Providing better support for contact centre agents

3rd Nov 2022

The world is facing a complex mix of macro-economic challenges from the aftermath of the pandemic to the threat of a global recession. No organisation has been immune from the impact - and customer-driven businesses, and their customer-facing staff have been worse affected than most, as levels of emotional stress have escalated. In a Censuswide survey of 1,000 contact centre leaders in the US, UK and Australia, 65% of respondents reported agent attrition was on the rise for them.

The figures are no surprise, given the pressures agents are under. These employees effectively act as the frontline representatives of the business and are central to delivering the service and experience that attracts and retains customers. That’s a major responsibility in itself but they often have to go above and beyond their basic core role.

Agents are often called on to help customers who may be angry or upset and they have to react with professionalism, compassion and empathy. Their jobs can often be monotonous and pressurised, with continuous monitoring to ensure they are resolving customers queries as fast and as efficiently as possible. And over recent years, many of those customers have become less patient than before, with businesses encountering increasingly demanding and even abusive customers who, used to the fast speed of delivery pioneered by online retailers like Amazon, have become less patient than before.

Add in the potential isolation of working from home, where agents don’t have the benefit of the face-to-face assistance they would receive from managers and supervisors in the physical contact centre, and stress levels climb even further. In a recent survey commissioned by Enghouse,15% of contact centre professionals listed a ‘sense of isolation’ among the top three challenges agents faced working in the home environment, with 22% referencing loss of spontaneous social interaction with colleagues.

Finding a solution

Given the range of issues facing frontline workers, how can businesses move forward with a new approach to agent wellbeing? First, they must ensure they have right systems and support in place and that they provide employees with training tailored to their needs, and that they implement procedures for emotional support.

Smart, bright well-resourced businesses have put such processes in place formally, launching staff well-being initiatives to better engage with their employees. It is important because without engagement and interaction of this kind, we are likely to see sickness, absenteeism and staff turnover rising within many businesses. Isolation is, however, perhaps the key issue leading to mental health concerns and it is vital businesses take steps to deal with it.

Without physical proximity, supervisors cannot easily spot someone struggling, so now is the time to innovate. Speech analytics tools may have previously been used primarily to listen to the voice of the customer but they are also a great way to identify when an agent is experiencing stress, becoming emotional, or in need of direct intervention on a call.

Evaluating calls and collecting post-engagement feedback from agents can often help demonstrate where support is needed to help address agent wellbeing concerns. Added to this, recording calls and other interactions creates an independent record which can be used to support agents in case of customer complaints and disputes. Knowing that they have this backup helps reduce agent stress and strengthens morale. Additionally, it is crucial that remote environments are able to seamlessly preserve the human element, and collaborative video tools or unified communications solutions, such as Microsoft Teams, are key to that. 

Putting in place better automation and easier integration is another area that needs to be addressed. By linking your contact centre solutions to systems such as CRM and fulfilment, you can give agents access to all the information they need for a complete, 360-degree view of the customer. And building in functionality to automate wrap-up activities frees up agent time to focus on customer enquiries, rather than spending it on administration, easing the burden on them and helping them feel happier in their work.

Employers should also be considering flexible working rosters, especially for those with difficult domestic environments or commitments. They also need to encourage agents to take regular breaks, get sufficient exercise, and not sign up for too many overtime shifts. Finally, it is also important not to neglect training for contact centre workers. Training programmes offer excellent opportunities for engagement between managers and agents and opportunities for employees to better understand where they stand in the organisation and what is expected of them.

As the new hybrid working model further establishes itself, organisations need to be conscious of what this means for every contact centre agent. Above all, it is critical that they never exacerbate any internal tensions or cause internal division by favouring those working in the office over home workers in any way.

It is important that organisations don’t neglect the key issue of agent wellbeing. Ultimately, after all, those striking the right balance between making the right use of technology, and putting the right processes in place to support wellbeing, will be best positioned to help agents address the mental health issues we are increasingly seeing across the sector and keep staff loyal and engaged.

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