The customer service and support industry is synonymous with high attrition rates and a key contributing factor is the lack of career growth options for the frontline teams.

These frontline roles are often taken by early career workers and start at the lower end of the pay scale. They can be highly pressurised roles, dealing with unhappy customers all day and often in an environment where they are intensively measured. It is therefore not surprising employees don’t want to stay in these roles long term and will seek new opportunities once they’ve gained valuable skills and experience.

As a result of limited career growth options, employees can become quickly disengaged as they begin seeking opportunities outside. We should not underestimate the impact this cycle has on businesses. Productivity for those looking to leave can drop, and the productivity of the new recruits is lower until they effectively ramp. Employers also have to bear the time and cost of recruiting and training new staff. This can quickly add up to a notable impact on costs.

This isn’t a new or recent issue either, it has been reported and researched for several years. Back in 2009, the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University published a study entitled Building the bottom line by developing the frontline: Career development for service employees. In the opening chapter, the authors state, “Too often, employees are overlooked from a developmental perspective and regarded as expenses to be controlled, rather than viewed as assets to be developed.”  It’s a shame, and disappointing, that these issues are still very real today.

Customer Service and Support leaders need a clear and deliberate strategy to show frontline employees they are valued and how they can grow and develop their career opportunities within the business, rather than seeking new roles elsewhere.

Of course, the reality is there will not be opportunities for everyone but showing employees what paths are available and how to get there will create a new level of engagement and organisational stability. This means developing and supporting the path from entry level to senior frontline roles and beyond to supervisory and leadership positions. Seeing which employees make progress on their individual journey is great for both the business and the employee.

I believe team leaders, managers and executives have a crucial role to play in developing career pathways, investing in learning opportunities and offering ‘stretch’ roles which offer a way to fast-track the development of skills and experience whilst also enabling the employee to move to the next stage in their career aspirations and goals.

In the 12 years since the Kelley School study was published, the lack of attention to career development in customer service and support persists. However, as the same study highlighted, with the right commitment to frontline staff, leaders could make a huge impact across the board:

“In addition to reducing employee turnover and thus increasing customer satisfaction, career development programs can also provide service managers with empowerment opportunities for their employees—including coaching and training—this will better enable them to handle the stress and responsibilities that come with serving customers, while also improving their job satisfaction and performance.”

We can all play a role in changing the future headlines showing how we are investing in our frontline employees. It’s not just a win for the employee, but a win for customers and a win for the business too.