Call Centre Work is Difficult

Like most other professions, call centre work has an emotional and therefore psychological impact on staff.  More so I believe because the agent cannot see the customer hence unable to read the other person’s body-language.  

Often quoted is that 93% of communication is non-verbal.  This is untrue.  This figure arose from a study conducted by Dr. Albert Mehrabian in the 1970s.  In his narrow study he found that 7% of a message was conveyed in words, 38% through vocal elements, and 55% through non-vocal elements such as facial expressions, gestures, and body language. People incorrectly combined the 38 and 55 when of course vocal elements are part of what is being said.

What we can say from this study is that communications over the phone removes more than half of how we usually convey our message.  The figure that I work with when developing my communication programmes is that call centre agents only have 40% of our usual methods of communication.  With the use of good tone and inflection in their voice an agent can control difficult conversations.    

Call Centre work would be one of the most highly measured industries with close scrutiny on average handling and holding times, average speed of answer, average work time, call-back numbers, quality assurance checks, not to mention administration time, and roster modifications across the workday.

All of these measurements impact negatively on an agent, albeit they may not be immediately obvious.  As the agent becomes impacted they look for ways to support themselves. For example, average handling times become a target rather than a guide. They may incorrectly use administration time to delay accepting the next call is another example. Or they may skip a few steps in the recommended process in order to speed up the number of calls that they make/receive.

Over time, each of these monitoring systems plus the calls received from difficult customers adds to their bucket of stress. I was told of a senior manager who said during a safety and health presentation that their call centre was a safe place to work as there was very little to trip over, nothing to fall on workers, or much to injure themselves with except the odd paper cut.  Quite correct.  But the psychological impact is immense. 

All of the negative impacts faced daily in a call centre, if not dealt with adequately, accumulate leading to a high incidence of workplace stress. This leads to high absenteeism rates, and worse still high presenteeism rates. Presenteeism is when an employee turns up for work but isn't engaged, they are simply there physically but not mentally. This leads to poor customer service, mistakes being made, and ultimately reflects badly on the organisation.

Who would have thought answering the phone could be so difficult?