Breaking the Silence: The Toll of Public Abuse on Contact Centre Staff

Public abuse directed at contact centre staff has reached alarming levels, and it’s taking a toll on their mental well-being.

The abuse faced by contact centre staff is unprecedented, and it not only affects the mental health of workers but also jeopardises the future of personalised customer service. It’s disheartening to witness this trend, and it could lead us down a path where automation dominates our customer interactions entirely. Picture this—being stuck at an airport and relying solely on a bot to resolve your issue. It’s bound to be a frustrating and isolating experience.

It’s rare to witness people unleashing such levels of abuse and profanity in a public setting like a retail store, however, when it comes to contact centre staff, this is a daily occurrence.

The problem isn’t with automation itself because technology can be a powerful tool to enhance customer service and bring about operational efficiencies. Many contact centres offer both self-service and human-assisted channels. But let’s remember that there are situations where human intervention is essential.

Our operators are bearing the brunt of the public’s frustration, and it’s not fair. While they are trained to de-escalate tense situations, it takes a toll. The situation has worsened post-COVID-19, perhaps due to staff reductions during the pandemic that haven’t been fully rectified, leading to wait times longer. On top of that, call volumes have surged over the past year.

We’re asking more and more from a limited workforce. Additionally, callers believe they have an in-depth understanding of their rights and have high expectations, making them harder to reason with. The result? Higher sick leave rates and increasing staff turnover, as contact centres have become high-pressure environments.

Fewer employees handling rising call volumes naturally leads to wait times longer. Many companies resort to imposing stricter key performance indicators (KPIs) on their workers to protect their brands. For instance, contact centre staff are often expected to process and resolve a specific number of contacts within certain time limits.

Imagine how a caller feels after waiting an hour to speak to someone and feeling rushed through their conversation. The contact centre staff member takes the brunt of the anger.

We at CCNNZ are appealing for more understanding and civility from the public. Just because our operators are faceless doesn’t mean they should be treated as non-entities.

I have a few recommendations:

  1. Call centre staff – decompress: I recommend taking short breaks between calls to decompress after serving an angry customer. Take 30 seconds or a minute to stand, walk, and breathe. This can help reset your mind for the next contact.
  2. Public – be civil: I urge the public to be civil and patient when interacting with our contact centre staff. They are doing their best to assist you. Remember, delayed help is better than no help. Ask yourself how you would feel if someone treated you rudely and abusively for doing your job.
  3. Employers – balance customer needs with employee needs: Employers, even under the pressure of high call volumes and staff turnover, should consider the well-being of their staff. Reevaluate metrics such as call time versus first-call resolution.

Companies must invest more in compensating, recruiting, and training their contact centre staff. We must pay particular attention to their mental health, as these frontliners play a pivotal role in shaping the customer’s experience and perception of an organisation.

“If Kiwis want a future that is completely dominated by bots, they’re doing a good job of getting there,” CCNNZ CEO, Elias Kanaris said. “Imagine being stranded at an airport and having to rely on a bot to solve your problem—it will likely be a long and lonely ordeal.

“It would be rare to see people using the level of abuse and profanity in a public situation, say in a retail store, but with contact centre staff it is a daily thing, and it is getting too much.”

Kanaris said the issue was not with automation because technology is a powerful tool to enhance customer service and introduce efficiencies and other benefits for business—68% of contact centres offer both self-service and human-assisted channels—but we still need human intervention for many things.

“Operators taking the brunt of the public’s frustration is not fair. And while they are trained to de-escalate a situation, it takes a toll. The problem is particularly bad post COVID-19, possibly because organisations released staff during the pandemic and haven’t been able to make up the numbers, leading to longer wait times. To make things worse, call volumes overall have risen sharply in the last year.

“We are asking more and more of a few,” Kanaris said. “We also note that callers believe they are better educated about their rights and uncompromising in their expectations, which makes them harder to reason with. The consequences are that we have higher sick leave rates and increasing staff turnover because contact centres are a pressure cooker environment.”

Kanaris said that fewer people addressing higher contact volumes results in longer wait times.

Contact

Elias Kanaris
CEO, Contact Centre Network New Zealand (CCNNZ)

Mobile: 021-615-449
Email: elias.kanaris@ccnnz.org.nz

About CCNNZ

Contact Centre Network New Zealand (CCNNZ) was established in April 2009 by Contact Centre professionals, created and nurtured by a group of dedicated Contact Centre professionals. Our community thrives on collaboration, shared knowledge, and the mutual goal of elevating customer contact standards across industries.

At CCNNZ, we are unwavering in our commitment to promoting excellence in every customer interaction. We believe every call, email, or chat presents an opportunity to create a positive impact, and we strive to empower our members to make the most of these interactions.

We serve as a dynamic network dedicated to inspiring, engaging, and connecting customer contact professionals from various fields and backgrounds. Through this network, we facilitate a vibrant exchange of ideas, strategies, and best practices, all aimed at enhancing the skills and knowledge of our members.

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