Six Ways to Reduce Stress in the Contact Center

When Annette told her supervisor she was leaving for a better opportunity elsewhere, the supervisor just assumed it was for more money, and so she never bothered to ask why. If she had, she might have been surprised that it was not about money at all. In fact, Annette's problem with the job was that she was just exhausted hearing other people';s complaints and feeling constantly under the gun to handle more calls and improve performance.

In fast-paced industries, agents are overwhelmed with rapid changes in products, prices, and policies. Responsibilities have grown much faster than paychecks. The easy questions and problems are handled by self-service, leaving agents to wrestle with the tough ones.

While some stress is inherent in contact center work, there are measures that management can take to reduce stress and make the agents' job more pleasant. Here are six of them:

1. Take a fresh look at quality management.

A typical call center supervisor or quality specialist might review five calls per agent per month. That same agent might very well have handled more than 1,000 interactions during that same period. The specific calls selected might be aberrational or mundane. Agents know this and might feel that the process is inherently unfair. Other stressors associated with quality management are inconsistencies in ratings of soft skills and even perceived bias on the part of some supervisors.

Positive steps that can be taken include the following:>

  • Solicit input from agents on how the quality form should be constructed.
  • Select calls for review based on clear and pertinent criteria.
  • Use speech analytics to monitor calls in real time to check for compliance and courtesy.
  • Adjust the frequency of evaluations based on tenure and past performance.
  • Conduct calibration sessions to help reduce soft skill rating inconsistencies.
  • Experiment with self evaluations and peer evaluations.

Perhaps the most stress-free solution is automated quality monitoring. Leveraging advanced technologies, such as natural language processing and artificial intelligence, some leading vendors offer software that automatically scores calls based on objective criteria. The software can consider all interactions, not just a small sample, and the rating criteria are for the same for everyone. This eliminates inaccuracies due to small samples and sharply reduces concerns about supervisor favoritism.

2. Empower agents.

Agents become frustrated when they have to tell callers that supervisor approval is required to make even a modest concession. This inability to solve problems on the spot negatively impacts first call resolution. Extending more authority could lead to some mistakes, but the larger benefit is that problems get solved faster and agents are more satisfied with their jobs and, therefore, less inclined to look for new opportunities. Additionally, concessions can be an important marketing tool. Some high-end hotels empower agents to grant up to $1,000 of perks and benefits to highly valued customers to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty.

3. Measure metrics that matter.

There are in excess of 100 metrics used to evaluate the performance of contact centers and their employees. Only two have been demonstrated to have any direct relationship to customer satisfaction: first call resolution and agent satisfaction. Contact centers need to periodically evaluate the metrics they use for evaluating individual and overall performance. A good way to approach this is to ask if the metric satisfies the following three simple criteria:

  • Does it measure something that directly impacts achievement of the enterprise objectives?
  • Does it measure something the individual can reasonably control?
  • Are you confident that the metric is accurate and objective?

4. Get creative.

Creative managers will find opportunities for their teams to relax and perhaps blow off some steam. Examples are casual Fridays, performance awards, and celebrations of important events. Gamification software, where individuals earn awards for accomplishments and learning new skills, is becoming more widely deployed within contact centers.

5. Rotate jobs.

In addition to fun and games, a useful approach is to provide more variety in the agents' work. Why not rotate agents in and out of other jobs, particularly back-office operations? In a growing number of organizations certain back-office functions are viewed as extensions of the contact center. Rotating people through these jobs adds variety to their daily routines and equips agents with skills that can help them transition to other positions within the organization.

6. Foster work/life balance.

Millennials more than any other generation crave work/life balance. They have many interests besides work and strongly favor employment opportunities that offer flexibility. This includes contract work or the so-called gig economy. Customer service work, if properly presented, matches very well with employee preferences. With modern workforce management software, employee schedules can be adjusted to balance service-level requirements with employee scheduling preferences. Many contact centers provide the option of working from home. Several workforce management solution vendors now provide easy-to-use smartphone interfaces for executing shift changes, applying for time off, and even responding to overtime opportunities. A great way to attract and retain top-notch agents is to invest in technology that considers individual preferences.

Dick Bucci is founder and principal analyst at Pelorus Assoicates. He can be reached at

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