How to Avoid Contact Center Burnout in 2022

by Tony Do

Contact center employees are extremely important to the overall success and health of businesses. They’re the front line of customer interactions, and often the only people your customers will ever interact with. But call center employees can also be some of the least supported, hardest worked employees in the business - a sure-fire recipe for call center burnout. 

Burnout has real consequences. When contact center employees aren’t performing their best, the customer experience declines. This can lead to an increase in churn, as 58% of customers believe that service is a very important factor in their choice of a brand, and 61% of customers have stopped purchasing from a company after a single unsatisfactory experience. 

Because of its impact on the bottom line, and because it’s important to care about your employees, understanding the signs of burnout is one of the best things you can do to improve your company culture. Below, we dive into what contact center burnout is, the negative impact it can have on your CX, as well as four solutions for employers who want to prevent it in the first place. 

What is Call Center Burnout?

Burnout goes much further beyond just being “busy at work”. It’s a mental and physical illness that has a significant impact on the individuals of a call center. 

Burnout is defined as mental, emotional, or physical exhaustion caused by being overwhelmed, stressed, and under-supported for a long period of time. In a work setting, this can lead to decreased productivity and an inability to take pride in one’s work, in addition to causing ongoing physical health issues. Call center burnout is a unique case of work stress because of the specific emotional demands of the contact center environment.  

Call center employees are often more at risk of burnout because of the responsibilities and expectations of their job. Some of the common call center stressors that can lead to exhaustion include:

  • Overwhelming expectations that lead to long hours and unrealistic quota requirements
  • Constant surveillance by managers and employers
  • Monotonous tasks or a sense of disempowerment. 
  • Frustrated and emotional customers.
  • Insufficient resources or appreciation.

As a result, contact center employees suffer physically and mentally, as well as in their work performance. They might feel physically exhausted with an overall lack of energy. Mentally, it becomes hard to focus and they may start to lack empathy, even in situations they would typically be able to emotionally engage with. Both of these symptoms can lead to poor work quality resulting from apathy and less productivity overall.    

The symptoms of burnout aren’t limited to professional performance. If it is left untreated and its source is left unaddressed, burnout can have tremendously damaging long-term impacts on the mental health of your employees. Call center representatives may experience long-term mood changes and lower satisfaction in all aspects of their everyday life. They can also experience physical symptoms like poor sleep and appetite, physical pains, headaches, migraines, and stomach aches. 

Understanding what burnout looks like, and the potential impact it can have on your staff is important to making good staffing decisions and treating your employees well.

Who is Most Impacted By Burnout?

For the reasons mentioned above, contact center agents are very vulnerable to stress and overwork injuries. In fact, 3 out of 4 agents are at risk of severe burnout, according to Toister Solutions. With the serious health concerns that come with that, it’s clear how important it is to address burnout, and ideally, prevent it from even happening.

But burnout doesn’t just impact the individual. Because of the stress, insufficient resources, and lack of recognition, contact centers have one of the highest employee turnover rates. The average turnover rate in call centers is between 30 and 45%, meaning that over the course of a year one out of every three agents would quit. 

Therefore, we must find ways to better support contact center agents and reduce burnout to improve the workplace experience for these business-critical employees.  

Practical Solutions for Agents Experiencing Burnout

If you’re feeling burnt out yourself, there are a number of ways you can reduce the impact on your health. The first step is to recognize that you’re experiencing burnout and not just a “busy week”. Don’t sweep your experiences under the rug. Tracking how you’re feeling each day at work can help you identify the overall trend of your mood and energy. If you’re constantly fatigued, the suggestions below can help you return to your normal self: 

Spend time away from work. This can be particularly hard when working from home where work and life blend together. But spending quality time with loved ones away from your desk is one of the best cures for feeling stuck in the stress of work. If possible, taking a true vacation where you aren’t checking your email or chat notifications is very helpful for addressing feelings of exhaustion and burnout. 

Return to healthy habits and exercise. Make sure you’re getting enough movement in your day. Take breaks and walk around the block during lunch, or sign up for a weekly fitness class to build habits that stick with you. Not only is exercise a stress reliever, it will also help you sleep more soundly. Building better sleep habits can also help with the impact of burnout. 

Check with your company to see what resources they have available to support your mental health. Some businesses offer mental health coaches, extended health benefits that include counseling, or personal days which can be used as a day away from work to relax and take care of yourself. 

While it can be nerve-wracking to bring up your concerns to your manager, it’s important that they know how you’re feeling. By raising these pain points to your employers, you can work together to find solutions. Chances are there are other team members who feel the same way, and might just not feel comfortable speaking up. 

How Employers and Leadership Can Help Prevent Burnout

The best way to help call center employees be successful is to prioritize their needs. Not only is supporting the people you hire a good thing to do, it actually makes your business stronger and provides a return on your investment. Happy, healthy employees provide better customer service, are more loyal, and are more productive. Agent turnover can also be an expensive issue to address, with it costing an estimated 100-300% of an agent’s annual salary to backfill their position. If you’re concerned that your employees may be experiencing burnout, consider these four tips for improving your call center’s agent experience. 

  1. Define roles and responsibilities to maximize efficiency and reduce conflict

Defined roles help call centers run smoothly. All tasks are accounted for, and there is no confusion over who should be doing what. Working together, these roles make sure that calls are answered, employees are taken care of, and metrics are tracked and analyzed. Most contact center structures will include a mix of the following roles:

  • Call Center Managers represent the entire call center and serve as a communication point between companies and their contact center employees.
  • Team Leaders manage the day-to-day operations, are in charge of groups of agents, and assist their team members by providing guidance and helping with escalations. 
  • Agents directly interact with customers and are highly skilled in customer service and technical support.
  • Trainers are veteran contact center employees who have experience in teaching and onboarding new employees
  • Analysts forecast and anticipate new trends, monitor seasonality, and help prepare call centers for times of high demand

2. Provide sufficient resources and equipment to help your employees thrive

Every worker needs the right tools to do a good job. The right tools make the job easier, faster, and reduce stress. For contact center employees, using the right technology can make a world of difference to their workday. 

Choosing the right contact center software and complementary integrations can reduce the amount of context shifting agents do to resolve each issue. Providing tools that help your agents manage, organize, and effectively communicate across conversations and tasks improves efficiency and reduces the likelihood of burnout. In particular look for:

  • Easy-to-use ticket management software that lets agents view and organize support tickets submitted by customers, move completed tickets down the pipeline and share tickets that require more attention with other teams.
  • Call recording and logging to save calls and use them as a reference for future case studies, training, and quality assurance.
  • Call center automation that connects incoming conversations to the right team automatically and reduces post-call manual work like data entry and follow-ups. 
  • A single view of customer data and context to prevent long back-and-forth conversations and the need for agents to be constantly switching between tabs.

Other tools that are helpful, but frequently overlooked, include a good chair, headset, and a functioning computer with a good internet connection. 

Finally, providing mental health resources can have a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of your staff. Making it easy for agents to access the healthcare they need prevents burnout.

3. Prioritize the (mental and physical) health of your employees

Even in the busiest seasons, and even when you’re understaffed, it’s critical to provide your employees with enough time away from work. Set structured, and appropriate schedules that provide agents with a healthy, balanced, work/life routine. Stable work hours (ie. not swinging between day and night shifts) with the same days off most weeks can help employees feel more balanced and prioritize rest. 

Track vacation days and encourage agents to use them. If you think your call center is too busy for your agents to take days off, consider what will happen if your agents become burnt out. 

Ensure that agents have manageable workloads with realistic goals. Track their performance with call center metrics that are meaningful and that they have control over, such as CSAT, agent utilization rate, and quality assurance metrics.  

4. Show appreciation for your employees 

A study by InLoox found that employee appreciation can alleviate the effects of a high workload, reduce stress and prevent work from having a negative impact on the employee’s life outside of work. 

Providing appropriate compensation is the best way to show your appreciation for the work your employees do. Paying market rate or better with the opportunity to earn raises not only shows you care about your employees, but it also reduces their stress level by ensuring they can pay their bills. 

But money isn’t the only way to value your staff. Words of encouragement, recognition, and awards show employees that their work is important and necessary for the success of the business. 

Furthermore, showing your contact center teams that their opinions are valuable empowers agents. Ask and act on employee feedback frequently. Provide opportunities for employees to grow into other roles and take initiative. By treating call center staff as more than just “queue crushers” you’ll not only receive great ideas that can improve the overall contact center experience, but you’ll also help prevent burnout. 

Make Contact Center Burnout a Thing of the Past

Your contact center agents are the most important part of your business, and they aren’t easy to replace. Taking care of their work environment will make them more productive and keep them around for longer, which results in a better customer experience. With a focus on your agent’s experience and the right contact center technology, you can prevent call center burnout from derailing your scaling plans. 

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