The Contact Center – Company Farm Team?

Adapted from original post featured on in November 2016


Most of us can agree that losing top talent outside the organization is something we should work to prevent.  However, something leaders don’t talk about as often is the very real phenomenon of agents leaving the contact center to pursue roles in other areas of the business.   I will warn you right away….this is not a subject for which I have all the answers.  That being said, it’s a very important topic with a huge impact and it should be discussed.  This dialog was a sidebar theme in one of our recent ICMI chats, and many expressed interest in taking it to the next level.  My hope is to generate a conversation and help all of us become more aware when it comes to positive internal turnover.


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It’s no wonder contact center employees are a hot commodity for other hiring managers within the business.  Where else do you learn the products, services and the customers more intimately than the front lines of customer service?  As Jeff Bezos (Amazon CEO) stated, “Everyone has to be able to work in a call center.”  There is no better training ground, and it stands to reason that contact centers have become somewhat of a “farm team” for many companies.  


While positive internal turnover can be a very good thing both for the analysts and the larger organization, is it possible to go too far?


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Customer service is critical to the customer experience and the business.  Should we not have top talent in the contact center?  Should they not stay there long enough to make a significant impact and lay a foundation for more analysts like themselves?  According to the QATC, the average turnover rate (internal and external) is 26 percent annually.  Most leaders would agree it’s very difficult to build a high functioning, sustainable team when 1 in 4 people are gone in twelve months.  No one wants customer service to be thought of as a revolving door.  When the contact center is not a priority for the business, how can the customer be a priority for the business?


The challenge is finding balance between the “farm team” mentality and being a talent hoarder.  This requires a partnership between customer service leadership and the rest of the organization.  One possible solution?  Perhaps there is a two year expectation (minimum) for any contact center employees prior to transition.  The first year is about learning process, technologies, customers, etc.  Year two is about getting more strategically involved in the business, lending a hand in the training and development of newer representatives, and participating in cross-functional projects.  

This gives a sustainable platform on which to continually rebuild the contact center, while also providing great talent to the rest of the organization.

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Another thing to consider is the expectation a new analyst brings to the table when they are first hired.  I’ve interviewed a large number of professionals for customer service roles in my time as a contact center manager.  In addition to attitude – aptitude – fit, I’ve got one big question on my mind.  Is this person serious about a customer service role, or are they just looking for a quick stepping stone into the business?  At the end of the day it’s irrelevant…. the “stepping stone” job seeker is not disqualified for honesty or for ambition.  We should all be looking to grow and progress in our careers.  However, there are two very different perspectives toward a potential future transition.  On the one hand, you have someone who will dive into a customer service role and earn the right for an internal promotion over the course of time.  Inversely, there are those individuals who simply survive in the contact center doing the bare minimum and feel entitled to move forward after twelve months or less.  Naturally, it’s hard to build a strong team around the second type of analyst.  I’m very happy to bring a perceived “stepping stone” analyst into the team, as a long as I also perceive someone that will handle the transition with patience and maturity.


I’d love to hear from you!  Does your organization have a formal policy in place when it comes to internal transfers and promotions?  Do you look for committed customer service professionals or individuals with expanding talent?  Is there anything you are doing to add to the overall company value while maintaining a strong customer service base?


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Author: Nate Brown

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    Oh man, Nate, this hits close to home. Is it bad that I really resent the idea of customer service being the farm team for the rest of the company? As if the rest of the company is somehow at a higher level that the front lines? Why does customer service get so little respect?

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      It can be hard! I think (at least I hope) most companies are waking up to the reality that Customer Service is a key and even strategic differentiator, which should lead to more respect over time 🙂

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    I have worked in client support for many years. The “respect” issue has always puzzled me. I began at our most entry level position which provided 24/7 support. Many people overlooked this group however they had (still do have) more access to more apps than any team in the company (including Security Admin) due to the types of calls they receive. Giving the keys to the castle to the newest employees is a quandary but it’s not a new practice.

    To be short – It is easy to lose focus of a company’s mission statement or KPIs but a company can ill afford to lose focus of their client’s goals. I have often used a restaurant analogy from my time as a server: “You can have the best food in town, but if you have bad servers nobody is going to come eat it.”

    When you overlook customer support, you’re overlooking your customer.

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      Love it Brian! That’s a fantastic analogy with the food vs. service. May have to quote you on twitter with that last line also…

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    Have you looked at the distribution of tenure among your agents?

    I imagine many contact centers will find they have climbers, campers, and people who don’t fit. Campers are people who are content in the contact center and stay in the job for some time. Climbers are the people who use the contact center as a stepping stone to other roles in the organization.

    You generally need both. The challenge, as you are alluding to, is finding the right mix.

    One solution is to find ways to make it easier for new hires to reach a minimal level of competency as soon as possible. The typical contact center new hire takes 8 – 12 weeks to reach that stage. That’s a long time! Shortening that time frame requires simpler systems, more robust knowledge bases, simpler policies, and better training. Do that and it will alleviate some pressure.

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      That’s a very good point Jeff. Great verbiage with “campers and climbers” – I’ve never heard that before and it’s fantastic. I didn’t write the post with myself in mind (more of an industry observation) however there’s a lot of truth to what you’re saying. Creating a quality and efficient on-boarding program is going to a central process to any support organization. I guess one additional thing I’m still considering though is even if on paper you have the ability to bounce back from increased attrition, the cultural impact is still there. It’s hard to bring a group of people together, let them develop trust, and lock in as a team if that group is constantly rotating. Have you seen that effect in your experience?

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        Hi Nate – Sorry, I’m just seeing this now.

        Yes, culture is definitely impacted by the people, so turnover of any kind will impact your culture in some way. (Culture is the focus of my new book, so I’ve spent a lot of time immersed in this.)

        For this reason, great organizations and teams don’t leave culture to chance. They hire for culture fit, indoctrinate new hires into the culture, and constantly reinforce the culture. In this way, new team members quickly understand and adopt the cultural norms and beliefs.

        Have you ever heard of the Tuckman model for team development? There are four stages a team goes through: 1) Forming 2) Storming 3) Norming and 4) Performing. Having a team that’s already gone through the first three stages together makes it easier to integrate new members without losing a step because you can get the new person to Performing faster.

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