Customer service leaders face demanding situations on a daily basis. Without the proper support and company culture, burnout can result. Fortunately, there are some simple measures that managers can take to help prevent burnout and retain top employees. Below is a look at some of the greatest challenges customer service agents face and five steps managers can take to keep customer support staff engaged and satisfied at work.
What are some of the top challenges facing the customer service industry?
“Global consulting firm Mercer’s 2016 U.S. Contact Center Survey results point to non-challenging work, lack of recognition, no career growth or development and inflexible working environment as key contributors to high turnover. Not surprisingly, the report found that turnover is highest among entry-level agents (27%)…”
– Susan Hash, Contact Center Pipeline
Working in the customer service arena can be challenging and overwhelming for online chat agents who also face a never-ending stream of calls, support requests, and service tickets. At the same time, life as a chat agent can be redundant, unfulfilling, and not challenging if proper preventative measures aren’t taken. Some problems may linger day after day and there is sometimes little recognition for a job well done. Here are three of the top challenges facing the customer service industry:
1) A high level of job dissatisfaction
Job satisfaction rates in the customer service arena are in need of improvement. There is no single reason for the high level of job dissatisfaction, making it challenging to develop a singular strategy to create a more palatable work environment for customer service employees. Here are just a few of the reasons why customer service agents are often dissatisfied with their jobs:
- They deal with a steady stream of customers who are angry, frustrated, and sometimes verbally abusive
- Balancing phone calls, online chat requests, and service tickets can become overwhelming, especially for new employees
- They are often unable to take their regularly scheduled breaks or enjoy lunch because customer calls last longer than expected
2) Difficulty attracting top employees
Successfully handling customer service issues requires a combination of professionalism, resourcefulness, quick thinking, and time management skills. Unfortunately, the hourly rate of pay for customer service agents with 5-10 years of experience is just over $13 USD per hour. Wages for entry-level agents can be even lower, making it difficult to attract top prospects.
3) High employee turnover
Agent turnover remains the number one concern among managers of customer contact centers. The U.S. Contact Center Decision Makers’ Guide notes the 29 percent turnover rate among CSRs, highlighting a pronounced need to develop strategies to help retain employees – especially those who are models of excellence for their peers.
What are the symptoms of customer service burnout?
“Burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.”
– Melinda Smith, M.A., Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A.
When job demands become too overwhelming to a customer support agent, burnout can result. Burnout is a constellation of symptoms that generally fall into one of the following three categories: physical exhaustion, feelings of failure, and detachment. Customer service agents who experience burnout may present with the following signs:
- Insomnia or sleep disturbances
- A decline in productivity or attention to their jobs
- Anxiety or changes in mood at work and at home
- Cynicism, or feeling as if there is no point in trying at their jobs anymore
What can managers do to help prevent employee burnout?
Burnout is a serious issue that can decimate your customer service teams if it is not addressed. However, there are many ways to treat and even prevent burnout to promote a positive, healthy environment. Preventing burnout begins with awareness of the symptoms and the creation of a pleasant, supportive work culture. We’ve compiled five specific strategies managers can take to help prevent burnout among chat agents.
1) Hire agents who are resilient
Not every person is suited to be an effective customer service agent (and that’s ok!). Customer service work requires a specific personality and skillset. Make sure the employees you hire are aware of the challenges of working as a customer service agent up front. Strive to hire employees who display a knack for working with and communicating well with all kinds of people and who also have effective time management skills, a level-headed demeanor, and excellent investigation and problem-solving skills.
2) Create a work environment that is pleasant and inviting
Creating an inviting, positive work environment can help reduce stress and can make coming to work more enjoyable. Here are some ways that you can create an inviting workspace for employees:
- Allow employees to personalize their workspaces for a more welcoming office feel
- Give employees a choice of a standard desk or a standup/adjustable desktop
- Always make sure agents have the supplies and tools they need to complete their jobs
- Display a leaderboard in your lobby or breakroom that recognizes top performers for the month
3) Involve agents in the decision-making process
Involving support agents in meetings and decisions helps them to feel valued and can help minimize cynicism. It’s important for agents to feel like their opinion matters and that it will be taken into consideration (even if individual employees does not have full control over the outcomes of certain high-level decisions). Even more importantly, feedback from front-line agents can be instrumental in finding effective solutions to prevent and minimize burnout.
4) Provide easy access to EAPs and other support services
Make sure all employees are aware of the signs of burnout and some strategies they can take to prevent burnout. Nearly 80 percent of companies offer an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), which offers services to employees who are struggling with symptoms of burnout or other job-related problems. If your company offers an EAP, work with your HR team to make sure this is covered during the employee onboarding process and periodically during the year.
5) Make sure supervisors are available to assist with challenging situations
Supervisors play a key role in helping to minimize stress among customer support agents. Make sure agents always have access to a supervisor who can intervene if a customer’s behavior becomes inappropriate or abusive. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to remove an agent from the challenging situation and let someone else take over to minimize the impact. It’s also extremely important to make sure that both individual contributors and their managers have access to specific training on techniques to handle demanding situations with grace.