91% of contact centre staff are likely to leave their role in 2021, according to research carried out for Enghouse Interactive. And nearly half (48%) said that stress or burnout was the key reason for their decision.
Given the pressures of the last year this headline figure shouldn’t be a surprise. Contact centre staff have had to deal with the overnight switch to remote working as well as the pandemic itself. They were also often forced to use suboptimal technology in inadequate working conditions. And all of this while dealing with more stressed and demanding customers.
However, the consequences could be devastating. Contact centres traditionally have relatively high staff turnover rates, already averaging 20% according to the latest ContactBabel research. 16% of organisations have to deal with churn of over 30%. This means that many contact centres could be looking for hundreds of staff during 2021. This will impact their ability to deliver the right levels of service, damage corporate reputation and hold back growth. What are the root causes of the stress that is driving the retention crisis and how can they be overcome?
When the first lockdowns began, companies had to instantly shut offices and switch agents to home working. For many, this put enormous strain on their technology as they struggled to make previously on-premise systems work effectively (and securely) in a remote, cloud-based world. 98% of companies surveyed by Enghouse said they’d invested in new technology and equipment. However they highlighted poor connectivity speeds, slowness of systems and poor quality software as the top three challenges that staff faced.
Many agents felt they were working with one hand tied behind their back – all while customers themselves became more demanding, and even abusive, due to their own stress. 30% of managers believe that staff have had to deal with demanding customers more often, while 23% said they’d faced increased levels of abuse. This ramped up the pressure on agents, particularly as they didn’t have the support and backup of colleagues that they’d receive inside a physical contact centre.
Over a fifth (22%) of companies saw this isolation as a key challenge for their staff. Recognising this, there was a greater focus on mental health/wellbeing. 40% of companies offered training and policies to improve mental resilience. The same number said they believed that staff were now more open about their mental health.
That’s not to say that the experience was completely negative. Many agents liked the flexibility working from home provides, with 34% enjoying the fact that they didn’t have to commute. 27% appreciated the opportunity to spend more time with their families. On the business side 37% of companies that trained staff in this area believed that agents now show greater empathy for customers. Over a third (36%) said that employees had become more productive and focused.
Based on the research and Enghouse’s experience contact centres need to focus on four key areas if they want to reduce agent stress, increase retention and move forward successfully in a new hybrid world of work:
Interim solutions put in quickly to enable working from home are now creaking at the seams. This increases stress for agents as they face long waits when accessing particular systems or information. It also annoys customers, if they have to wait, making them more likely to become upset or abusive. There are also major security implications that must be addressed. 31% of businesses were concerned about home-based employees opening phishing emails. 31% also worried about company information being stored on personal devices. Putting in place the right security and technology infrastructure to enable seamless home working is therefore crucial to protecting information, reducing agent stress and increasing retention.
Staff development starts with training. However, lockdowns have impacted the ability of organisations to deliver this effectively, in the right areas. For example 66% of agents haven’t received any training on health and wellbeing in the home workplace, meaning they don’t necessarily have the skills and routines to reduce stress or physical injuries caused by poor working conditions. Less than half (48%) provided staff with training on optimising the use of contact centre systems at home. Moving forward greater staff training, including use of technologies such as video, is crucial to both help staff cope and to develop them and their skills.
The vast majority of contact centres (93%) reacted quickly to take steps to bolster wellbeing during lockdowns. On the business side 27% offered informal one-to-ones with managers and 26% provided extra rewards, such as more time off. Recognising the need to continue the social interactions that happen inside a physical contact centre 22% provide Team-based online social engagement. 16% launched company-wide social events. With the workforce split between home and office, continuing and adapting these initiatives is vital to both retaining and attracting staff.
Nearly four in ten (37%) of managers said that the inability to detect changes in the moods and emotions of employees working remotely was one of their most significant challenges. Essentially they find it difficult to see when people are struggling in order to step in and provide support and reassurance. This in turn increases stress and feelings of isolation for agents. This is an area where technology can help. For example AI-based solutions can analyse calls and flag when agents are showing signs of pressure and stress, or have had a sequence of tough customer conversations. Incorporating basic feedback mechanisms using emojis into post-call wrap-ups also provides information that can be used to judge agent mood and take appropriate action.
Moving forward in 2021 the economy is expected to grow, opening up new employment opportunities and making good staff more difficult to find. Contact centres therefore need to put in place the right strategy and tactics to ensure that they retain and attract the staff they need, rather than risk the damage that high retention rates and churn can cause to customer service and their wider business.
To download full research results click here.