We explore the common sources of contact centre stress and how to address them in order to better support advisors.
5 Sources of Contact Centre Stress
Whether you are working remotely or not, contact centre work does have its plus sides, especially in a good culture. But there are sources of stress in every operation that need to be addressed.
Here are five key sources of contact centre stress that you need to be aware of.
1. Rising Customer Expectations
Customer expectations are rising and contact centres are struggling to keep up.
In fact, research from HubSpot found that, for three-quarters of customers, reality is falling short of their expectations.
This failure to manage expectations can disappoint customers and it is advisors that often have to bear the brunt of this disappointment.
Having to deal with more disappointment is stressful and it only becomes more so when we consider how the advisor role is changing.
Helen Ginman of U and I Well-Being adds: “Customer expectations and customer demands are changing; handling times are also increasing and things are getting harder for agents.”
You may have noticed these trends in your contact centre, but have you changed your advisor support systems to move with the times?
2. Conflicting Management Expectations
The expectations of management are often vastly different from what advisors believe is expected of them. This disconnect can be problematic.
In some contact centres, managers sense that everything is fine, rosy even, and that everybody knows what they should be doing. But when you speak to the advisors, it is not quite as clear cut as that.
Engagement between contact centre leaders and agents is really important.
“Having clarity in your messaging is absolutely critical and communication plays a huge part in any business. That engagement between contact centre leaders and agents is really important,” says Helen.
In many contact centres, however, what “good” looks like isn’t defined, and expectations change from one team leader to another and one call analyst to another.
Advisors can then become stressed when it is not clear what is expected of them.
3. The Measuring and Monitoring Culture
Contact centres are notorious for measuring and monitoring people. Even in remote climates, advisors know that you are measuring:
- How long each call is taking
- How many calls they are taking
- How many emails they are dealing with between calls
If the advisor does something wrong by accident, they know that there is a large chance that their mistakes will be picked up by the contact centre systems. They will be judged for that error.
Some contact centres purposely give advisors low autonomy because they believe it will give them more control and shape the customer experience.
But if advisors have to handle a query where there is no clear guidance on what to do and they lack the autonomy to come up with creative solutions themselves – panic mode sets in. This is especially the case when they know that they might be judged on that call later.
Find out how you can give advisors more autonomy in our article: What Does Employee Empowerment REALLY Mean?
4. High Occupancy
“We’ve managed to get our occupancy rates to 93%,” was what one contact centre manager told me last year. Poor advisors, I thought.
Too often managers can get bogged down in the numbers and forget to look at the impact on the people behind them.
For every target that we set, we should be considering the business impacts, customer impacts and advisor impacts.
When we set targets like maximizing occupancy, we should realize this restricts the time that advisors spend off the phone – causing stress and burnout.
But it’s not only occupancy that’s the problem here. Take a look at the following graph from a Call Centre Helper report.
It’s unnerving to see the performance of customer service teams being targeted against service level, as this is primarily a workforce management (WFM) metric and one that advisors have very little control over.
It is easy to see how having little control over what they’re being measured against can be a source of stress and frustration for advisors.
5. Challenging Conversations
The decisions that they make can have a significant impact on someone’s life.
Contact centre advisors can often be put into difficult positions when handling queries. The decisions that they make can have a significant impact on someone’s life.
Let’s take an example. A customer phones up and says: “I can’t pay my bill because I can’t put food on the table for my children.”
What is an advisor expected to do in that situation?
They have a process that is dictated to them by the company, but the situation is clearly desperate for the customer.
Having that conversation can be really challenging, especially if there is little in the way of support systems that provide guidelines on what to do in these situations. Add this to the isolation of working remotely and the problem builds.
Don’t underestimate the toll that these conversations can have on an advisor.
For more on this topic, read our article: Battling Anxiety When Dealing with Customers
Employees Have Their Own Sources of Stress Too
We all have things happening in our lives, different situations and events that we respond to in our own way. This is alongside the ups and downs that we experience every day.
While many “old-school” managers will say that you should separate your work and home life, that’s not possible if you’re going through:
- A difficult break-up
- A troubling medical diagnosis
- Home troubles
- Financial concerns
- Struggling to work from home
These are just some of the common causes for everyday stress. There are no doubt many more.
With this in mind, there is a big focus within many companies at the moment around the idea of “bringing your whole self to work”.
There is a big focus within many companies at the moment around the idea of “bringing your whole self to work”.
“Recognizing that we are all facing difficulties in our everyday life can absolutely influence how we behave, how we feel and how we’re going to work,” says Helen.
“If I feel that I’m not energized in what I’m doing and I’m not feeling healthy, I’m not going to be at my best in terms of service and how I operate.”
Naturally, when things happen outside of work, trying to forget about those things can be quite difficult. At best it’s a distraction.
Creating an environment where advisors can talk about stresses outside of work can help them to better confront these challenges. This is particularly key in a lonely, remote environment and the tips below will help you to do so.
Reducing Contact Centre Stress
The first step to reducing contact centre stress is to review the common sources of stress that are highlighted above and to assess what you are already doing to negate them.
But there are a few other areas that also need addressing to safeguard employee well-being, as highlighted below.
People are impacted by how we communicate with them. If we do a bad job of communicating, we can really lose touch with our teams and how they are feeling.
We want to communicate with advisors so they feel a sense of purpose and belonging.
The answer to many business problems is better communication, and the issue of stress is no different. We want to communicate with advisors so they feel a sense of purpose and belonging – even if they are working from home.
If we can’t communicate with the team, it doesn’t matter what else we do.
To improve communication, there are lots of things you can do, including:
- Creating online communities for advisors
- Developing listening mechanisms
- Starting the day with a team huddle
For more on this topic, read our article: How to Improve Internal Communication in the Contact Centre
Actively Promote Well-Being
Every business has the responsibility to communicate with staff around positive well-being, and certain businesses will promote “the five ways to mental well-being” to help do this.
“The five ways of well-being” is an NHS initiative that is supported by medical evidence and each “way” is highlighted below:
- Connect with other people
- Be physically active
- Learn new skills
- Give to others
- Pay attention to the present moment (mindfulness)
Companies have a responsibility to at least make employees aware of each of these points, but a contact centre that goes above and beyond will look to embed these points into its culture.
Address the Physical Environment
If You are Office-Based
If you have paint peeling off the walls, the lighting is very dim and bits of foam are coming out of your chairs, the toilets need a clean and there is dust everywhere – your advisors aren’t going to have much pride in where they work.
There are many things to consider here, such as:
- Do you want wellness areas?
- Do you want to offer healthy lunches?
- Can people stand up at their desks?
These are some of the add-on things, but there are some basics that you also need to ensure are in place, like:
- Making sure there is quality of air flow
- Ensuring there is easy accessibility to water
- Maximizing the natural light
Without basics like this in place, you will create an uncomfortable working environment for advisors that will only increase stress and negative feelings.
If Your Contact Centre is Now Fully Remote
It’s still important to consider the environment that advisors are working in.
Get a feel for your team’s working environment on video calls and think about how you can help them make the most of their space.
Check out how some contact centres are improving their physical environment by taking a look at our site visit articles.
Build Emotional Resilience
There is still stigma associated with poor mental health and stress. Often we feel as individuals that if we admit that we are struggling with a health issue, that might impact our promotion opportunities and how people look at us.
As part of your strategy around well-being, you should therefore be looking at raising awareness, making it all right to talk about these things and building emotional resilience.
By developing emotional resilience, your people can better manage any sources of stress that develop inside or outside the workplace.
By developing emotional resilience, your people can better manage any sources of stress that develop inside or outside the workplace.
Whether that’s through a series of workshops, messages delivered through meetings/virtual huddles or a communication campaign, make stress awareness a natural part of your culture.
For more on developing this type of culture, read our article: Create and Maintain a Positive Culture
Train Your Managers and Leaders
The impact of how a manager conducts themselves in the contact centre is absolutely significant in creating an atmosphere in which people feel as though they can talk about these things.
Investing in your leaders is important, so they are able to have those conversations and be empathetic in handling them.
To achieve this, leaders must be open-minded and not enter one-to-ones with their own set agendas, which assume they understand the advisor’s problem.
“Stopping those assumptions, being able to have those open conversations and using active listening as a core component of what we are doing, is vital,” says Helen.
“There are so many reasons why advisors are not performing and if we go into a meeting and you say: ‘You’re not delivering on your targets, what can we do about it?’ I’m not going to tell you that I’m struggling with stress, because you’ve already put the barrier up for me.”
In this scenario, you will create an action plan which just gives advisors more things to do and adds to their stress – so ensuring managers and leaders are trained to have these difficult conversations is important.
For more on training contact centre leaders, read our article: Train Team Leaders Well
10 Quick Tips for Handling Contact Centre Stress
If you feel confident that your contact centre is already doing well in meeting the points above, then you are doing a really great job.
But we may yet have some more ideas to help you reduce stress further in the bitesize tips below.
- Adjustable Workstations – Look into ergonomics and work on your seating areas to make sure people have the flexibility to keep physically active. This is a consideration that you should also making for remote workers and their at-home set-up.
- Create a Community Group – Having an online workplace with open groups for well-being tips can work well, giving advisors the space to talk about common stress-related issues too – which we can keep an eye on.
- Connect With Other People – Give advisors the chance to give back with charity work. Doing good things for other people can be a great stress reliever, especially during difficult times.
- Reinforce Resilience Messages – Tie resilience in with well-being initiatives, team-meeting activities and embed it into your induction training – ensuring that managing stress stays at the top of your agenda.
- Reduce Background Noise – Having to strain to hear what the customer is saying can be stressful when handling a tricky conversation, while it can also cause advisors to turn up the volume on their headsets, leading to other well-being problems. Talk to your remote agents as well, to see how you can help them reduce the noise of their pets, their neighbours’ children etc.
- “The Most Steps” Competition – Why not add some fun to promoting physical well-being? You could also start an initiative like a “most step” challenge where advisors track their activity on their phones or activity trackers – with a prize for the highest number of steps in a week.
Here are four tips for when you return to the office too.
- Turn Up the Fun Factor – Having fun with friends and colleagues is a great way to relieve stress, so bring fun into the contact centre with breakroom pool tables, ping-pong tables and a jukebox – for example. For remote workers, try virtual quizzes, games and challenges.
- Bring in the Plants – Installing plants across the contact centre not only helps to add colour to the office, it also absorbs sound and improves air quality and the general office environment. Encouraging remote advisors to move some plants into their home-office is also a good idea.
- Create Collaborative Spaces – People want to come together and find connections with other people. Having these areas and opportunities helps and enables advisors to express themselves in different ways in the workplace. Collaborative video calls are a great idea for your remote workers too, to have a coffee together and catch-up.
- Start a Cycle to Work Initiative – Exercise is great for well-being. Just make sure you facilitate these initiatives by providing proper bicycle storage and showers. Encouraging physical exercise amongst remote advisors is also good, especially if they are at a computer and answering calls full-time.
For more quick pieces of advice like this: 25 Tips to Help Your Staff to Stay Stress Free
Find more of our advice on employee well-being by reading our articles:
- How to Help Call Centre Agents Deal With Stress
- A Guide to Improving Mental Health in the Contact Centre
- How to Design a Stress-Free Contact Centre
Discover more advice from Helen on the topic of employee wellbeing, by listening to the following episode of The Contact Centre Podcast: