As we all ring in a fresh new year, many executives and team leaders are thinking through strategies to ensure that employees remain empowered, supported, and resilient to unavoidable challenges. The solutions to these human challenges are not as simple as waiting for employees to find their footing. Executives and leaders need to take actionable steps to ensure conditions for success.
The big-picture story
In a recent Harvard Business Review, Nihar Chhaya — an executive coach to senior leaders at global companies — rightfully pointed out that it’s a challenge for people to focus on their careers when there is so much underlying uncertainty and so many exhausting narratives surfacing from mainstream media.
“This year, it may be even more challenging to understand career priorities and do anything about them, given the continuing uncertainty surrounding our work lives,” Chhaya writes.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies made the decision to scale back their workforces. Now, team leaders are struggling to retain talent and ensure stable productivity levels due to heightened levels of burnout and a wave of resignations. After all, throughout the first two years of the pandemic, call center agents have been the first line of support between overwhelmed companies and customers.
To ensure workforce sustainability, it is essential that team leaders and executives address the need to create supportive, healthy, and high-performing call center environments. In the next section, we share productive recommendations for customer support leaders to respond to the human needs of their teams.
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It’s easy to assume that everything is going well when activity levels are high and workforces seem quiet. But baseline metrics often conceal underlying challenges that have the potential to bubble up.
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Beyond tools like time tracking and employee monitoring, there are several steps that leaders can proactively take to support the well being of call center agents. Any mix of the recommendations below will make a meaningful impact in boosting employee morale and productivity.
- Reduce unnecessary video calls and meetings. The pandemic has forced people to be on screens longer than is healthy or sustainable — and people may be struggling with the pressures of back to back video conversations. Zoom fatigue has been an often unspoken trend among workers.
Executives and team leaders can alleviate this pressure by implementing internal communications software with discussion forums and asynchronous audio + video memos. Executives can also encourage managers to lead by example in recording calls for employees to tune in later, turning off cameras, and encouraging optional attendance.
- Conduct an anonymous workforce survey. The first step is to hire a research firm that specializes in conducting human resources and company wellness studies. The key is to develop a survey to collect feedback that employees may be hesitant to communicate. The key is to ensure conditions of safety through confidentiality — team leaders and executive teams should have access to aggregate level, anonymized level data only. The ability for people to express themselves honestly is key.
- Implement a comprehensive wellness program. It is important to remember that call center agents need time to rest their minds and recharge. Every day, these workers spend considerable time context switching between tasks, managing the frustrations of others, and problem-solving at rapid speeds. But are they getting enough time for lunch, self care, and dedicated breaks? Wellness resources may help ensure that employees focus on their health and personal stability.
- Bring in coaching resources. Over the past several years, companies have been paying attention to workplace aggression and conflict. The trend is understandable given the isolation, economic consequences, and general levels of hardship associated with societal challenges. Naturally, challenges at home trickle into work and visa versa.
- Introduce a motivational speaker series. It’s well-known that humans are hard-wired to find meaning and purpose in their work — and a recent survey from the Greater Good Center at U.C. Berkeley found that work was a primary source of meaning for people around the world during the pandemic.
These days, everyone could use an extra dose of wisdom and extra perspective. One way to lighten the load of the work day is to introduce a regular series featuring motivational speakers. The idea is to invite leaders in their field who can speak to inspiring topics including mindfulness, resiliency, and stress management.
- Encourage more time off. From mental health days to extended vacations and company days off, it’s healthy for people to take time away from the screen to recharge and focus on self-care — don’t forget that the World Health Organization (WHO) has described COVID-19 to be a mass trauma bigger than World War II.
- Bring in additional support through call center software. The idea is not to replace people but to offload routine tasks. The less people need to context-switch, the more mental bandwidth they have to focus on problem-solving, maintaining positive interactions with customers, and supporting the strategic needs of the business.
- Create more self-serve and chat-based support options. If agents are struggling with heavy call volumes, a simple recommendation is to create more knowledge hubs and chat solutions. The idea is to help customers self-direct themselves in getting answers to their questions. With this infrastructure in place, call center agents can focus on creative, strategic, and analytical tasks.
Last but not least: reconsider layoffs
Especially with the rise of remote work, it’s easy to make assumptions about an employee who appears to be underperforming. But what is this person navigating at home, on a human level?
If you notice an employee slowing down, encourage that individual to take care of themselves, take a vacation, or rest. It’s often not until a person leaves a company until the full extent of their contributions are visible and felt.
Remember that everyone is valuable. Call center agents shoulder heavy workloads and responsibilities of navigating interpersonal relationships. Supporting them is a must.
Want to know more about how you can transform your call center and empower your agents? Sign up here to get a demo from Ring Central.
Originally published Jan 21, 2022, updated Feb 16, 2022