We have just had the most depressing day of the year. Monday 21st January was known as Blue Monday. It was also coupled with a cold snap and a recent bout of snow.
We asked a number of our readers for their opinions on how the weather affected the mood of the contact centre, and what we could do to help it.
Within the first ten seconds of a call it can be quite apparent what mood the caller is in
The agile agent will pick up this mood and will work with it, not against it. That means not being chirpy with someone who is angry, or sounding bored when the customer is in a happy mood. By ‘matching’ the positive mood of the customer or caller the agent can help to create rapport.
When a caller is in a negative state then pure listening followed by empathy helps to soothe the person before the agent can attempt to ‘lift’ them to a more positive place with some good questions or anecdotal comments or genuine feel-good praise.
For example, as well as ensuring that solutions to any issues are tackled, a good agent will also build on any information offered: ‘Whereabouts in Spain are you going?’ – this gets the caller talking more positively, visualising the longed-for break.
Alternatively, if they are ordering items: ‘Great choice, that is a really stylish top’ makes them feel good about the decision they made. When done with genuine interest and enthusiasm, this approach can change a negative mood or reinforce a positive one.
Thanks to Carolyn Blunt, Real Results Training
Hot drinks and slippers
I have often found that the smallest things make the biggest difference in ensuring the weather doesn’t affect performance negatively. Things that I have done during the cold weather include having the hot drinks on free vend and holding bring your slippers to work days. I once even hired an arcade snowboard machine for a fortnight!!
During the hotter weather, having a good sports theme running works well, bringing ice lollies and ice creams in for the troops, if possible holding team meetings and focus sessions outside.
I’ve also run competitions to see who can bring the best holiday tan back – which I’ve found to be good fun on someone’s first day back to ease them back to the world of work.
In terms of getting people in when it snows, I have always had in place a snow plan which clearly articulates that the expectation is that people will attempt to get to work, and states who they need to call if they are going to be late, if this is different than on a day-to-day basis. I’ve then worked fairly with people if conditions take a turn for the worse once they are at work to ensure that my team feel safe travelling home, restructuring shifts if necessary.
Thanks to Becci C.
Treat the team to a hearty breakfast
I’m sure we’ve all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which basically means that some people’s emotions are more susceptible to changes in the weather than others’. Oddly enough, most people’s moods are affected by more everyday occurrences.
How can we deal with it from our side of the fence?
From a customer service side, we all know that allowing a customer to ‘vent’ their anger is a good way to calm the situation and you could use the weather as an ice-breaker as such.
From the sales side of the coin, the weather can be a great way to build rapport, so in that instance it could be beneficial.
If your team is well trained, professional and motivated, then the weather should have less of an effect on performance. We can’t do anything about the mood of a customer at the initial point of contact but what we can do is act in such a way that their mood doesn’t affect how we deal with them or the result of their call.
On saying that, we can of course pre-empt any ‘mood swings’ with our teams and act accordingly. I remember working with an outsource client in Melksham, when one day we all turned up in the morning to a snow-covered car park and the minute I walked in I could sense the opinion about the weather. My response was to send the HR manager off to McDonald’s to buy 27 breakfasts and then gave one to all the staff, which instantly improved their mood and gave us a pretty good day of sales.
Thanks to Stuart Pearce, PRG Solutions
Hot-water bottles when it’s cold, ice creams when it’s hot
The worst moods seem to be in summer when the air-con cannot perform to the level needed or when it is so hot outside that even walking to work is a drag and the tubes are insufferable.
We have free hot and cold drinks here as a matter of course, but we also have ice creams available and also soups, etc. depending in the weather.
I am also a fan of hot-water bottles or portable fans. When it is really hot, I ensure that I rota plenty of off-phone activity, and occasionally we have a doze day where advisers can take an extra 30 minutes for a snooze in the sun or picnic in the cool of the stadium on top of their normal lunch hour.
We are very lucky that we are considered an integral part of the business and therefore have a degree of flexibility that is traditionally not seen in other more traditional contact centres.
Thanks to Penny Downs, Arsenal Football Club, www.arsenal.com
Dealing with mood swings
Debates around the effects of bad weather on the mood of people have been around for as long as clouds and rain. A low mood, also known as an episodic depression, is attributable to dull grey winter days.
Since adverse weather does have a negative effect on human emotions, it follows that it must have an impact on contact centres’ interactions. Mood swings can consciously or unconsciously affect communication, understanding, compassion and willingness to help, making even the most professional agents act differently. Add to this a customer’s inclination to be less tolerant because of the gloomy weather and the likelihood is that the relationship between the two will start badly, and if extra factors are added (queues, lack of information or the impossibility of solving the enquiry), frustration and anger increase.
Action to reduce this can be taken on three different levels. On the centre’s side, creating a more agent-friendly environment is essential; on the customer side, making the process as smooth as possible is key. The third area is the relationship between the two, where reducing waiting time (using Call Back systems, for example) can be useful in minimising the opportunity for a moody reaction.
Thanks to Richard Farrell: Chief Technical Officer, Netcall Telecom Ltd
Try and get out and get some fresh air
There have been a number of studies which have concluded that in winter our body deals differently with serotonin, a hormone that affects our moods. People can feel more anxious and less motivated during winter and for some people the weather will play a big part in how they approach their day and the problems that it brings.
If people are feeling down, problems may become exaggerated, and if the answer you give to their query is not the one they are looking for then they may be more heated in their response. If the person answering the query feels the same then the conversation could become difficult. If you find that you are more irritable with your customers when the skies are grey then you could be one of those people who are affected by the weather.
Try and get out and get some fresh air, even if it is a bit cold and dreary. The light is different outside and fresh air and a change of situation can give you a boost. Eating more carbohydrate-based foods can help, as this is a source of serotonin.
Some people who are badly affected find light boxes helpful. But, even if you are not affected, your customer may be, so it is worth adding the potential effect of the weather to the list of reasons you consider as to why your customer needs to be handled with care.
Thanks to Judith Marples, Director at jmhaspirations
A great excuse to build rapport
Until recently I have never discussed the weather with an agent in a contact centre, but whilst waiting for my quote results and assuming by the accent that the agent was in Scotland, I asked how the weather was, fully expecting that it would be worse than the gloom outside my window, in Leamington Spa.
This led to an interesting discussion about Kevin Bridges, the Scottish comedian, and how he had made a joke of the posh accents in Leamington Spa after a gig there, and how I should watch it on YouTube. It certainly cheered up my mood. The weather may affect our mood, but so what?
There is not a lot we can do about it, but maybe we should encourage our agents to go off script and throw in the everyday type of banter or celebrity gossip that we would have in the hairdressers or with someone we met in the street. Just because the agent is 300 miles away, not next to us, facing the same weather, why do we need to listen to on-hold music whilst they search for the data they need to resolve our request. Why shouldn’t we have a conversation?
Thanks to Susannah Richardson, Marketing Director, mplsystems
Bad weather may affect absence rates
Absence is very much dependent on your contact centre location and the practicalities of getting there and, not to put too fine a point on it, the level of remuneration that the agents are on.
I’ve worked in centres where the agents had a basic salary of £30k, and then average commission of £30k. Snow did not stop them coming in to work……
Give them £6.30 per hour, a shift that ends at 9pm on night when it’s expected to be -4°C and they have to get a bus back home? It’s probably safe to assume at least some of them might encounter an insurmountable obstacle on their way in.
Thanks to David H
Work on motivation
It’s difficult to leave external influences outside the office door, be it a morning stuck in traffic or bad weather. For call centre managers there are various things you can do to minimise these effects to lift employee morale and combat the January blues.
Call centres that reward, recognise and reinforce positive behaviour and achievements will create happier, more upbeat teams.
Regular reward schemes and training, as well as ‘quick fix’ prizes for exceptional behaviour, will keep employees motivated. It may sound counter-productive, but time spent out of the office and away from the phones can pay dividends.
Motivation does not need to come from personal gain either. Joint charity fundraising activities can do wonders in uniting staff and raising spirits while also benefiting some worthy causes.
Thanks to Mark Brown, managing director, Contact Centres & Loyalty, arvato UK & Ireland
Higher call volumes can make the shifts fly
In the utilities industry, we see a huge impact on actual call volumes when the weather is inclement. Interestingly, this has had a positive impact on agents; they are raring to go, knowing that conversion and sales ought to be high. Also, the high call volumes generally make the shifts fly in.
Conversely, when weather is very good, our repairs calls are very low. This leads to agents waiting long periods between calls and losing focus, and it used to result in poor attitudes towards the job itself. Agents were acutely aware of how quiet the calls were and how gloriously sunny it was outside.
I think for call centres that are affected by weather in a very real sense, there is a bigger, more complex picture to take into account in terms of call volumes, etc.
Thanks to Sean McIver