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Featured

Stress awareness month: why organisations with contact centres should take stress seriously

National Stress Awareness Month, run by the Stress Management Society every April, is dedicated to raising awareness of the modern stress epidemic and aims to help everyone find ways to cope with the pressures of daily life.

This year the theme of the month is ‘Community’, highlighting the importance of social cohesion to our mental health.

A focus on stress is always important, because stress levels have been rising for years. But finding ways to alleviate stress and reduce anxiety may be even more crucial in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic.

The pandemic affected us all, and continues to do so. Many workers were hit hard by a combination of factors. As well as health anxieties, changing models of work and staffing shortages forced many employees to do more with less.

As we emerge from the pandemic (or at least from pandemic lockdowns), the simple truth is that many workers across the nation feel they are no longer able to cope with the demands of their jobs.

As MaxContact’s own research shows, customer-facing staff are feeling that pressure as much, or perhaps even more, than most. Our Customer Engagement burnout report reveals that 72% of customer-facing employees feel they are burnt out or will be soon. That figure rises to 83% for those who work in contact centres.

How does stress affect contact centres?

Good employers want to reduce stress for staff because it’s the right thing to do. But it really is win-win. Research shows that employees who feel looked after are more loyal to the companies that employ them and are more committed to their roles.

Right now, contact centre leaders need to go the extra mile to realise these benefits. Their staff are facing a perfect storm, thanks to growing customer expectations and the need to adjust to new ways of working.

A growing body of evidence suggests that customer expectations soared during Covid. With stores and offices closed for long periods of time, contact centres became the front line of customer experience.

They remain so today. The current cost of living crisis also means contact centre staff will continue to face a high volume of difficult conversations, as customers struggle to meet payments or comply with contract terms.

At the same time, customers have become familiar with interacting through a variety of different communication channels. That’s great, but it means in some cases that staff are juggling more concurrent conversations, adding to their levels of stress.

Home working and hybrid

On top of it all, many staff are now working from home, at least some of the time. The benefits of remote work have been well discussed, but we should also acknowledge that some employees find it difficult to adapt to home working.

That’s true physically and psychologically. Some homes are simply too small or noisy to make satisfactory office replacements. In addition, many employees miss the social buzz of office life, and the support of colleagues.

Some of this can be replaced by virtual alternatives, but not all. Clearly, the shift to remote or hybrid work has increased stress levels in some workers.

A results-based business

It’s also true, of course, that contact centres are a results-based business.

Productivity metrics are collected and analysed continually. When you feel you’re already doing more with less, this monitoring culture can add to existing work-related anxiety.

That’s reflected in our research. The vast majority of respondents (84%) said that they feel under pressure from management to deliver quantity over quality. And that’s despite most (88%) saying their current responsibilities have expanded since the pandemic.

Many companies invest in technology to help employees do their jobs. But if the equipment is too complex, or too dated to meet modern requirements, it can have the opposite effect.

Reducing work-related stress

If this looks like a bleak picture, it needn’t be. While it’s true that many contact centre agents want to leave their roles (62%, according to our survey), it’s possible to operate customer service which maximises both worker wellbeing and customer experience. Indeed, the two tend to go hand in hand.

Here are some ways to reduce stress in your contact centre:

  • Don’t invest in any technology – invest in the right technology

Specialist tech can automate manual tasks, reduce manual inputs, simplify omnichannel communication and allow customers to self-serve for basic requests. It can be a huge time- and hassle-saver for staff, and good for customer satisfaction levels, too.

  • Promote a positive work culture

What do staff want? They want support. They want training opportunities to get better at what they do. They want a clear path to career progression. They want social opportunities. All of this is within your power.

  • Make work easier

Difficult customers or tricky problems can make working life miserable. So give your teams the tools they need, whether that’s powerful scripting or easy ways to escalate issues. Lay out logical pathways for every eventuality so that agents never feel out of their depth.

  • Feedback positively

Contact centre leaders need to know that KPIs and targets are being met. That’s a given. But the key to staff wellbeing is to help them meet these targets, rather than punishing them for failure. Make feedback sessions a positive experience, by offering training and advice where necessary, and creating a culture of support rather than one of blame.

Contact centres are facing a recruitment crisis, so they can’t pay lip service to employee wellbeing any longer. Use stress awareness month to make positive changes to your own company culture, and start exploring ways to help agents do their jobs in better, more fulfilling ways.

Our Burnout report is a great place to start. You can download your copy here.  

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