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Environmental Distress
Your basic processes can affect your agents' stress levels
For the rest of the February 2010 issue of CRM magazine please click here
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Sure, there are tips to reducing stress, and you should see which ones are right for you. But there’s also a fundamental approach to reducing agent stress, and often-overlooked policies and procedures directly affect customer-facing employees. 

To begin with, you should look hard at the factors that can be attributed to your internal processes. The expected difficulties of a complex job can be compounded, says Anirvan Mookerjee, the lead on Avaya’s customer satisfaction program, by any of the following three stressors: difficult or late-night hours, long commutes, and hard-to-handle customers. 

Mookerjee, who is based in India, says he has instituted several programs to foster a stress-reducing atmosphere, including: 

  • “Family at Work” day;
  • in-house recreational facilities;
  • team sports activities, including football and table tennis;
  • regional-festival celebrations; and
  • theme-based-dressing days. 

A sense of empowerment can also help reduce stress. As Deborah Navarra, senior analyst at DMG Consulting, puts it, “Agents feel like they have no control and they may feel the same way as the customer…but must take the heat anyway.” Navarra and her colleague, DMG President Donna Fluss, both stress the importance of enabling customer service representatives (CSRs) to be included in the solution for a customer—even if that means allowing the CSRs to be part of what takes place post-call. 

Others encourage contact center agents to inquire about new roles within customer service—roles that might allow them to take the reins during interactions. “If I was an agent, I’d try to move to social media channels because they’ll have more empowerment and leverage to do things they always wanted to do, without being under the same constraints,” says Natalie Petouhoff, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. “Agents have always been told to try and focus on things within their circle of influence. When the things within your circle are so small and impacted by others around you, there’s nothing you can do.”

Robert Burmeister, a CSR at Vision Service Plan, says that, despite his phone-based role, he still feels empowered to not be constrained by canned, specific responses regardless of unique situations. 

The freedom, he insists, reduces his day-to-day stress. “We’re not bound to a box of answers, and I don’t feel as though I’m the only one,” he says. “We have resources to draw upon during and after the call to prep. I’m empowered to make good decisions as much as a first-line manager [is], but I’m not [one]. That flexibility—to understand I have a little bit more leeway, knowing that I’m not pinned against a wall—is a real relief.”

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