The number of people working in call centres is constantly rising. Despite increases in digital services and support channels, call centres are still necessary. 61% of consumers prefer voice communication via phone, over any other channel.
Unfortunately, call centres are generally considered stressful environments in which to work. Call handlers are required to work reactively, solving customers’ queries in real-time. This requires constant problem solving, understanding, and patience, all of which can create stress.
Monotonous work, dissatisfaction, poor ergonomics, or role ambiguity add yet more stress. Not to mention time pressures, high expectations, and high call volumes. The lists go on. In fact, 74% of contact centre agents are considered at risk of burnout. On top of that, 30% of agents face a severe burnout risk.
Benefits of Handling Call Centre Agent Stress
Many studies have been done on mental health in the workplace, and the effects of stress. The relentless requirement to work at peak performance takes its toll in many ways. Some examples include, job dissatisfaction, high turnover rates, reduced efficiency, illness, and even death. Not to mention absenteeism, alcoholism, poor decision-making, indifference, apathy, and lack of motivation.
Stress leads to low employee morale. Disengaged employees could cost an organisation an additional 34% of their salary. This is due to the factors listed above.
Then, there’s burnout. Burnout is defined as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It is difficult for employees who experience it, but it’s tough on businesses, too.
Employees with burnout are far less productive, and are:
- 63% more likely to take a sick day.
- Six times as likely to be actively seeking a different job.
- 13% less confident in their work performance.
- 50% less likely to discuss performance goals with their managers.
10 Reasons Call Centre Agents Are Stressed
1. Dealing with angry customers.
Dealing with the brunt of someone else’s anger is never easy, no matter the context. Unfortunately, angry customers are a harsh reality of call centres. No matter how good a product or service, there will be unhappy, unsatisfied customers.
Call centre agents tend to be hired for their resilience to angry callers. But this doesn’t mean that constant anger and the potential for abuse does not take its toll. Agents can become overwhelmed and stressed by interactions with difficult customers. This impacts negatively on their mental health, and can cause stress-related illnesses.
2. Insufficient training.
Call centres are under immense pressure to always be available and adequately staffed. This means that there can sometimes be a lack of training. Nobody likes to feel unprepared, this can cause stress in any environment. Inadequate training causes significant levels of stress for call centre employees.
3. Insufficient resources.
Lack of appropriate resources is also a cause of call centre stress. Agents will struggle if they don’t have access to the information they need to answer queries. This results in staff feeling unable to adequately serve customers. Which in turn will lead to unsatisfied callers, who have the potential to become angry.
4. Repetitive work.
Call centre agents often have to perform the same tasks over and over. This can result in feeling under-stimulated and demotivated in their job. The need for consistency in a call centre means that jobs are oversimplified. Tasks are standardised, and agents are encouraged to adhere to scripts for both inbound and outbound calls.
People enjoy having a sense of agency in their role, but these restrictions leave no room for their input. It creates a monotonous environment that doesn’t provide any challenges. Call centre agents can become frustrated and disengaged, and end up stressed.
5. Managing a high volume of calls.
A recent study found the workload to be the top source of workplace stress in general. Having to manage a high volume of calls is a huge factor in creating call centre stress specifically. Unrelenting workloads and targets based on the number of calls can leave agents feeling overwhelmed, and mentally and emotionally exhausted.
6. Inadequate technology and equipment.
Outdated technology and inadequate equipment will cause stress for call centre agents. Many agents feel their company doesn’t provide all the technology they require. Poor technology makes handling each phone call frustrating for both employees and customers. Tension can arise when the customer has to wait for a slow system, or for the agent to switch between systems.
Source: CMO Council
Old and outdated technology creates stress by making tasks harder to achieve. It can also make agents feel undervalued by the company. In these situations, responsibility is often placed on the agent to increase efficiency. Even something like a poor quality headset can ramp up an agent’s stress.
7. Continuous performance monitoring.
KPIs, deliverables, and constant requests for improved efficiency are always present in the business. As a result, electronic call monitoring has become a common practice in the workplace. This is especially the case among companies that employ frontline workers.
There’s no doubt that companies can reap some great rewards from this type of monitoring. But it can also be one of the most common sources of stress, pressuring employees to maintain a high level of performance. Instead of pushing employees to perform better, this approach can make performance suffer. Ultimately, it can negatively impact productivity and quality of service.
8. Lack of recognition.
There’s another unfortunate knock-on effect of the constant focus on KPIs and statistics. Customer service roles can be extremely challenging, and employee recognition is often neglected.
The focus on what more can be done to improve the next call can overshadow employees being praised for their work. This results in them feeling undervalued, underappreciated, resulting in much lower job satisfaction.
9. Lack of support.
Stressful situations are easier to manage if they occur within a supportive environment. If agents feel they’re not supported by the business, this will exacerbate the call centre stress. They will not feel equipped at all to manage their stress, and won’t even feel motivated to try.
10. Unsuitable work environment.
Poor ergonomics can lead to physical ailments, which will result in further stress. A poorly set up workstation can lead to eye, neck, and back strain. This can then cause issues for the agent not just at work, but in all aspects of their life. Coping with an incessant bad back can soon lead to emotional exhaustion.
How to Help Call Centre Agents
When dealing with call centre stress, it’s important to take a holistic approach. Many actions can be made right from the start of an agent’s employment. Ongoing interventions by management or human resources can mitigate stress and burnout as much as possible. Or, they can identify how to provide adequate support so the agent feels equipped to cope with the demands of the job.
Source: Black Dog Institute
It’s unavoidable that call centre agents will have to answer a lot of calls, this is part of the job description. However, it doesn’t have to be something that causes additional stress. A CRM platform can help to handle a high volume of calls or deal with ongoing customer issues without it feeling so much like hard work.
Using this kind of software, an agent can make notes on a conversation or store customer details. Each call centre worker will then have quick access to all prior contact with a customer. This will have two important outcomes.
Firstly, agents will feel more prepared and less stressed during customer interactions. Secondly, they can provide a fast and informed response. 89 percent of consumers are frustrated by having to repeat their issue to multiple representatives.
So, by supporting your staff with a CRM system, you will also be improving your customer service. CRM solutions also give the ability to create and store answers to frequent questions. This will help your call centre workers to feel they have access to information as they need it. An improvement that will enhance employee engagement.
Make sure you’re providing your agents with as much up-to-date technology as possible. A business phone system can help agents to manage call flow much more efficiently. It can allow easy transfer between agents to ensure the process is as seamless and easy as possible. A VoIP Phone, meanwhile, is a good option for providing agents with up-to-date technology to work from home.
Adequate training needs to be given right from the start of employment. Agents should only start answering calls once they are as prepared as possible. Training should then continue as and when it’s required.
Your agents’ knowledge will need updating as products or policies change. Regular check-ins should be made to ensure staff is happy with the level of training given. Training can be done in person or can be delivered online. A combination of the two can also be effective.
Face-to-face training can be great for things that are urgent or time-sensitive. Online learning can be offered additionally, which agents can carry out in their own time. This offers flexibility and can provide them with a change in the task when they need a break from taking calls.
Some level of task repetition is to be expected with call centre work, but AI and automation can make a huge difference here. Chatbots can provide relief to stressed call centre agents. They can deal with the easier cases without requiring as much, or any human intervention. Agents can focus on difficult calls and provide a higher level of service to those customers.
Having agents focus on more complex cases won’t only improve customer service. They’ll start to feel like they’re providing value, which will improve job satisfaction. You’ll need to trust them to take control of interactions, solving problems creatively.
Allow agents to go off-script and bring their own personality to the role without fear for their job security. This will break up the boredom, and they’ll feel more valued. Then, when agents do good work as a result of this, make sure you acknowledge it and reward them for it.
You can incentivise reaching targets or providing outstanding customer care. Use positive reinforcement to inspire your employees. Make sure they’re not only receiving feedback when they’ve done something wrong. This will boost morale, even when facing unavoidable stresses, such as angry customers. It will add purpose and meaning to their daily tasks, and they’ll be happier as a result.
Ensure every staff member receives an ergonomics assessment when they join the company. Each workplace should be set up for the individual agent. If this isn’t possible due to hot-desking, make sure these spaces are adjustable. Sitting/standing desks and fully adjustable chairs can also be a great idea.
Managing call centre stress should start with the company itself. The first step is to make changes to the environment to support staff in their role. However, it is also important to educate staff on what they can do individually.
Equip your call centre agents with tools and tips that will help them to manage their stress. Provide mental health support and train managers to identify early signs of burnout. You may even wish to have some staff members trained in mental health first aid.
There are many opportunities for call centre workers to experience stress. It lurks behind almost every corner. By being aware of the various stressors, call centres can ensure they minimise the risks.
It’s important to make staff feel supported in their role and prepared for all their tasks. By focusing on your employees’ wellbeing, your call centre will function better. Customer experience will improve, customer satisfaction will get a boost, and your business will prosper.
Originally published Nov 17, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023