Anyone who has ever worked in a contact center knows stress. Being a workforce manager is like working in a never-ending game of tug-of-war – and you’re the rope!

Operations managers expect perfect service levels, while training managers and supervisors expect regular training sessions – and all of this has to be scheduled without negatively affecting efficiency.

To add to the complexity, agents also have expectations and demands that must be scheduled around. And as soon as you have everything running smoothly, call volume spikes and your perfect schedule turns into perfect chaos.

When that happens, schedules have to be manually adjusted and it’s impossible to keep up. Soon, off-phone work gets cancelled, agents get upset, service levels and performance suffer, and stress levels go up!

The Top 3 Causes of Contact Center Stress

So, what are the biggest contributors to stress in the contact center and how can you combat them? According to industry veteran Jennifer Lee, workplace stress in the contact center can mainly be attributed to three things:

“About seven years ago, the company I was with was getting ready for the biggest new product launch in its history,” says Lee. “We spent months preparing. We added staff, trained agents, increased capacity, and planned and planned again.”

Then, about four hours into the first day of the launch, the company’s website crashed, causing call volume to spike dramatically.

“We had planned some degree of a buffer into our model to account for unexpected occurrences, but we were not prepared for the website to remain down for two whole days,” Lee says. “We spent two days in extreme firefighting mode.”

Though this is an extreme example, the reality is that smaller scale versions of this scenario happen all of the time, causing major stress for your workforce management and operations teams.

“Events like system outages, market fluctuation and weather can all turn your teams into a reactionary mode, which inherently leads to high levels of stress,” says Lee.

The Stress Effect

In the contact center, there is constant pressure to drive efficiency and maximize the customer experience, yet today’s centers are filled with manual processes that slow our ability to react to real-time situations.

“Stress doesn’t just impact your WFM and leadership team – it really impacts your frontline as well,” says Lee. “When you’re in that ‘sweet spot,’ where agents are productive, but not overwhelmed, customers are happy and you are running an efficient operation. But as you climb above that sweet spot and increase occupancy, it places additional stress on your operation.”

The impact of that stress piles up fast, Lee says.

Agents find ways to create their own breathing space. They may leave customers on hold longer or stay in after call work longer, which translates into increased handle times and increased pressure on your call handling capacity.

Eventually, Lee says, customer satisfaction begins to drop and – if it goes on long enough – it can impact employee morale and attrition.

Tips for Managing Stress

So, how can your team keep stress levels low? The biggest thing is training.

“Ensuring that your frontline folks are properly trained as new hires and that they receive continuous training for improvement is really important,” says Lee. “If they are better prepared, they are more confident and are providing a better level of service.”

Also, take another look at your staffing model to find that “sweet spot” occupancy level that really puts you in the zone of balancing your efficiencies and customer service.

“Build in small breaks providing time for agents to take breathers so they are not doing it on their own,” says Lee. “And if you can turn those breaks into productive time – by giving them some other tasks like training, etc. – that’s great.”

For WFM professionals in the contact center, constantly refining the forecast and staffing models to balance efficiency and effectiveness is a never-ending process.

“Look at your intraday processes and the things your operation does on a daily, weekly and monthly basis to react to ‘what if’ scenarios to make sure they are as clean as possible,” says Lee.

“Plan for what you can, but optimize what you can’t plan for. Anything you can do to shorten that reaction time between the event and the real-time activity needed to respond to the event – that’s a win. And if you can automate it, that’s an even bigger win because then you are removing the manual aspect of it entirely.”