When customers live in stressful times, the responsibilities of a contact center employee become far more challenging, leading to burnout extremely quickly.
The contact center workforce is subject to name-calling, threats, and all sorts of irate customers on a daily basis, so customer experience providers have a direct responsibility to continuously help employees manage stress throughout their careers, not just in initial training.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, stress has been amplified for virtually everyone around the world. Here at Activus Connect, even though our Ambassadors work from home and enjoy the lifestyle, the coronavirus is causing them to feel like isolation is out of their control, making difficult calls even harder to deal with on a personal level.
In response to the changing world and the difficulties faced by our Ambassadors, we launched Stress Busters, an internal task force that works on providing employees with enjoyable releases from the daily grind.
“During our weekly leadership meetings, we talked a lot about the stress that our Ambassadors are facing in their roles, as well as the tools that could help them deal with that stress day after day,” said Nichole Osborn, Director of Learning and Development at Activus Connect, and the architect of Stress Busters. “With Stress Busters, we’re providing those tools and empowering our Ambassadors to turn their stress-busting ideas into a reality.”
The Need for a New Approach to Stress
With more than 20 years’ experience dealing with employee challenges in a work-at-home call center setting, Nichole has seen a drastic change in the behavior of customers.
“When I was growing up, people didn’t treat strangers so harshly on the phone,” she recalled. “Customers seem to be more comfortable being rude to Ambassadors as time goes on, and it’s having a real impact on peoples’ mental health and productivity.”
Customer experience providers know how challenging the day-to-day is for most of their employees, but according to Nichole, they’re not doing much about it.
“Throughout the industry, contact centers will set people up with the basic knowledge they need to deal with difficult calls, then they send them into production and it’s never talked about again,” she said. “Quite frankly, our workforce needs support every single day, so it’s down to us to provide it.”
Cue Stress Busters, Nichole’s answer to the needs of our Ambassadors.
Stress-Busting Ideas and Activities
The Stress Busters hold different events each month and come up with activities that Ambassadors can voluntarily take part in.
“We want to encourage our Ambassadors to leave work at work and find ways to wind down after they log off,” said Nichole. “As part of our Stress Busters initiative, we send out a monthly newsletter that advises on how to alleviate stress, along with a few puzzles like a crossword or word search. The newsletter also features a colleague who has done some community volunteer work, showing how people can help themselves by helping others.”
Every week, the Stress Busters hold a “Walk Your Way Through the Week” challenge, in which Ambassadors record the steps they take during the week and report back. At the end of the week, they announce who walked the farthest and what level walker they are, creating a sense of enjoyable, healthy competition.
In October, Stress Busters hosted a costume contest, a chair decorating contest, and a pumpkin carving contest in line with Halloween. They also started a book club outside of work hours, bingo sessions, and trivia parties during shifts, allowing people to decompress instantly after a difficult call.
“We’ve also done No-Shave November, a Christmas tree decorating contest, ugly sweater competitions, virtual Zoom Christmas parties, and even a recipe sharing activity that ended up becoming a printed recipe book for everyone to enjoy,” said Nichole. “There’s really no limit to the number of things people can take part in, so there’s always something for everyone.”
If Ambassadors are interested in participating in the Stress Busters initiative, they can share their ideas for activities and events, vote for their favorite entrants in contests, or even send recognition for other colleagues who have done an outstanding job.
Valuable Positive Impact on the Workforce
One of the more unexpected benefits of Stress Busters is how much more comfortable Ambassadors feel about reaching out to Nichole when they need support.
“People know that they can connect with me whenever they have a personal issue or a difficulty with a nasty customer, which helps them to feel more confident in their jobs,” said Nichole. “At Activus, we really have each other’s backs when the going gets tough.”
After any Stress Buster contests, the team posts an update on social media to announce the winners. These posts are regularly flooded with positive feedback about the company. Our Ambassadors like to communicate how thankful they feel to be working here, which aligns with our good retention statistics and low attrition rate—Stress Busters has helped with that, for sure.
“After spending time at several companies in my career, I can safely say that Activus does a much better job of making people feel appreciated and getting them involved in activities,” said Nichole. “It’s always difficult to make people feel included in a virtual setting, but here at Activus, people want to be engaged and they’re open to ideas, so I really believe we’ve created something unique and impactful for the industry.”