A range of tips looking at how we can help keep our front-line staff stress free.
1. Make a brew
Make sure you recognise when stress levels are rising for a staff member and give them some ‘break-out’ time. Make them a brew.
Sent in on Twitter @B2B_CM
2. Set up a morale motivation committee
As we all know, we work in a stressful environment. Set up a morale motivation committee that agents can attend once a week to bring forward ideas to reduce stress.
3. Keep hydrated
Offering something simple to staff such as a vending machine in the kitchen can help minimise stress, as a staff member can become highly stressed if they are feeling dehydrated or hungry.
4. Team catch-up sessions
Something that we offer as a management team is catch-up sessions with individuals. These can offer time (between 5 and 10 minutes, nothing too excessive) for your sales agents to sit down and talk through anything on their mind, helping to eliminate stress when they go back on to the phone.
5. Buzz sessions
Once a week we have a ‘Buzz Session’ where we will come together as a sales team for 20-30 mins to talk about best practice with one another, as well as talking through any problems we are facing.
6. “Leave home at home” and “leave work at work”
We have one very simple motto that we tell every member of staff in both induction and 1-2-1: “Leave home at home” and “leave work at work”. Very rarely do we experience staff stressed out at work regarding something to do with home.
Lawrence Lavell, LSL Property Services
7. Short bursts of exercise
Short bursts of exercise on or between calls not only relieves stress but also clears the mind and builds energy levels.
8. Play your cards right
Here is an idea that may help.
If your staff get upset by angry and abusive customers on the phone, you could consider handing them all two joker playing cards each. They may choose to play a card twice a year, meaning they can tell the customer on the end of the phone what they really think!
Being empowered with this playing card was enough. They were rarely used because agents simply had the option…
Daniel Hill, DCSL Software
When you are sitting down for the majority of the day, the muscles ‘seize’ up and lose their flexibility, and this means reducing your range of motion around the joints.
Stretches are easy to do at the desk – shoulder rolls, neck stretches and lifting the leg up in front of you and stretching the back of the legs. Stretching will also revitalise you, improve concentration and have you less likely to reach for a sugary, fatty snack as a pick-me-up instead.
10. Allow agents to walk around
Doing something simple like providing contact centre agents with a wireless headset gives them the freedom to move around and stretch their legs, grab some water to rehydrate and move away from the computer screen to give their eyes a rest.
Use a wireless headset and walk whilst talking; pacing burns about one calorie for every 15-20 steps you take. All of which combines to reduce stress and increase your fitness.
Calories used on office tasks:
- Sitting and talking for an hour – 68
- Typing for an hour – 150
- Walking and talking for an hour – 360 (depending on pace)
Richard Kenny EMEA Marketing Manager, Contact Centre & Office, Plantronics (www.plantronics.com)
11. Open-handed management
The manager/leader of the call centre plays an exceptionally important role here. The culture and the atmosphere are so important. We have a very relaxed atmosphere in our call centre despite being focused on the calls coming in. Call centre agents want to feel protected by the management team. I grab a chair once a week and go sit in the middle of the group and we just have quite chat about anything, life, the call centre, the company.
12. Team lunches
Have a lunch once a month (which the company buys) and all eat sort of together (one person will eat and then go back on line and allow the other to eat) and lunch is sort of taken that day. When errors are made I deal with it informally (unless it is a recurring problem), after all, a less than 0.5% error rate is small.
13. Develop KPIs that are focused on the customer
Aside from the really simple things: correct equipment, pleasant environment, suitable training, good pay, etc., the most important thing for me is to start with the culture top down.
Throw away the traditional approach built on call stats and develop KPIs that are completely customer quality focused for the business’s long-term gain – the bottom line!
This approach requires more than agents just exceeding expectations on one call, but instead requires each agent to be thinking about a long-term happy and profitable relationship for the customer and the business on every transaction.
The key is to make the agent responsible for ensuring that customers are not kept waiting, that matters are resolved first time and that their own performance is as good as it can be – our agents monitor their own performance entirely and are more self-critical than their team managers are of them.
In return, we ensure that there are sufficient staff to answer contacts (aside from unexpected peaks), agents are empowered to make decisions, that everyone has a chance to do fulfilment work and off-phone activities. We also ensure that mistakes are welcomed as learning not penalised as errors.
Penny Downs, Arsenal Football Club, www.arsenal.com
14. Structure your calls
Welcome the customer and use the company name, provide your name and politely ask for the caller’s name. Repeat the customer’s name to ask how you can help today. As soon as you have an idea what the call is about start to log the call – don’t be tempted to jump in and deal with the query, this can cause you to lose control of the call.
Use short keys or a notepad template to quickly add notes to the customer’s case for those common call themes (but always sense check it).
Talk and type live, if the customer is upset, sometimes repeating back what they are telling you. Hearing you taking notes allows them to calm down as they feel you are listening and taking them seriously.
Use the customer’s name but don’t over-use it. As you feel the call is coming to an end summarise what’s been said and state the next steps for the customer to take or that you will take. Ask the customer if you have answered all of their questions (this should promote a positive response), thank them for calling, using their name, and reminding them of yours and re-branding the call.
15. Learn from experienced agents
Don’t be afraid to ask agents if they have created their own guides, tips, or FAQ documents that they can share with you.
Many agents create their own documents but this valuable information can get overlooked.
16. Remind agents that it will get easier
Take time each week to assess and congratulate agents on how far they have come. Remind them how nice it feels when you help a customer and they go away happy.
17. Let the front-line staff feel empowered
One common source of stress is a lack of empowerment. In our service team we had guidelines for the compensation agents could give when things went wrong. While this makes sense on paper, it doesn’t always work in practice. The result was that agents felt unable to help the customers without “breaking the rules”, and they felt undermined when a manager took actions they weren’t allowed to take. This caused frustration and stress.
Instead we adopted an approach whereby the agent can do what they need to do to make the customer happy. After all, they are the only one who actually knows how the customer feels, and a standard set of guidelines won’t fit every situation. Empowering the agents in this way means they feel trusted and that they are on the same side as the company, whereas putting them in between an angry customer and a strict set of rules left them isolated and stressed.
Customer satisfaction went up, agent stress went down, and so did the total cost of compensation. The empowered agents felt a sense of ownership for the customers’ happiness and the team’s success, and they put more effort into understanding what the customer wanted, showing that reducing stress doesn’t have to come at a cost.
18. Be careful what you display on wallboards
It’s great to keep the team informed, but the wrong information in the wrong way can be an acute source of stress. Scrolling wallboards that flash with “100 calls waiting” do inform but also have many downsides. It can make agents feel pressured to hurry the call, often compromising on the experience given to the customer, as well as making the agent feel insignificant in the face of an unmanageable workload.
The best kind of live information to broadcast to agents is information that is informative, and that they can influence. Try taking away a call waiting figure and replacing it with a simple call waiting “Yes/No” option. This will allow them to focus on just the call, and not the customer 10 down the line, which will cut stress.
Avoiding negative statistics is always good. Rather than telling them that they failed to answer 10% of calls, look at displaying information such as the number of agents currently on a call. This can contribute to a sense of unity within the team, as even when it gets busy they can see that all their colleagues are working with them toward the same goals.
19. Stress release days
Have stress release days for agents, fun days, etc. This all adds to relieving stress for the agents. Also try and get management involved.
Seamus Cleere, Rigney Dolphin www.rigneydolphin.ie
20. Hold regular ‘feedback’ sessions
We find that frustration is the biggest cause of stress in the contact centre environment. So we work hard at ensuring our agents feel valued and their opinions, where valid and practical, are acted upon. We keep our teams in the loop through sharing wider company information, not just from contact centre operations, by holding regular ‘feedback’ sessions where agents, supervisors, client services and management all take part. Individuals are encouraged to offer their suggestions or raise any concerns they have and it’s important that agreed changes are seen throughout the business. We take the time to get to know the individual, recognise their strengths and weaknesses and work with them to build confidence; our managers and team leaders do well at this by making themselves available and approachable at all times.
Tracey Limbert, Head of Outsourced Operations, mplcontact (www.mplcontact.com)
21. Take time out
It’s very easy for a dedicated agent to plough through the day without taking enough breaks. This may sound odd coming from a manager, when part of my job is to maximise agent productivity. However, being on the phone all day in customer service can be very stressful, especially if you’re getting your fair share of angry customers. It’s easy to let the stress of one difficult call snowball in to the next one, and the next one, and the next one…until you are passing your accumulated stress on to a perfectly reasonable customer! Taking regular 5-minute breaks helps to alleviate not only the physical stress of constant talking and staring at a computer screen, but also the mental stress of listening to and solving your customers’ problems.
Gemma Layton at RSVP (www.rsvp.co.uk)
22. Appoint a stress champion
Make someone the focal point. It is important to appoint a Stress Busting Champion at a senior level for a top-down programme. This person should take responsibility for measuring the stress, owning the numbers and the actions that will bring down the stress levels. They will also be a focal point for staff to contact.
23. Have a massage
Workplace massage has grown in popularity over the years as a method to reduce the impact of stress and its associated musculoskeletal problems. Along with chill-out areas, background music and plants are often used to create an environment which is more relaxing. Just knowing that your organisation is being proactive can reassure staff and make them feel valued and less stressed.
24. Have fun!
Finally, and most important of all, is to have fun. We all perform better when we are doing something that we enjoy.
Donna Phillips, Managing Director at Therapy Solutions (www.therapysolutions.co.uk)
25. Set up an escalation line
One of the pieces we have implemented is to introduce an escalation line for our staff.
Previously they had to look for a supervisor/coordinator who was free, explain the situation and then pass the call through. Now there is one number that our supervisors and coordinators stay available on (unless in a meeting or doing a review, etc.) to help with either queries or escalated complaints.
This seems to be taking a lot of the pressure off the agents from worrying about getting those difficult calls and having no support.