customer service for consumer packaged goods; emergency roadside assistance and insurance claims in-take; loyalty program membership account management and telecom consumer tech troubleshooting. The employee experience, and associated attrition, can vary widely by program.

In our world, for example, we have both programs with attrition levels greater than 30% (where agents are dealing with angry consumers on every shift) and programs where attrition has held steady in the single digits for more than a decade (enterprise-level order management where agents rarely engage with someone who is upset or angry).

Your mission is to get an idea of what kind of attrition/retention your outsourced team will likely experience with your new partner, so that you can compare apples to apples: consumer support to consumer support; tech support to tech support; enterprise to enterprise. You get the drift. Give your bidders the chance to show how they can support your needs, including their ability to hire and retain people for your program successfully.

Zooming Out: Attrition in the Bigger Picture

The trickiest thing about the concept of attrition is that it’s not always a bad thing. As seen in the examples we opened with, sometimes what looks like attrition on a single program isn’t attrition at all. Or, in the case of a client hiring one of our agents, it’s positive attrition that we’re proud of. And it is important to remember, as we’re sure your colleagues in HR will attest to, retention of disengaged employees is no one’s goal. Aiming to prevent attrition at any cost is not a strategy for long term success.

Our single most important piece of advice in crafting your RFP in regard to attrition is to bear in mind that attrition and employee engagement are intertwined. Strong employee engagement results should go hand-in-hand with relatively low attrition numbers (based on industry, remember. An outsourcer supporting eComm customers who have experienced a problem is not going to have the same retention as an in-house insurance company whose agents are handling first notice of claim. The work is not the same, the customers are not the same, the pay is not the same, and the employee experience is not the same.)

So, while you want to include specific, well-defined questions about attrition that are aligned with your program and expectations, be sure to also include complementary questions about employee engagement. Ask for the engagement data that matches the way you are framing your attrition questions. For example, if you asked for attrition numbers for the program that most closely matches your own requirements, frame your employee engagement question the same way:

Provide your employee engagement scores for the past two years for the client/program you currently support that most closely matches our requirements.

As you review the data points from your bidders, you should see a correlation between engagement and retention. If not, that gives you a starting point for further dialogue in the next phase of your procurement process with your short-listed bidders.

Asking About Attrition in Your Contact Center RFP

By all means, make sure you ask about attrition in your RFP—but make sure your line of questioning is strategically positioned to better compare the answers you receive. Ask about those rates on projects that are similar in size, scope, and industry. And follow those questions up by asking about employee engagement and retention strategies.

As we’ve said before, attrition isn’t a dirty word, and it’s not going away. The reality is that there will always be a minimum turnover rate. You should aim to partner with a contact center outsourcer who is strategic in their approach to employee engagement and retention.

Being able to accurately compare one bidder’s offering to another is the key here – how the bidder reached the number they are presenting is as important as the number itself. Always ask for a breakdown of their pricing and note features and services that one vendor may offer over another.  As much as possible, you want a true comparison so you can make an accurate, fair evaluation.

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