Why today's service staff are bored and burnt out - and what to do about it

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Organisations have focused too much on optimising their contact centre staff - and not enough on engaging them. And as a result contact centre agent performance is taking a hit due to boredom and stress. 

When it comes to threats to agent performance, the main culprit has traditionally been seen as boredom and lack of engagement.

Indeed, research by employment specialist Emolument suggests that customer support is the third most boring vocation, with 71% of staff reporting they feel bored at work.

A further report into the customer service profession by CV-Library found that one in four (19.6%) customer service workers admitted to feeling bored every day, with another 29.4% claiming that they feel this way about their work on a weekly basis.

When asked why they felt this way, customer service workers said that they do the same thing every day (27.3%), that their daily tasks are tedious (21.2%) and that they dislike their jobs (18.2%).

But it’s not just boredom that is afflicting many agents.

Calabrio’s The Health of the Contact Centre: Agent Well-Being in a Customer-Centric Era recently surveyed 1,000 contact centre agents in the US and the UK, and found that while some agents are bored, others are burning out.

“Our research has found that 25% of respondents say they feel stressed multiple times a week,” notes Kris McKenzie, SVP and GM at Calabrio.

“And 52% of them told us that their company wasn’t doing enough to prevent their teams from being burnt out. Those two stats alone give you a good feel for how contact centres are being driven –  the focus is on operational efficiency as they are often viewed as a cost centre despite the overall value they drive in customer experience.

These are concerning findings – the combination of boredom and stress is an engagement killer for contact centre agents.

And the Gallup State of the American Workplace report emphasises the importance of agent engagement: “Employees who are engaged are more likely to stay with their organisation, reducing overall turnover and the costs associated with it. They feel a stronger bond to their organisation’s mission and purpose, making them more effective brand ambassadors. They build stronger relationships with customers, helping their company increase sales and profitability.”

The onus is therefore on organisations to address the core causes of boredom, stress and disinterest.

Increasing complexity in contact centres

While the repetitive nature of agent work is something that contact centre leaders have been looking to address for some time, the increasing complexity of the work is a newer challenge.

McKenzie explains: “Customers these days often try to solve their own queries through self-service digital channels, and only when they think they are not getting the answers they want will they call a contact centre. This means that when they do call, it is normally a more complex issue. And unfortunately many agents feel they are not presently equipped to deal with these issues.”

The research suggests that for 56% of respondents, dealing with complex issues is the most challenging part of the role, closely followed by the sheer volume of calls.

He continues: “As we researched some of the reasons why people don’t feel fulfilled within their role in the contact centre, we found that around 56% said they didn’t have the right tools in place to actually solve the complex customer problems and therefore that led to not feeling satisfied with  their contribution to the business.”

The research suggests that for 56% of respondents, dealing with complex issues is the most challenging part of the role, closely followed by the sheer volume of calls (38%) and the inconsistent experience customers receive depending on which channel they use (37%).

Furthermore, agents believe that the challenges will become more acute – nearly a third of respondents said that customer queries will become more complex in the future, and they overwhelmingly believe that customer expectations will increase in the coming years.

Flexibility, training and data-driven feedback

But against this backdrop of burnt out and bored agents has emerged a category of tools that are designed to simultaneously address staff engagement and call complexity.

Gartner coined the term ‘workforce engagement management (WEM)’ platforms in 2017 for a new category of contact centre tools, supplementing workforce optimisation (WFO) with a range of solutions designed to drive agent engagement, including elearning and gamification of daily duties.

McKenzie explains: “They are really focused on trying to provide agents with the right tools and the right work environment to keep them engaged and hopefully reduce agent attrition – which as we know, is still a massive problem in the contact centre environment.”

When asked what they needed to resolve their stresses and boredom, contact centre agents told Calabrio that they wanted a more flexible working environment (34%), better technology (33%), more training (21%), and data-driven feedback from their managers (10%). And the latest generation of contact centre workforce tools are perfectly placed to address these needs.

Contact centre agents want a more flexible working environment, better technology, more training, and data-driven feedback from their managers.

Contact centres are increasingly able to become more flexible, notes McKenzie. 

“Flexibility is key, as the workplace becomes more dynamic so the systems used need to cater for ever changing scenarios. For instance, in a scenario where an agent  meets friends for lunch which overruns for half an hour or so, they could log themselves out for an additional half an hour and the schedule gets automatically rescheduled off the back of that. So the tools allow organisations to be more flexible and inclusive of how agents and their management work together.”

And with greater insight into the experiences of agents, better training is also being unlocked.

“The growing complexity of work tends to mean that agents need to access multiple systems and multiple repositories and information –that makes their jobs quite stressful and unfulfilling. So part of what we do is desktop recording where  we can see and monitor all the different applications that agents have to go into then utilizing our analytics we can deliver insights on where the process deficiencies exist  .”

He continues: “When you’re recording calls across the entire contact centre and using analytics you can give very clear examples in the situation that they are dealing with on a daily basis – highlighting how they can be handled more effectively.

“If you are handling a range of different calls in a multi-category contact centre, there are going to be instances where there are some people that know more about those specific challenges than others. So there are now tools that enable you to bring everybody up to the same level by giving them examples of how to handle those queries most effectively. And as you can also better understand what types of queries are coming in on a weekly and daily basis you can therefore pre-arm the agents with the information the agents need to answer them.

“And this is now moving into real-time - we will actually be able to put that information into the context of the call as it is happening, so the agent will be able to learn this in real-time as they’re having those conversations whilst delivering a superior customer experience.”

Indeed, McKenzie believes that the service department, and contact centres in particular, are becoming the latest parts of the business to benefit from digital transformation. And with organisations also increasingly appreciating the value that contact centres bring to their overall operations, this is a part of the business that will be experiencing unprecedented change in the coming years, with employees and customers being two of the biggest beneficiaries.

“There has been too much focus on the optimisation of agents and not enough on the engagement of agents. But that is now changing,” he concludes.

“Contact centres are arguably the last part of the front-office to go through digital transformation. There used to be a focus on making sure that agents could respond quickly and efficiently, but now organisations who are at the forefront of digital transformation are understanding that contact centres are a very important part of the overall customer journey, and therefore there are huge amounts of data and insights that we can collect that feeds into the end-to-end customer journey. So there is a big transition coming; driving value from contact centre operations to be more of a profit centre than a cost centre.”

About Neil Davey

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Neil Davey is the managing editor of MyCustomer. An experienced business journalist and editor, Neil has worked on a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites over the past 15 years, including Internet Works, CXO magazine and Business Management. He joined Sift Media in 2007.

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10th Nov 2018 15:47

As you say Neil, the role of the contact centre agent is changing radically as they focus on more complex, involving (and ultimately more fulfilling) conversations with customers. Based on these needs we’ve sketched out the skills they’ll require going forward in this blog post https://www.eptica.com/blog/creating-customer-service-agents-future

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