Illustration by Ben Biondo

It’s no secret that the work of a call center agent requires saintly patience and nerves of steel, and as customer expectations go up, the job becomes ever more demanding. In fact, Gartner reports that this year 89% of companies will compete mostly on the basis of customer experience, versus 36% four years ago, and a company’s call center performance level heavily influences this. A study by NewVoice found that 42% of customers switch companies because they are put off by rude or unhelpful staff while 73% of consumers say friendly customer service reps can make them fall in love with a brand. There’s no doubt that agent morale should be top of mind for call center managers this year.

Let’s jumpstart the process by showcasing 10 ways call center managers can ensure agents survive the year and deliver top-notch service.

1. Teach, Train, Repeat
According to TalkDesk, customers report that when they call a support center their top priorities are to talk with a skilled agent and to have their problem solved quickly. For agents to provide timely and accurate information to customers, contact centers should deploy a knowledge management tool where company information can be easily accessed to avoid any major pitfalls. No matter how good your training is, this will put an agent’s mind at ease, and practically guarantee shorter handle time.

2. Strategize with Agents
You never really know what you’re missing on the front lines. For instance, 75% of customers would like the option to be called back rather than wait on hold, yet many call centers still don’t provide a call-back option. When you involve agents in the decision making process you’ll uncover new ways to not only make their jobs easier, but also improve the customer experience. It’s truly a win-win!

3. Share Real-Time Metrics with Agents
We’re all a little curious to know what people think of us. By regularly sharing customer feedback with agents, you acknowledge their work and motivate them to do better—or at the very least keep their performance consistent. In fact, 92% of contact center leaders see high value in sharing metrics in real-time with frontline agents. The top 5 metrics of greatest value when shared in real-time are: number of calls in queue, service level, customer satisfaction, schedule adherence and first-contact resolution.

4. Find Ways to Give Praise
Only 31% of organizations recognize and reward employees across the company for improving customer experience. That number is far too low. How can agents be expected to come to work every day and deliver outstanding performance with little to no recognition? Incentivize agents through gamification techniques with awards and quarterly bonuses; this validates their work and will raise performance levels accordingly.

5. Use Positive Language
People have the tendency to mimic each other, whether it’s body language, tone of voice or even someone’s vocabulary. These nuances can be mirrored across the call center and directly onto customers. For agents to provide excellent customer service and keep a positive disposition, this communication needs to come from the top down. By avoiding negative words like “can’t,” “won’t” or “don’t,” you can reduce the Customer Effort Score by 18.5%.

6. Allow Agents to Vent
Customer service agents are harped on all day, so it’s only fair that they get the opportunity to voice their concerns as well. This can be executed in a productive way, without encouraging negativity, using a Voice of Agents (VOA) box. Agents write down their concerns anonymously, submit them to the box and are read by management regularly. This is a good way for agents to get things off their chest, while providing an explanation for existing performance levels.

7. Universalize Support Channels
According to Aberdeen Group, 57% of businesses measure support center success across email, chat, web, and voice and 62% use integrated voice response (IVR). While more than 50% of Facebook users and 80% of Twitter users expect a response to a customer service inquiry in a day or less. Agents should have a holistic view of any multichannel communication with a customer. This quickly helps them determine the correct response channel and at what stage a customer is in. The burden of sifting through separate forms of communication is lifted.

8. Create Work Schedules Together
It’s time to reevaluate how agents plan their workday. It’s already tough enough to deal with difficult problems from trying customers, but having restrictive schedules just adds to the stress. Provide agents with a range of options like annual hours, flex-shifts and the option to work from home. When you trust agents to work from home, you motivate them to maximize their work potential. Plus, this creates mutual respect between staff and management, which fosters a more dedicated workforce.

9. Deliver Opportunities for Professional Growth
One of the biggest reasons why agents quit the call center is due to little to no opportunity for growth. Call centers tend to have a reputation for being flat organizations, but encouraging agents to build their skillsets can result in tremendous gains for both of you. Share reports and reviews with agents and give them the options to participate in additional training modules.

10. Sweat It Out
The pressure to always be in the know and on call is stressful. If agents constantly associate this stress with their work, it’s likely they’ll falter. Why not consider implementing intramural activities to get the workplace endorphins up? It’s a great way to develop company culture and gives staff a chance to get to know each another. Agents will begin to associate coworkers with extracurricular activities that bring them joy, rather than stress. It also adds a competitive edge to their performance.

UPDATED: Quick Tips to Help Call Center Agents Survive

Nicolina Savelli

Nicolina Savelli is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Fonolo, the leader in cloud-based call-back solutions for the call center and a company dedicated to improving the customer experience, lowering abandon rates and smoothing out spikes in call volume. In this role, she works as a communications strategist and focuses on providing thought provoking content for customer service and call center professionals. Prior to her role, she worked in the startup technology sector for 4 years as a copywriter and communications specialist.