Enghouse Interactive's International VP Jeremy Payne on contact centre agent wellbeing
The overwhelming majority (91%) of contact centre professionals, polled in a recent survey commissioned by Enghouse Interactive, said they were likely to leave their role in 2021, with nearly half (48%) of these staff revealing stress or emotional burnout is likely to play a role in their decision; a reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken on the mental health of frontline workers. For many agents, used to working closely in teams with colleagues, managers and supervisors, the rush to home working contributed to these issues.
A survey conducted by customer engagement and channel specialists, Channel Doctors found that at the end of March 2020, 84% of contact centres had shifted to a homeworking model. This move has raised some technology-related issues for agents. 31% cited ‘poor connectivity of broadband’ among the biggest technology challenges their staff experience when dealing with customers from home, with 29% citing ‘slowness in accessing information needed for customer query resolution’. These are all issues that can impact agents’ mental health.
Often, though, it is the lack of human connection that affects agents most. 15% of contact centre professionals polled for the Enghouse survey listed a sense of isolation among the top three challenges agents faced working in the home environment (15%), with 22% of respondents referencing ‘loss of spontaneous social interaction with colleagues’.
The survey also reveals issues around a lack of engagement between managers and agents. In a remote world, supervisors find it hard to gauge how agents are feeling. 37% admit that ‘lack of capability in detecting changes in employees’ mood/emotions’ is one of the most significant challenges relating to staff wellbeing. 33% cite ‘working out whose mental health resilience is deteriorating so we can step in early’ as a significant challenge.
Yet despite these issues, 66% of respondents to the Enghouse survey said staff in their business had not received ‘remote training/advice on health and wellbeing in the home workplace’ since being required to work remotely. Moreover, 60% said that their organisation had not put in place any new training and policies to improve mental resilience for new recruits since March 2020.
Added to all this, many agents have also found themselves having to deal with a dramatic increase in inbound calls since the first lockdown hit, and coupled with that, increasingly demanding or even abusive customers who, used to the fast speed of delivery pioneered by online retailers like Amazon, have become less patient than before.
Given the range of issues facing frontline workers, how can businesses move forward with a new approach to agent wellbeing? Organisations need to ensure that they have the systems and support in place and provide employees with training tailored to their needs and procedures in place for emotional support.
Smart, bright well-resourced businesses have put such processes in place formally, launching staff well-being initiatives to better engage with their employees. It is important because without engagement and interaction of this kind, we are likely to see sickness, absenteeism and staff turnover rising within many businesses. Isolation is however perhaps the key issue leading to mental health concerns and it is vital businesses take steps to deal with it.
Without physical proximity, supervisors cannot easily spot someone struggling, so now is the time to innovate. Speech analytics tools for example are a great way to identify when an agent is experiencing stress, becoming emotional, or in need of direct intervention on a call. Additionally, it is crucial that remote environments are able to seamlessly preserve the human element, and video is key to that.
Employers should also be considering flexible working rosters, especially for those with difficult domestic environments or commitments. They also need to encourage agents to take regular breaks, get sufficient exercise, and not sign up for too many overtime shifts. Finally, it is also important not to neglect training for contact centre workers. Training programmes offer excellent opportunities for engagement between managers and agents and opportunities for employees to better understand where they stand in the organisation and what is expected of them.
Any measures that businesses put in to address agent wellbeing must also be for the long-term and not just for the immediate challenges we are seeing today. With the work from home model now being replaced for many by a new blend of remote and office based working, businesses must be prepared for the challenges this new approach may bring for their agents. The messages above around technology; interaction; and engagement will continue to hold true. But it will also be key that when organisations move to a more hybrid working model, they don’t exacerbate these problems and cause internal division by favouring those working in the office over homeworkers in any way.
There is a lot for businesses to consider here but organisations need to take the issue of agent wellbeing seriously. Ultimately, after all, those striking the right balance between making the right use of technology, and putting the right processes in place to support wellbeing, will be best positioned to help agents address the mental health issues that the pandemic has brought to the fore and keep staff loyal and engaged.
By Jeremy Payne, International VP, Enghouse Interactive