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Hear your advisors: agent wellbeing and mental health

Published on 12 October 2022

Hear your advisors: agent wellbeing and mental health

Agent attrition has run over 15% for years in the UK. The latest Contact Babel research says it’s now 21%, as high as 30% in some parts of Europe. I find that absolutely staggering. Research tells us that it costs £8,000-£12,000 to replace a service advisor. So, a typical 500-seat contact centre is spending c£1 million a year just to stand still. And, unless we do something, it’s only going to get worse. Actually, attrition is only really scratching the surface. We have stats on attrition; we can see it. What about absenteeism? Maybe we understand and measure the symptoms of absence, but do we understand the root cause? A lot of absence is actually due to not being able to cope.

What causes burnout & stress?

Stress and mental health need looking at and addressing, because maybe the biggest problem that we face is actually presenteeism. Tens of thousands of agents are handling customer interactions, right now, but shut up in themselves, not able to cope. If their mental health is hurting them, then how could they possibly care for the customer? Presenteeism, unfortunately, is very hard to understand and actually report on or change. That’s what we want to change, here at Sabio, where making a difference is part of our core values. There are so many people suffering in silence right now, yet we can do something if we can stand up for those people who are really struggling.

Consider the challenges that service advisors face today. Hyper automation and self-service initiatives are reducing the proportion of simple tasks they handle day-to-day. So interactions become complex, potentially more emotional, and typically more urgent too. This is a 3-dimensional effect and we’re also seeing that average handling time is rising, for all types of interaction. These factors are taking their toll on our service advisors. What’s more, in the pandemic, working from home could be lonely and quite challenging – especially if you’ve been isolating, maybe living alone or without the right desk or tools, and on calls all day. Burnout and stress are not always visible. For example, I am quite introvert, but I project a different version to people, who see me as comfortable in business situations. Maybe many people are projecting like this, so they seem happy people in the workplace, or in their social lives, but are actually hiding depression, stress, and burnout. As human beings, we often don’t like to talk about mental health, and especially not with our managers and bosses.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

So, how can we change what we do we don’t fully understand? Well there are models we can use to assess mental wellbeing, such as one by Abraham Maslow, a psychologist whose paper in the 1940s on Innate Human Needs is still a foundation for mental health. We spend about 35% of our waking life working, in the Western world particularly, and his model is relevant there too, not just in our personal life. At the higher levels in his pyramid of needs, you are likely to be thriving as a person. At the bottom you’re probably just surviving. I remember walking into contact centres 15 years ago and even the fresh, cold water wasn’t available, a basic physiological need. How could people start to thrive?

Look at belonging. We all need and sense of connection and can find that at work, not just at home. Yet with remote working, you can lose it too. Right at the top you see self-actualisation, esteem, respect, and status. You can find these in your working careers. Think about recognition for doing a great job and the desire to be the best version of yourself. In the contact centre, we can use this model to surface data that helps us understand where people are within our organisation. That’s what we’ve been doing at Sabio, and we are building on this to explore how to make better data-led decisions, whether around technology or coaching, learning and development for people, so that they’re mentally resilient.

Data: inform to transform

We start by extracting data from contact centre or workforce management platforms. This surfaces amazing information that can give us indicators of wellbeing. We organise this into four key areas that we can use to act upon: pressures, emotions, boosts, and behaviours. I won’t go into all of them, but boosts are a good example. Sometimes small things really matter, they boost your mental wellbeing. So when my manager puts his hand on my shoulder and says “James, what a brilliant job you’ve done today”, that’s a great boost for me. Constructive criticism can also be a boost. So my manager may say “you did a really good job today, James, and next time, if you added these three things, I think you could do even better”. That’s a positive boost because I can do something about it. Think back to Maslow’s hierarchy and the importance of self-respect and recognition. I can use constructive criticism as a boost to push forwards and be the better version of myself. It can become positive feedback loop. For instance, my boss may say: “I told you that would work. That was amazing, you incorporated what I asked and look at the benefits that it delivered”. Boost is an important area because small things can really matter. Behaviours are interesting too, because they aren’t just about us as people, but shaped by the executive leadership and how organisations are run from the top down. There is a difference between looking after people as a tick box exercise and taking the responsibility to really do it properly. Surfacing the right data can empower an advisor to be the best version of themselves to deliver brilliant customer experiences.

How can we predict burn-out?

At Sabio, we’ve been working on a mobile app that can act like a virtual, wellbeing coach. It can also be used in a web browser. Advisors can drop in and score themselves, and it will give them guidance, hints, and tips about how to build mental resilience. At a company level, we can then use the data, which we collect on the platform, to really understand what the company culture is. We will look to benchmark that across various industries, as well. Alongside this we are looking at a data science model. This combines data from these platforms with this self-scoring to predict where we think burn out might happen. The point here is that we can then get in front of issues that might otherwise mount up in people’s minds and cause emotional distress. We are very, very passionate and proud of what we’ve been doing. For me, this isn’t a tick box exercise. I see this is my responsibility, and as a joint responsibility with the leaders who operate in this industry, to start looking after service advisors because their job is getting harder. It’s going to get worse, and we have to do something about it.

Author: James Hughes, Sabio

This article was first published in the 2022 Best Practice Guide - You Moment of Truth: Confident to Succeed

To download a full digital copy of the Best Practice Guide, click here

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