Home Finance Recognizing Call Center Agents’ Mental Wellness During Mental Health Awareness Month

Recognizing Call Center Agents’ Mental Wellness During Mental Health Awareness Month

by internationalbanker

By Jennifer Lee, President & Co-CEO, Intradiem

 

 

 

 

Working in a financial institution call center can be stressful.

Call center environments often involve agents sitting for prolonged periods trying to solve high volumes of customer inquiries both cheerfully and efficiently. Because of the nature of this role and the emotional toll it can take, agents can become mentally, emotionally and physically stressed. Repetitive bouts of on-the-job anxiety can lead to absenteeism and, eventually, attrition.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, making it the perfect time for financial-services and banking-industry leaders to evaluate and address the mental well-being of their workforces, particularly their call center agents.

While mental health is important for everyone, call center agents experience particularly challenging and emotionally taxing roles, day in and day out. I know this all too well as a former call center agent. Plus, research backs this up.

A study on call center health found that 96 percent of agents feel acutely stressed at least once a week. This stress negatively affects agents’ satisfaction and engagement—and also impacts the customer experience and brand loyalty. Most of the agents surveyed said their organizations weren’t doing enough to address these constant states of stress.

Financial-services and banking-industry leaders should be aware of the following four challenges impacting call center agents’ mental well-being, along with how technology can help them overcome these problems.

  1. Stress: Understanding its effects

Rather than blindly applying technology to solve workplace challenges, business leaders should take a step back and proactively seek to understand the underlying issues and prescribe accurate solutions to make the most positive impacts.

In the case of the call center, the main underlying factor is typically stress.

Stress can adversely affect a person’s body, thoughts, feelings and behaviors. It can cause headaches, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, stomach upset, chest pain, sleep problems and more, all of which will significantly impact one’s personal and professional lives if left untreated for too long.

Without addressing workplace stress, every inbound call that a frontline agent takes potentially builds on the stress from previous customer interactions. And since there’s an expectation to finish one challenging call and move on to the next with composure, it’s easy to see how stress can snowball.

  1. Customer challenges (and challenging customers)

Consider the reasons customers might call their financial institutions, especially when digital banking is so commonplace. They may be locked out of their bank accounts, see charges they don’t recognize or discover their accounts have been hacked. Agents may be managing calls dealing with payments or personal information that can make customers more sensitive or reactive.

Customers who call into customer-support lines experience a range of emotions, and so do the call center agents. This emotional whiplash can be mentally draining for agents, and it can cause them to feel less empathetic toward customers or provide less-than-ideal customer service. And this only exacerbates the challenges at hand.

  1. Inadequate information

Our third scenario occurs when a new product or service is launched to customers, with little to no preparation for call center agents. When the call center’s queue explodes with questions about the new offering, an agent who is untrained in the features and functions is sent into a scramble.

This is a problem that happens more often than one might think, especially in industries with large call-center-agent populations, such as financial institutions. Incredibly busy companies with equally busy call centers may fail to give their employees adequate information on everything from new product launches to policy changes. This sets agents up to struggle mentally and feel as if they are failing, even when it’s no fault of theirs.

Plus, when an agent is not equipped with adequate information or training on new customer-facing updates, this only adds fuel to the fire for the first two challenges discussed in this article, subsequently harming the customer experience as well as brand loyalty.

  1. Outdated technology

Finally, many call centers may be setting themselves and their agents back due to inadequate tech stacks. Call center-specific technologies can simplify processes, increase agent productivity and improve customers’ experiences, a win-win for agents and company leadership. And while many agents may have the technology to get their jobs done, they may not have the right technology to solve customer challenges most effectively.

It’s critical to ensure that the technologies deployed in call centers are used most effectively. For example, chatbots have come a long way, but they still cannot solve more complex problems. Typical chatbots can execute basic interactions, such as changing an address or scheduling an appointment with a loan counselor or financial planner.

Business leaders shouldn’t deploy chatbots as a fix-all for handling customer challenges. But they also shouldn’t exclude them from their solutions. Instead, they should use tools like chatbots or other automated software solutions to take on the more tedious tasks. Then agents are freed to support customers better and solve more complex challenges.

Self-service, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) can greatly improve call center agents’ jobs and boost customer-satisfaction scores along the way. Such technology lessens employees’ stress levels because they feel more confident about their abilities to perform their jobs well.

Providing modern-day tools to lessen agents’ stress

Financial services and banking organizations investing in call center automation empower agents to do more with less. Technology and AI make interactions easier and more efficient, especially when these tools help them solve customer problems quicker and with improved outcomes. Technology cannot replace the human element that call center agents provide, but it can help them become more efficient and productive, delivering more empathetic interactions and better customer satisfaction.

Some platforms even use AI to identify indicators of burnout within agent populations, giving call center leaders the ability to intervene before the problem reaches a critical level. Such solutions can predict agent burnout weeks in advance, suggesting proactive measures for managers to address the agents’ needs and prevent attrition.

When managing call centers 20 years ago, I would have loved to have had a tool to provide clear readouts on burnout levels so that I could have ensured each agent was adequately supported and able to be successful in his or her role. If a person were moving from low to moderate burnout, I could have stepped in sooner to help prevent it from progressing.

At the time, I relied on my eyes, ears and intuition to have an impact, and great leaders still use those. However, their impacts are limited because they are able to process only a certain amount of data in a certain timeframe. With AI, financial-services call center leaders can see the entire population and intervene immediately.

Call center platforms with generative AI can also analyze the semantics of agent-customer conversations, correlate insights and provide banks of automatic responses for agents to use to improve outcomes, even when dialogs take unexpected turns. This software can generate checklists to keep agents on track, real-time prompts to guide turns in conversations and online coaching sessions that help lessen stress.

Aside from technology, call center leaders can also give their agents quick resets—one-to-two-minute wellness breaks or mini-interventions. These are times when agents can take a breather, stretch or even get quick tips from their supervisors.

Finally, leaders should also encourage open communication and create a safe environment in which employees can voice their concerns and seek support when they feel their jobs are affecting their mental or physical health.

Putting measures in place to improve agents’ mental wellbeing

Call center work can be rewarding when customers hang up the phone with their problems solved. It can also be grueling and mentally challenging when dealing with one emotionally charged call after another.

Technology can be an agent’s assistant by taking on tasks like processing time-sensitive call center data in real-time so immediate action can be taken. Certain platforms flag supervisors when intervention is needed so that stress and burnout can be mitigated. These tools can’t replace the human element, but they can collaborate with agents.

Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time to reflect on the work call center agents perform for financial institutions. It’s also an opportune time for supervisors to weigh whether they are doing all they can to help ensure mental wellness for their frontline employees.

By recognizing the stresses agents undergo, arming them with technological tools to improve their efficiency and productivity, and providing them with environments that foster open communication, financial institutions can help lessen employee stress, resulting in mitigating or even improving their contact center agents’ mental wellness.

 

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