As we entered 2022, many hoped it would be known as the year things returned to ‘normal’, lockdowns ended for good and all the engagements we’d postponed for two years could finally go ahead. Little did we know we’d be hit with interest rate hikes and talk of a recession.
There’s no doubt that people are worried and looking for ways to cut back on spending – which is having a domino effect on contact centres. In this article, we’ll look at the impact the rising cost of living is having on your agents and what you can do to support them during these uncertain times.
Changes in customer behaviour
In a recent survey, 60% of adults said they’re cutting back on non-essential items in response to costs which are rising far quicker than incomes. More than three quarters of adults (77%) reported feeling very or somewhat worried about the rising costs of living.  As a result, contact centres across the UK are reporting a considerable increase in customer demand. And, unfortunately, a growing number of ‘difficult’ conversations as people start to feel the pinch.
On top of talk of a recession and upcoming seasonal expenses such as heating and Christmas, the inflation rate is forecasted to continue to rise. With all of this looming on the horizon, people are understandably feeling a sense of panic and trying to find ways of cutting back further where they can.
The ripple effect of this is the change in customer behaviour. The Evolution of the Contact Centre report shows an increased demand for assisted channels. As seen at the start of the pandemic, people seek reassurance and empathy during unprecedented times. This means a move away from digital channels with customers anxious to engage with agents over the phone.
Tanya Gray, Head of Customer Operations at Moat Housing recalls a striking example: “We had a customer on a particularly busy day that waited 55 minutes for somebody to take a payment. They knew they could use the portal but preferred to wait for somebody who could confirm that payment was received.”
Similar examples have been seen across most industries when dealing with payments and goods.
Supporting your agents
Insights from the Evolution of the Contact Centre Part 6 show that these difficult conversations are putting strain on contact centre agents.
“We’re seeing a lot more clients in distress and an increase in suicide threats. This really affects the advisors who take the calls,” says Lorraine Dunn, Head of Operational Strategy and Quality at Stepchange.
So, what can you do to support your agents as we navigate through the uncertainties that 2022 has in store?
1. Offer personalised coaching programmes
Making coaching programmes available is a crucial first step. With effective coaching programmes, agents can manage their workload confidently as well as feeling supported and treated fairly by their employer. Coaching programmes give them opportunities for career development, clear paths to progression and so much more.
With a quality assurance platform, you can score, deliver feedback to agents and create personalised coaching programmes that can be tracked over time. This ensures the continuous development of your workforce, services and operations.
2. Free up your agents’ time so they can focus on higher priority tasks
No one likes to be bogged down with mundane or repetitive tasks. To keep your agents motivated and engaged, it’s important to invest in tech that helps them do what they do best, better. Harness AI to anticipate customer needs and point agents to relevant information (when needed), freeing up their time for more complex and fulfilling tasks.
3. Provide your team with the insights they need
By investing in technology that puts your agents first, they’ll access the data they need more easily and benefit from tools that automate the process of getting the right information quickly. Ultimately, they’ll be able to resolve customer problems faster. Make it your aim to turn every agent into a seasoned expert with a knowledge system that builds up a tried and tested library of answers to common problems.
4. Challenge their environment
Rewind to 2020 when most of us were forced to pack up our desks and work from home. Fast forward to today and many of us are still here, working from kitchen tables and make-shift work spaces.
Have you considered the long-term effect this social isolation could be having on our mental and physical health? It’s essential to make sure that your agents are properly set up to work from home and that they’re having regular check-ins with line managers.
5. Improve emotional intelligence
Providing tools and techniques for your agents to improve emotional intelligence as well as their physical and mental wellbeing is a must in today’s digital age. The CCMA offer such courses aimed at reducing the risk of burnout whilst boosting resilience. We’d also recommend that you look into training and appointing a mental health first-aider as well as other resources your agents can use if they need this kind of support.
6. Stay at the forefront
While we can’t be certain what might cause the next peak in demand, we can be certain that these peaks will continue to happen for one reason or another long into the future. Help your agents and the wider business stay prepared by using adherence or workforce management tools to plan accordingly.
Rising contact complexity is undoubtedly posing a challenge for organisations and testing your agents’ resilience. That being said, it may also be a source of satisfaction, with job content becoming more intellectually stimulating and even more rewarding as increasingly complicated problems are solved. By keeping your agents happy and motivated, they’ll be able to deliver highly personalised, empathetic service at scale and in real-time.