By John Stephen

Solving Turnover Trouble in one of South Georgia’s Largest Companies

"I’m trying to figure out what we need to do to embrace and engage our employees so they stay and see us as a long-term career."

A team of Valdosta State University consultants representing multiple fields of expertise have banded together to help ELEAD1ONE with a big problem — massive turnover in its call center.

ELEAD1ONE is a Valdosta company that helps automotive dealerships acquire and retain customers through a software division as well as a call center that conducts marketing and survey calls on behalf of the dealerships.

The problem is that the 500-person call center loses an average of 120 employees every month.

“In a call center, especially an outbound call center, high turnover is common, but I don’t buy that just because people say that,” said Damon Sefa, director of the call center. “So I’m trying to figure out what we need to do to embrace and engage our employees so they stay and see us as a long-term career.”

Sefa has already introduced many measures in an attempt to curb the turnover, including lunch with leaders, award pins, and thank-you cards, but the turnover problem persists.

“I don’t want to lose anybody,” Sefa said. “I know some turnover is good, but it’s expensive to hire, so I need to figure out what are we missing to where maybe I only lose 80 people a month, or 50 people a month, or 20 people a month.”

Through Andrea Schruijer, executive director of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority, Sefa was connected to Darrell Moore and the Center for South Georgia Regional Impact.

Moore, backed by VSU’s strong commitment to serving as a resource for industries in South Georgia and supporting the region’s economic growth, assembled several professors to tackle the turnover issue — Dr. Keith Waugh, head of the Department of Adult and Career Education; Dr. Jeremy Bauer and Dr. Christopher Downing, assistant professors of psychology; and Dr. Jonathan Krispin and Dr. Marko Horn, assistant professors of management in the Harley Langdale Jr. College of Business Administration.

The professors proposed something that had never been done in Sefa’s 11 years as director — an all-employee survey. Because of company politics and restrictive policies from higher ups, Sefa was not permitted to conduct such a survey in the past. But ELEAD1ONE was recently acquired by a new company, so Sefa now has the freedom to pursue new strategies to address the high turnover.

Waugh, Bauer, and Dowling began working with Sefa in late 2018 to coordinate and prepare the job satisfaction survey, which was administered to call center employees in January.

The trio then analyzed the results and presented the findings to ELEAD1ONE management in April.

“The presentation they gave us was phenomenal,” Sefa said. “They compiled all the data and gave us a great summary. And it’s exciting because some of the things that I’ve been asking for and telling my company that we need, this data is going to help me drive home my points and get the support that I haven’t always been given.”

Krispin, Horn, Waugh, Bauer, and Dowling are now helping the call center conduct focus groups with employees to get a deeper understanding of why employees answered the way they did and what areas of the company need improvement. The professors will then recommend expert solutions and strategies on how to fix the turnover problem, which may even include the professors offering training and workshops to employees.

“For VSU to come in and do this work for free is phenomenal,” Sefa said. “It’s great to have community partners that are trying to help us solve one of our problems. The last thing I want is for our parent company, CBK Global, to come in and say, ‘You know what, because of your high turnover, we’re moving this center to Cincinnati where our other center is or to Illinois where our corporate office is.’ Because that’s potentially 1,200 jobs that we would lose from Valdosta, which has a huge impact on everybody.

“So the fact that VSU came in to help us out was just awesome, and I can’t thank them enough for the research they’ve done and for the help that they’re going to continue to give us because now it’s time to start diving into some of these issues that they have brought up in the survey.”

Waugh said using his expertise to strengthen a community business has been very satisfying.

“It’s great to be involved in the community and to do what we can to help address an organization’s specific needs and problems,” Waugh said. “Anything we can do to help is rewarding.”

“It's great to be involved in the community and to do what we can to help address an organization’s specific needs and problems.”

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