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Contact Center Agent Burnout – Part 1, Warning Signs

Call centers are high-pressure, stressful environments.  Agents are expected to deal with demanding customers, be knowledgeable about many products and services, adhere to changing compliance regulations, all while being continuously monitored and timed. This can lead to agent overload which can manifest itself in dissatisfaction, disengagement and poor performance. Ultimately these agents get burned out which can result in attrition.  Studies have indicated that as much as 74 percent of agents are at risk of burnout and you can lose between 30-45 percent to attrition.  This can cost your business thousands of dollars each year.

By ignoring the signs of agent overload and just considering high attrition as a fact of life in your contact center, you are risking your reputation, and the negative impact to customer satisfaction, customer retention and bottom-line results.  This blog is Part 1 of a two-part series.  It looks at the top warning signs of agent overload. Part 2 will look at the causes behind the signs and what you can do to address them.

Top 10 Signs of Contact Center Agent Overload
  1. Loss of concentration. When contact center agents experience a significant amount of stress, it can become difficult to concentrate. According to David Ballard from the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can result in a lack of interest and decline in performance. “In those situations, the demands being placed on you exceed the resources you have available to deal with the stressors,” says Ballard. This can impair an agent’s ability to retain information, problem solve or make decisions.
  2. Apathy and isolation. Disengaged agents lose interest in their jobs. They also often pull back from their colleagues. They might become less active in meetings, no longer interested in offering input, content just to sit back and listen. They also might start to leave work early and no longer show up for social gatherings they used to frequent – like team lunches or happy hours.

Diagram | Thermometer | Agent Burnout | Noble Systems

  1. Negative attitude. When contact center agents are stressed out, they can become frustrated, develop a cynical attitude toward co-workers and managers. Their negativism affects interpersonal relationships with customers in addition to other agents. This type of depersonalized behavior is a coping mechanism for the stress they are experiencing and is a telltale sign of overload.
  2. Loss of motivation. When agents are overloaded, they are often tardy to work, call in sick more frequently, take longer lunches and breaks, don’t show up to meetings and leave work early.  This has a negative impact on occupancy rates and service level and can cause greater strain on others.  If you notice that an agent’s schedule adherence has taken a dive, it is time to have a talk to determine if they are experiencing burnout.
  3. Decline in productivity. If you start to notice a sustained dip in job performance and productivity, it may be a sign that an agent is overloaded.  It could manifest itself in declining achievement of KPIs, a growing task list or failing to meet deadlines.
  4. Increased absenteeism. Stress can weaken the immune system making agents more susceptible to infection and illness.  It can also lead to depression. Any one of these conditions could result in an agent taking more sick days than usual.
  5. Outbursts and conflicts. When agents feel overwhelmed, they often become impatient and irritable making it more difficult to appropriately handle minor setbacks and feedback.  They can have emotional outbursts and respond negatively to customers and co-workers. In more extreme cases, they can blow things out of proportion and cause conflicts with other agents and managers.
  6. Increased escalations. Overloaded agents are typically less likely to be able to solve customer problems. So, when they encounter a difficult caller, they are more inclined to pass them along to someone else.  This can result in customer dissatisfaction and customer requests to speak with a manager.  Be sure to monitor increases in escalation and customer complaints as they may signal burnout.
  7. Hostile behavior. Unhappy and angry agents are more likely to take their frustration and anger out on customer in undermining ways. They might hang up on customers, put them on hold for long periods of time or even retaliate against them by transferring them to the wrong department.  Watch for these types of destructive behavior patterns.
  8. Overall slump in performance. It is no surprise that something is wrong when a consistent high performer all of a sudden goes into a slump. But if the dip in performance continues for an extended period of time and is accompanied with a bad attitude, tardiness, conflicts with other agents or customers and retaliatory behaviors, low performance could be an indication of agent overload.

Recognizing agent overload in your contact center is just the first step in combatting it.  It is equally important to understand its causes and then device a plan to address them.  In Part 2 of this blog series we will discuss the causes behind the signs of burnout as well as what you can do to reduce and even eliminate them.  The good news that that there are contact center technologies that can alleviate stress, make the agents’ job easier, and keep them motivated and engaged.

Workforce Management solutions can produce more accurate forecasts and schedules, taking several factors into consideration that can alleviate stress on agents. Speech analytics can help you identify issues so that they can be resolved before they become major problems. Gamification can motivate agents and keep them engaged, productive and happy. These enabling technologies will also be discussed in Part 2.

What warning signs of agent overload have you noticed in your contact center?