Rebekah Haymes explores the impact of stress on both contact centres and their teams, while outlining how managers can boost staff retention and drive down absenteeism.
Teach Advisors How to Handle Irate Customers
In a recent Willis Towers Watson survey, which 1,669 employers participated in, each participant said that health improvements are important for productivity in their organisations.
The research also revealed the top four health-related issues of most concern to employers in the UK: worker stress (67%), lack of physical activity (38%), obesity (31%) and poor nutrition (31%).
Workplace stress stands out as the foremost issue by a long shot – and contact centres are right to be concerned, with advisor retention already being a key issue in the industry.
While advisors are often stressed because of the pressure to meet targets, it is having to deal with angry customers that is arguably the primary source of stress. So, consider coaching advisors how to:
- Reassure customers
- Show empathy
- Keep interactions factual
- Add personality to conversations
- Offer solutions, while not dwelling on the issue
Also, contact centres could also look to provide advisors with Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs). These are cost-effective benefits that provide employees with access to 24/7 telephone helplines and trained counsellors.
[Follow the link for further advice on: Dealing with Angry Customers]
Guard Against Attrition
One of the biggest problems associated with high staff turnover is costs, as a constant stream of recruiting, hiring and training staff can be a drain on company finances.
Absenteeism and high staff turnover also puts a strain on the remaining workforce, who must field more calls while attempting to meet their own targets – creating a never-ending cycle of workplace stress.
A Willis Towers Watson study has revealed that employers that invest in supporting employee health and confidence in their financial well-being achieve a substantial return for stakeholders.
Indeed, where it has been possible to successfully measure it, the ROI tied to employee productivity, talent management and public image can be between two and four times higher for these organisations.
While investment can also be effective in improving the contact centre environment and improving attrition in doing so, there are other ways to reduce attrition, which have worked in other contact centres. These include:
- Switching to an annualised hours scheduling system
- Coaching resilience in training
- Planning attrition interviews
- Offering advisors a clear route of progression within the company
- Providing effective incentive schemes
[For more suggestions, read our article: Top 20 Ways to Reduce Attrition in Your Contact Centre]
Recognise the Limitations of Your Workforce
Contact centres that look to drive productivity improvements by increasing workloads and by putting staff under pressure to work longer hours, can, ironically, achieve the opposite.
Pushed too hard, employees will suffer, both physically and mentally.
So, aim to create an open-door environment in the office. This not only improves the manager–advisor relationship and helps you to manage your expectations, but also allows advisors to be more communicative and raise concerns before work-related stress takes hold.
This helps stave off stress-related conditions, and, in turn, long-term sickness absence or resignation.
During a site visit to Homeserve’s contact centre, Call Centre Helper discovered that the company do not have any separate offices for managers and that they have pods on the contact centre floor, alongside the rest of the team.
This helped to increase communication, as managers could not hide behind closed doors, and emphasising the point that advisors could come to managers with problems or requests, helping to reduce stress levels.
[To find out more, here are: 12 Ideas Taken from HomeServe’s Contact Centre]
Get to Know Your Workforce
Another Willis Towers Watson survey has revealed that employers and their employees disagree on the primary causes of work-related stress.
For example, inadequate staffing is ranked as the number one reason for stress amongst employees, but employers put it at number three on their list of causes work-related stress.
Employers view lack of work/life balance as the top reason for stress among workers, but employees only rank this at number six.
Such disconnects hamper employers’ ability to mitigate the causes of stress and provide guidance on stress management.
The answer? Ask.
Get to know what triggers stress amongst your workforce and develop a strategy addressing the employee-identified issues.
Be open to suggestion as well. If employees voice how management can help alleviate stress, listen and try to adjust the company’s workforce programmes in accordance with this feedback.
Obvious ways to do this include running advisor surveys in the contact centre, and perhaps calculating an employee NPS score.
Inter-company events are also a good way to bond with advisors, or perhaps just get managers to take some calls for themselves, to get a feel for the role and environment.
[Follow the link to find out: What Is Working in a Call Centre Really Like?]
Stay True to Your Word
A disparity between companies’ committing to a concept and implementing a successful strategy has also been identified by Willis Towers Watson.
In a recent survey, nearly all (97%) of employers said they are committed to health and productivity improvement in the years ahead, but 63% said they have no articulated strategy in place.
Contact centres may recognise that a need exists, but until there is a robust plan is in place to address it, progress will not be made.
Employers who understand their own employee population health risks, and their underlying causes, are likely to have greater success in forging a holistic health and productivity strategy than employers that take a scattershot approach, offering individual, disconnected programmes.
So, look at the bigger picture and make health and productivity strategies a top priority. Putting them on the backburner will have lasting negative effects on both individual and organisational performance.
[Find our advice for handling such matters in the article: How to Tackle Call Centre Health Issues]
Remember That Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Employers should be looking not only at how they can support their staff in case of stress or mental ill health, but also at implementing preventative measures to ensure issues are identified and tackled before they develop.
To do this, it is imperative to establish a proper reporting structure for absence related to stress or mental health issues.
Good data is crucial in identifying areas where problems are most acute and developing appropriate solutions.
This approach not only strengthens the well-being of the workforce by identifying and anticipating trends but eases the financial implications of stress-related absences, as well as strengthening the employer’s position as an attractive choice within a highly competitive industry.
[For more advice on this topic, here are: 15 Ideas for Handling Mental Health Issues in the Contact Centre]
What advice would you give to contact centres looking to tackle stress and enhance advisor well-being?
Please leave your thoughts in an email to Call Centre Helper.
Thanks to Rebekah Haymes, Health and Benefits Senior Consultant at Willis Towers Watson