Stress is one of the biggest challenges you will face in any contact center environment. While stress is a fact of life in any workplace and for pretty much everyone, call centers tend to have elevated levels of stress due to the nature of the work. In customer service, dealing with potentially angry people on a regular basis simply comes with the job.
Unfortunately, stress is extremely costly for any contact center. It is the number one driver for agent turnover. The average turnover rate for call center agents is 40% and the cost per agent is roughly $10,000. It’s a real concern for anyone running a contact center, but with the proper leadership and guidance, it is not insurmountable.
The first step is to understand stress. What causes it? These are the main drivers behind agent stress:
Heavy Workload - The biggest problem in contact centers is the amount of work an agent needs to do each day. The target occupancy for most call centers is from 85% to 95%. This means that an agent on an 8-hour shift is spending about seven and a half hours talking to customers. That is stressful and tiring.
Repetitive and Monotonous Work - Contact center work by nature is taking the same kinds of concerns day in and day out and resolving them. The sheer volume and sameness can really tax anyone’s patience.
Angry Customers - This is the biggest challenge for any contact center agent. Irate and difficult customers make an already stressful workload almost unbearable.
Limited Agency - The reality is that in most customer service situations, agents are limited in their ability to actually assist customers on many concerns. This creates a sense of hopelessness and lack of meaning.
Workplace Problems - Often times, it’s not the work itself but the people and the environment around the agent that cause stress. Messy interpersonal relationships, faulty ventilation, deteriorating facilities and the like can cause headaches.
Insufficient Tools and Training - People who aren’t ready to do the job are going to find themselves like fish out of water. Without proper instruction and equipment, anyone will lose heart doing their work.
Ineffective Leadership - Most employees don’t leave companies. They leave their bosses. At the end of the day, it’s their direct supervisor who holds their fate in the company. Poor leadership results in disengaged agents with elevated stress levels and increased agent turnover.
Poor Compensation - Even if a person believes in the work they are doing, when it comes down to it, they need to be paid to provide for themselves and their families. If the pay is not good or competitive, agents are bound to leave for greener pastures.
So what can you do to alleviate these problems?
Provide Agents the Resources They Need - Whether it is training, a conducive work environment or the right tools and technology to get the job done, getting rid of obstacles to your people’s success is the responsibility of any leader. Provide training on how to handle angry customers and teach them how not to take complaints personally. Set your agents up for success, which goes a long way in keeping them engaged and motivated.
Follow Good Leadership Practices - To reduce stress from supervisors, give agents proper training so they know how to handle most concerns by themselves and train supervisors to help out in difficult situations. Supervisors should be quick to reward and recognize exemplary performance, and coach behaviors that need improvement in private.
Coach Them in a Timely and Professional Manner - Don't measure job performance in areas that are not transparent, haven’t been discussed, or bring too much stress. Set goals and expectations with agents ahead of time. Focus on:
observable behaviors and metrics,
having properly-documented coaching sessions regularly, and
tracking the agent’s progress so they know you care about them and their performance
Have Fun in the Workplace - Work doesn’t have to be dull and boring. Motivate agents through gamification. Sponsor engaging activities which encourage agents to do things outside of their normal roles and find meaning in the office.
Plan for Succession and Growth - Nothing is more demotivating than a dead-end job. Provide opportunities for your agents to move up in your company. This is done by expanding their skill set through training, mentoring, and developing them professionally. Good leaders and managers know how to challenge them to be better.
Contact centers are naturally-stressful environments, but your agents don’t have to suffer in silence. Getting them the help and support they need is the responsibility of the center’s leadership and using these tips and best practices will get the ball rolling in the right direction. With a lot of passion and concerted effort, you can turn any contact center into a world class organization providing the best customer experience.