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How to survive the great resignation in customer service

Article by Ross Daniels at Calabrio

The pandemic has ushered in a new era of ‘The Great Resignation’ (or “The Big Quit”) where employees are reassessing the impact of their jobs on work/life balance, mental health and overall life goal fulfilment.  Nowhere has this phenomenon hit harder than in customer service and contact centres where it threatens to derail the best laid recruitment and retention plans.

250 contact centre professionals were surveyed* recently, 45% of agents in the UK say they are considering leaving within a year.  Meanwhile, 96% feel acutely stressed at least once a week with nearly half citing ‘too many calls’ as their biggest challenge.

Listening to customer service employees
“The Great Resignation” is hitting contact centres hard because agent work expectations have changed. Back in 2017, we conducted a Health of the Contact Centre report by interviewing hundreds of agents – asking them about work expectations, role development and general mental health.

Given everything that’s happened in the past year, we decided to conduct a follow-up report. What we found provided context on agent expectations that managers and HR professionals need to address.

The new report, “Health of the Contact Centre 2021: Agent Wellbeing and the Great Resignation”, provides a glimpse into the agent’s perspective of modern contact centre dynamics.  Some expectations have changed since our 2017 survey while others have remained constant.  Here are a few agent expectation takeaways from the report.

Agent stress is an acute crisis
If agent retention is the functional problem, agent stress is the root cause.  The truth is that stress has always been high and it’s only increasing.  An astonishing 96% of those asked feel acute stress on a weekly basis and significantly more than in the 2017 version of the survey say they are stressed multiple times per week.

Full-time remote work or hybrid models have made things more complicated, especially if they are approached with the same expectations as in-office work.  Hybrid-working agents were more likely to feel stressed every day compared to their all-remote colleagues.

The future may be hybrid, but that comes with its own challenges in managing employee communication, engagement and stress levels.

Pay is important but is not the only factor
While income incentives remained the top factor for employee retention in this year’s survey, it actually dropped in importance from the 2017 questionnaire.  The reality is that while pay is a clear and objective figure to show how valued agents feel in their roles – other factors are at play.  Agents want support from management on tough calls combined with flexibility, defined career paths and better technology.

Outdated technology limits agent effectiveness
Not having the relevant data and/or appropriate technology was cited by 83% of agents as the largest barrier to resolving customer issues.  Conversely, agents with access to modern, cloud-based omnichannel technologies found greater success in managing those issues.  They also ultimately felt more connected to the business in the process.

Feedback from the frontline
Thinking of the main challenges highlighted in the report here are three ways to protect agents and to minimise resignations:

  1. Make agents feel valued – when agents feel valued, their work becomes more meaningful and less stressful. Although the majority of agents want higher pay (55%), remuneration actually ranks third when it comes to the top reasons for leaving after ‘being unhappy in job’ (36%) and ‘limited growth opportunities’ (26%). Improved training and clear career paths are better long-term retention strategies.
  2. Keep pushing flexibility further – after higher pay, agents want flexibility (at 34%) but remember that flexibility is not just about where staff work but when they work.  Look for ways to give agents more control over their working day such as agent-driven scheduling processes and more real-time flexibility to accommodate the unexpected.
  3. Invest in agent-empowering technologies – that enable and encourage frontline staff to reach their full potential and deliver truly exceptional customer experiences to make your brand stand out from the crowd. The report shows agents appreciate the impact of self-service, automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI).  Rather than fearing for their jobs, agents welcome innovative tech as a means to free them from tedious tasks (40%) and focus on more fulfilling and higher-value service that only experienced human agents can provide (30%).

*Calabrio Report: Health of the Contact Centre 2021
Agent Wellbeing and the Great Resignation

    Ross Daniels is Chief Marketing Officer at Calabrio

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