Customer Service Burnout: Why, When, & How to Minimize Agent Turnover

Customer service has long been a high turnover industry.

The call center industry in the United States faces an overall average turnover rate of 30-45 percent. According to United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers ages 20-34 stay with a call center only about a year on average, compared to up to 2.7 years in other industries.

That kind of turnover is disruptive, no matter what business you’re in or how the rest of your departments are doing. Decreasing customer service turnover is something every business should be concerned with.

But why should you be trying to minimize agent turnover? And how? Customer service burnout and agent turnover are detrimental to your bottom line and quality of service. Read on to find out how, and what steps you can take to lower attrition in your agents.

Save money with less agent turnover

Why is customer service agent turnover such a huge concern for business owners? Because it has a huge effect on the bottom line.

Between recruiting and training costs, lost productivity, temporarily reduced man hours, benefits and more, the estimated cost of losing and replacing a call center agent is approximately $10,000.

annual turnover costs at different staff sizes.

When you multiply that by enough agents to make up 30-45 percent of your call center workforce, you could be looking at seven-figure yearly losses if you don’t get your agent turnover under control.

That’s reason enough to put serious effort into minimizing agent burnout and turnover. But there are even more concerns from a CX standpoint. Constant high turnover can easily lead to inconsistent customer service standards. And in an age where customers demand excellent service, agent turnover could contribute to customer churn.

Identify pain points to reduce agent turnover

Do you know what your agent turnover rate is? Do you know why your customer service agents leave your company?

There are some pain points for agents that are common across industries. They provide a good place to start when looking for changes you can make that will lead to better agent retention.

Problem 1: Customer service can be stressful and anxiety-inducing work.

A customer service agent’s job tends to be unpredictable. Every day brings new challenges and deadlines, and not knowing what’s coming with each workday can cause a lot of stress to build up for agents over time. Agents also tend to have heavy workloads. Then add in the fact that it’s common practice to carefully monitor customer service interactions to ensure they’re meeting quality standards. Having the feeling of being constantly watched only adds to the pressure placed on agents in a job that’s already stressful. No wonder they burn out.

Solution: Communicate clearly and often with your agents about product changes, deadlines and other factors that will affect their day-to-day work. The more clear you are, the better they’ll be able to set their expectations, eliminating some of the unpredictability that can make their jobs so stressful. Another good practice is to provide scheduling flexibility, and don’t require agents to hit high call quotas — this will help combat the heavy workloads that cause so much burnout in the industry. Relax your quality monitoring and allow agents the flexibility to go off-script and put time and real care into helping customers with their problems. Not only will your customers appreciate the personalized support, but your agents will enjoy the flexibility and challenge.

Problem 2: Call center work can be monotonous.

Call center work can be monotonous.

Do your agents follow a script with customers who call in, day in and day out? That kind of mindless work would send anyone searching for a new job. Sure, scripts help keep your customer support efficient and consistent, and it might seem like a good way to save money by making sure your agents get through calls quickly. But the bottom line is that it’s boring, and can be frustrating, since not every problem will perfectly fit a script.

Solution: Lighten up on the scripts. They lack personality, and customers can tell when agents are using them, so your agents are likely to even provide better service without them. Instead, try a loose script with bullet points that agents should hit, but that allows room for their personalities to shine through. You can also combat monotony by allowing agents to find new, fun challenges to add to their days. They know the job best because they do it every day. Challenge them to find a problem or inefficiency with their workflow and a creative way to fix it.

Problem 3: Call center jobs often call for too much multitasking.

Multitasking isn’t faster or more efficient like we’ve been taught to think it is. Studies have actually found the exact opposite to be true. Multitasking divides your agents’ focus, making them more prone to errors that they wouldn’t have made if they had a single task to concentrate on. Studies also show that multitasking creates mental blocks that can contribute to anxiety — not good in a field where anxiety is already so common. That anxiety eats into agents’ energy, and the result can be up to a 40 percent decrease in productivity.

Call center jobs often call for too much multitasking.

Solution: Encourage your team members to focus themselves on one task at a time, or even to specialize. Instead of having team members take whatever call or query comes their way, let them work in areas that they find most interesting or challenging, and then direct queries to experts in specific subject areas. That way, your customers will get better, more specialized support, and your agents will be able to take more ownership in their work, which will lead to better quality overall. Each agent should have specific to-do lists for each customer rather than overall to-do lists, which will allow them to stay more focused and ensure no small task falls through the cracks.

Problem 4: Customer service can be thankless.

Part of why customer service can be such a stressful field is that dealing with problems — and the customers who are having a less than seamless experience with your product — all day can be pretty thankless. It’s also hard work to communicate with customers all day and help them solve their problems, and, especially in a call center environment, that hard work can easily go unnoticed. Without thanks for the time and effort they’re putting in, it’s really just a matter of time before agents start to question the value of their work.

Solution: Make sure your team has the proper support. People have a psychological need for positive feedback at work, so don’t just tell your agents when they’re doing something wrong; praise them for what they’re doing right, as well. Encourage employee shout outs in meetings to provide more opportunities for your agents to get the thanks they deserve.

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