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Here's how to ensure success

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July 14, 2005 12:29 IST

When Sameer Dwivedi tried to address a query posed by a British Telecom subscriber regarding erratic telephone bills, the racist abuse left him stunned.

"Back off, Paki. Give the call to someone who can speak my language," said the caller. Defeated by the strain of handling persistent abuse from racist customers, Sameer put in his papers from the call centre he had joined just a few months ago.

His colleague Divya's problem was different. Divya, a trainee for four months, says she started her career at 40 and the age difference between her and others in the office shook her confidence. "I felt a 40-year-old would never be accepted in such a young atmosphere," she said in her exit interview.

Within a few hours of Divya's resignation, the HR manager of the call centre had another resignation -- this time from a lady in her twenties. Rakhi, a post-graduate, said she was quitting since her boyfriend working in the same company stopped talking to her. "Our other colleagues kept teasing him about getting married early. I don't want to lose him," Rakhi told the HR manager.

The wide spectrum of these employee-related issues resulting in a 40 per cent attrition rate in one of India's top call centres made the HR manager realise the enormity of the task ahead.

The next thing he did was to appoint a professional firm specialising in success coaching, which is all about helping individuals get from where they are in their life to where they want to get to.

Just three months later, the move seems to have worked. Attrition rate is down by 7 per cent -- quite a lot for a company employing 16,000 workers.

Rajeev Gupta, managing director of Resource Development International, India, the firm engaged by the call centre, says one of his biggest achievement has been that people like Sameer, Divya and Rakhi have stayed on in the organisation.

The formula, Gupta says, is no rocket science. It's simple: "We listened to them and even went to the extent of giving pre-marital counseling. That's what success coaching is all about."

Though a recent phenomenon in India, success coaching began life in the US just after the first World War as a means for employers to offer support to alcoholic workers and keep them focused on the job. It has come a long way since then and as per the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, about two-thirds of firms offer success coaching now.

As staff turnover is a major problem, with some companies battling an annual departure rate of 40-50 per cent, organisations are taking such radical steps to help their staff to stay on.

Till recently, most Indian companies adopted the Lone Ranger mentality -- it's my problem, I will deal with it. Thankfully, this attitude is changing and more and more companies are realising that there is a tangible output that can be measured against the investment the firm has made in success coaching.

Gupta says the increasing stress in GenNext employees (studies show that more than 50 per cent of employees in call centres face stress) is like a time bomb ticking in call centres.

Gupta's "combat force" to diffuse this time bomb consists of management practitioners, behavioural scientists, trainers and communication professionals who use a combination of tools ranging from process studies, gap identification, training and development, and setting up a coaching and mentoring service. The purpose: attracting the best talents, getting them to give their best and making them stay on.

The call centre had tried a lot of things including innovations such as fun managers, rewards and recognition schemes and so on, but was obviously not reaching anywhere.

The critical issue that the company was missing out on was the element of personal human relations and their psychological needs. Thus, an employee who joined with a great perception about the organisation based on its brand image suddenly lost interest within the first few months and moved on.

What Gupta's team realised was that the employees were seen as a mass and all the policies and procedures were directed at that mass assuming that would take care of the personal issues of the people.

RDI's success coaches embarked on understanding the individual needs and found that a large number of youngsters were fairly confused about their career, aspirations, values, freedom and so on.

The idea was to handhold the employee right from the day he joins to the time he exits, and take care of all his work and individual related issues through relaxation therapies, psychographic profiling and so on.

Gupta's team, for instance, typically came across people with large perceptual gaps about the job and career, and with a lot of personal issues such as sex, marital discords, negative emotions bordering on depression and so on.

RDI, of course, has competition on its hand now. Realising the huge opportunity, top notch employee assistance firms such a UK-based PPC Worldwide, ICAS Group and Santulan are setting up bases in India. For them, it's all about high performance with high care.
Shyamal Majumdar