Contact centres: A scary workplace?

Posted: 20 May, 2016

By: Annemarie Lombard

Section: Call Centres

Contact centres

I was looking for the craziest, wildest, busiest, most sensory overloaded and insane work environment to do my research … I clearly found it in the contact centre industry!  The first time I walked into a contact centre I was blown away. Although absolutely electrifying for me, and certainly switching on an extra few brain wires, I immediately knew with certainty that this environment would be a recipe for disaster for about 20% of the population.

Local and international research shows that 20% of the population are highly sensory sensitive to information derived from the environment. This means that their DNA and brain circuits have an over-intake of sensory (see, hear, touch, smell, taste, move) information. Sensory overload is of utmost relevance to them as they experience the world as too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight … plainly just too much. Needless to say, the contact centre environment is completely overwhelming for them and results in stress, absenteeism, performance issues and ultimately attrition. Even though they often manage to put effort into tolerating this environment, it often works for only a short period of time. Ever thought about why the critical period for losing agents is usually within the first 90 days of employment?

Although our sensory processing takes place in the unconscious parts of our brain functioning, it is critical for species survival. Intuitively we learn what works for us and whatnot, but mostly – and too often – through trial and error. Your sensory-sensitive contact centre agents will only realise this after being recruited, trained and positioned on the contact centre seat. And, suffice to say, thousands of rands later the realisation hits: “I hate this job.” Research also clearly corroborates the prevalence of high levels of stress within the industry.

When placed in data capturing, e-mail support, or quality assurance, these same individuals would however most often perform at very high levels. Traditionally, these processes, are usually performed in more contained, less sensory overloaded sections and require awareness, attention to detail and rigid processing. Your 20% unsuitable front office callers are well suited for these roles.

My quest as an occupational therapist has been to prove that sensory processing does correlate with the work performance, absenteeism and attrition of contact centre agents. Correlation results through my doctoral research clearly indicate that your 20% of highly sensitive agents spend longer time on after-call work, have longer holding times and lower quality assurance ratings.

The four main pillars in the call centre industry are:

  • People;
  • premises;
  • processes; and
  • technology.

They are obviously all crucial for sustainability and efficiency, but human resource allocation is the biggest hurdle. Your contact centre agent is the key to delivering service, sales or collections, utilising your business process and operations to capture the essence of your client audience.

How can we solve this?

Occupational science is a body of knowledge about how we analyse work environments and the people functioning within them. Goodness of fit is the vital key to supporting the fact that matching your talent and workforce to the job description and work environment will ensure productive, less stressed, and sustainable employees. It just makes plain business sense to ensure a best-fit match for the contact centre industry in particular. The industry is known for high training and operational costs, with agent attrition and absenteeism a common problems. This impacts the bottom line for the company but also depletes corporate wellness for the individual.

Sensory Intelligence® Consulting has two main objectives for the contact centre industry:

  • Firstly, to ensure return on investments for companies. If you are spending R17 264.00 (average industry figure South Africa 2007) on training an agent, shouldn’t you ensure up-front that they are suited for the position?
  • Secondly, a mismatch in the industry impacts the wellness of the agents. Unsuitable agents end up with a high degree of stress and anxiety which have detrimental effects on health and wellness and result in inflated healthcare costs. As many agents are young and often find themselves in contact centres as an entry-level job, the degree of failure and difficulty to manage has a far-reaching impact on their personal self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, ensure you, select agents, with more care, and consider their sensory processing styles to ensure sustainability in the environment.  Senses on Call™ is a selection tool designed exclusively for the contact centre industry based on my research results.

Another consideration to ensure workspace optimisation is also to ensure you have a well set-up contact centre including:

  • Good equipment
  • Enough space
  • Air
  • Ventilation
  • Chill rooms (not glorified tea rooms)
  • Leadership that thinks and acts laterally
  • Ongoing coaching and development.

The contact centre business model works, locally and abroad, with unprecedented growth and has huge job creation opportunities for South Africa.

Who has benefited

Sensory Quiz™
Sensory Matrix™
Senses on Call™
Social media
Sensory Intelligence®