Stress in call centers is a big, and expensive, problem. There is a reason why call centers are often plagued with missing agents and a high turnover rate. Stress can cause a number of deleterious effects to agents on the job, including decreased performance, low job satisfaction, burnout, and a decline in general health.
Obviously, a big part of management's job is to find a way to combat stress. No one likes to see the falling numbers or to essentially hire a new crew on a monthly basis. The poor morale caused by high stress affects everyone, not to mention its affect on the bottom line. Besides being good for business, lowering stress can result in lowered blood pressure, a slower heart rate, reduced muscle tension, and even a stronger immune system.
Changing how you deal with call center stress can change everything entirely. Your agents will be more productive, have more focus, deal better with callers, demonstrate increased memory and energy... they may even start to enjoy coming to work. The key to it all is to train your agents in stress management techniques.
While there are many ways to reduce or mitigate stress which may work just as well for your call center team, here are just three that you might want to start with.
Not Taking Things Personally
It goes without saying that you're going to get some callers who are not especially nice. Many people call in already angry and frustrated and they have no problems with taking it out on whoever had the misfortune to pick up the phone. The impulse in a lot of people is respond in kind, but a well-trained call center agent is polite at all times, especially when the politeness is not reciprocated. It's important to teach your agents to remember that any ire is not directed at them personally, but at whatever problem prompted them to call in the first place. All too many agents feel poorly because they feel they were the recipient of rude behavior, when in fact, they had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Talk (or Laugh) About It
Solving a problem that started with talking with more talking? It can actually work. One of the best things you can do as a call center manager is to encourage friendships among your agents. If you have a friend or two down there with you, you have someone to talk to after one of those calls. Talking about it helps to get it off your chest without blowing up at some other customer, or letting it build until the only alternative is to quite the job. At the least, another agent can be a good sounding board, but at the best the frustrated agent may gain a new view of the caller.
When the problem is something that can't be rationalized away or resolved, laughing about it, or just laughing in general does a lot to release stress. Anyone who's feeling down can be picked up after a good joke or a silly internet video. You might be surprised what a few seconds of laughter can do for your mood.
Irate callers are one of the bad things in the life of a call center agent. But that's not to say there aren't any good things involved in the job, or even beyond the job. Every agent should have a list of things for which they're grateful, especially if those things are related to work at the call center. Most people are at work to do something positive, like make money to get a better house, or pay for the education of their children. Maybe there's a good friend at work, or the call center is in a good location. Some call center software allows agents to work from home and that's something they're thankful for -- whatever it is, make a note of it. Just that simple act can change an agent’s whole perspective.
Stress is an unavoidable factor in the life of a call center agent, but that stress doesn't have to become the dominant factor of life. Taking a few minutes after a particularly trying call to center oneself and find a way to just get some perspective can really change everything. Try the above techniques, and look for others of your own. There's really something for everyone when it comes to relieving stress.
CJ Silva is VP of Operations at KOVA Corporation.