How can we assist call centre agents to sustain their energy levels? Is providing sugary drinks really the best answer?
Author Alison Mathiebe explores.
Peaks and valleys of energy and motivation
Dealing with the peaks and valleys of energy and motivation can be a challenge for anyone, but it is particularly so for call centre agents, whose performance relies on being perky, alert, and interested in the high volume of customers they are personally interacting with each day.
Variety and new experiences in life, having interesting work projects that engage, and feeling more physically vibrant can all help to sustain our energy levels. If agents have all these factors and are working in a call centre where the operation management is realistic and not going to burn them out, then they are set up to achieve their best.
Hold team meetings where the topic is wellness and have the group brainstorm how everyone can take responsibility for improving their own physical vibrancy. Include points such as:
- Sleep: Get 7-8 hours sleep every night. If this is not already happening, how can life be organised to achieve it?
- Diet: How can they arrange their lives so that they have good food around them and are therefore less tempted by convenience/junk foods?
- Fitness: How can they arrange their lives so that they are exercising to fuel their energy and stamina?
- Hydration: Dehydration causes fatigue. Encourage agents to always have a bottle of water by them.
- What have been the team members’ experiences using alternative therapies or relaxation techniques – did these help to improve physical vibrancy?
- How can team members support each other to improve their physical vibrancy?
The team leader doesn’t have to be a fitness fanatic or blissed-out on yoga to run such a meeting. If the team leader is open and expresses how they personally could arrange their life to improve their control of their own energy and vibrancy then agents may be more open to joining the discussion and planning to make changes in their own lives.
True engagement with the job = new experiences + support
New experiences help us to feel more engaged and enthusiastic – and, therefore, energetic. Provide each agent with new small projects that they can own from the beginning to the end. The successful completion of each small project will help improve their confidence and sense of achievement. Knowing that the project is their own ‘baby’ is more engaging than attending committee-style project meetings where individual involvement may be minimal.
Try to offer the agent a choice of projects so that they are working on something that they like and can have a sense of pride in.
Provide adequate support when delegating tasks and projects so that agents are learning new skills and are not overly anxious.
For example, if the agent is asked or volunteers to run a training session for a new induction group, the team leader or trainer should have a practice run-through with the agent and provide coaching on their training. Then, after the training session, have a debrief meeting with the agent to congratulate them and make sure that their efforts are appreciated, and work together on ideas for how the session could be improved the next time.
Are team leaders too busy?
As team leaders are busy, too often agents are scheduled time to work on projects by themselves without having adequate support to complete the task or project at a competent level.
New experiences can also be created through activities that call centres often do well, such as: working together on a new team goal, planning team celebrations, using themed competitions, decorating the work environment, celebrating new customer acquisitions and successes, and involving team members in campaign reflection processes.
Letting advisors be confident
In addition, it is important to train and retrain for every possible customer situation so every agent is confident in how to handle customer contacts successfully. The team also needs to know how to react if something happens that they have not been trained to handle. This involves having not only a procedure to escalate such calls and problems but a team leader who is willing to take on this work rather than pushing it back to the agent. Energy, motivation and engagement with the job are undermined if the agents do not feel that they have the real support of their team leader.
As it is new experiences in life that make us feel energetic, the team leader can also make time – perhaps during a lull in calls or at the end of team meetings – to discuss what new things team members are doing outside work; for example, planning trips, learning French, improving their fitness. Socially sharing these things increases enthusiasm for these experiences and life in general and may also encourage others to take up new challenges.
Realistic call centre operations management
To reduce incidences of agent burn-out, call centre managers need to ensure that occupancy is not too high. It is preferable that there are some periods in the day where the agent will probably get little rests while waiting for calls to arrive. Centres that have agents complete administration work between calls need to be particularly mindful of productivity limits.
A realistic level of productivity can be maintained through the use of service quality tools and having an adequate buffer in workforce planning to achieve inbound service level targets consistently and allow for outbound campaign work, scheduled and unscheduled leave, meetings, coaching, training and agent project work.
Avoid excess work being piled into the contact centre
It is also important to respect the call centre’s service level target and commitment to serving customers before allowing other areas of the organisation to pile their ideas, projects and excess work onto the call centre. This may involve educating senior executives so that they understand how the call centre operates and its limits.
When agents are able to handle customer contacts with confidence, have projects that they are interested in and can work on from beginning to end, are supported to achieve competence, and are working on their own physical vibrancy, they are more able to sustain their energy levels and be ready for the challenges of working in a call centre.