7 Causes of Call Center Stress (And How to Fix Them)

Working at a call center isn’t easy. In fact, over half of call center employees feel burned out on a daily basis.1 

Call center agents who are very stressed out struggle to provide great customer service. And when they leave out of burnout, it gets expensive. The average cost to replace an employee is six to nine months of their salary.2 

But call center stress isn’t inevitable. 

You can solve call center stress by identifying signs of burnout early on, improving processes, and adopting the right technology. This article walks you through the top seven factors that cause customer service agents to stress, and shows you how to fix them. 

How does call center stress and burnout affect agents?

Everyone experiences job stress, but employees in contact centers are more burned out than others. 87% of call center workers report high or very high-stress levels at their call centers.3 

All of that stress also means agents don’t stick around long. The agents that report high stress are more likely to leave their jobs than those with low stress.3 

The turnover rate for call center agents is over 40%4 — compared to the 22% average across all industries in the US.5

Constantly replacing agents is difficult and expensive, but the problem with call center stress is bigger than that. If your employees are miserable at work, they’re less likely to have positive interactions with customers.

There’s a direct correlation between agent job satisfaction and customer satisfaction.

Screenshot of correlation between agent job satisfaction and customer satisfaction

To improve employee retention and ensure your team can provide excellent service, eliminate the following causes of contact center stress. 

7 stressors that lead to call center burnout

Here are the top seven causes of employee stress in call centers: 

Stressor #1: Unclear expectations  

Employees want to know exactly how to do their jobs and do them well. They shouldn’t have any questions about responsibilities or evaluation criteria. 

Sometimes, unclear priorities can cause stress. For example, agents need to know whether they need to first address a ticket categorized as ‘high priority’ or resolve a ticket that is getting closer to the SLA deadline. 

Contact center employees may also be stressed if they don’t know whose responsibility a task is. Agents should never have to waste time on a ticket that another agent is already working on. If an agent isn’t able to resolve the ticket, they should know who to turn to for help. You can eliminate this potential confusion by using a good helpdesk or call center software and publishing an in-depth customer service policy.

Stressor #2: Angry customers

Visual representation of customers blaming agentsCustomer service agents are often the target of angry customers. 

Most of the time, the reason the customer is unhappy has nothing to do with the individual agent. They’re mad about the product, or about waiting too long to be connected to a customer service representative, or because they’ve had poor customer support experiences in the past. 

But when customers lash out, it creates a stressful situation for agents. 80% of call center employees say that customers often or frequently blame them for something they can’t control.3 

The emotional exhaustion of dealing with angry customers can take a toll on your call center agents’ morale and mental health.

While it’s impossible to make everyone happy, eliminating some causes of customer anger is something you can work towards. You can implement a range of self-service options including a proactive help widget that detects frustration signals and offers help. 

Stressor #3: Lack of incentives

Why should call center employees strive to be excellent? Will a team member be rewarded for delighting customers for improving important customer service metrics?

If the only motivation for agents to meet their KPIs is the fear of discipline or a poor evaluation, they’ll be stressed. This creates a poor work environment and creates a lot of workplace stress. 

Instead, you need to use positive reinforcement and try to provide incentives to be the best. This includes small prizes to keep the day-to-day exciting as well as long-term opportunities for advancement. 

Stressor #4: Boredom

Contact center work can be repetitive. 

Asking smart, capable employees to do the same mundane tasks over and over again puts you at the risk of high attrition. A sense of complacency starts to creep in when you do the same thing on a daily basis. This leads to low motivation and productivity, and eventually, agents start to think about moving on. 

While there is some level of repetition in every job, you can do your best to automate mundane and repetitive tasks. You can also occasionally spice things up by asking agents to work on complex issues.  

Stressor #5: Heavy workloads

This source of stress is self-explanatory. Too much work leaves call center employees exhausted and anxious. 

Since 2020, call center agents have been dealing with more workload than they used to. 71% of customer service leaders in the US have seen increased call volume since February 2020.

As a call center manager, you don’t necessarily have to hire more workers to lighten the load — better technology can make the existing tasks faster and easier to complete. 

Stressor #6: Time limits

Customers these days have no patience for slow service. 

The average customer service response time in the United States is pretty quick at 2.8 hours. But 53% of customers say they want agents to respond faster.6

Screenshot of customer improvement points for customer service

Contact centers try to pick up their pace by setting strict time limits for agent responses or ticket resolutions. If the time limits are unrealistic given the resources available, employees are likely to experience chronic stress. 

Stressor #7: Lack of expertise

When agents don’t have the knowledge and information they need to resolve an issue, they end up delivering a poor customer service experience by keeping the customer waiting for too long or passing the issue around too often. Plus, 46% of consumers would stop doing business with a company due to unknowledgeable employees.

These situations not only stress out customers but the agents too. The lack of expertise and knowledge makes agents feel like they are put on a spot leading to high levels of stress.

Lack of training is the root cause of this stressor. Improving your training and also ensuring that agents have easy access to the right resources helps in creating a team that is well-prepared to face different customer interactions. 

How to fix call center stress

With all of these stressors, it’s not surprising that call center agent burnout is a common problem. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can create an environment for your team with agent wellness at the forefront. 

Follow these steps to fix call center stress and reduce the chances of employee burnout.

Step #1: Set clear KPIs and SLAs

Make sure agents know how they’ll be evaluated. It should be measurable — asking for “fast” or “high-quality” service isn’t as good as setting specific goals for resolution time or CSAT. 

You can give your team more clarity with customized dashboards to track SLAs. Dashboards can also help agents keep track of tickets in different buckets, such as unassigned, on-hold, or resolved. 

Screenshot of customizable dashboard on Freshdesk

If your agents are frequently breaching SLAs, it may be that your support tools aren’t up to the task. 86% of call center employees say they have technology in their call centers that are too slow. 80% report frequent system crashes or malfunctions.3

If you’ve already upgraded and your team still isn’t meeting SLAs, your goals may simply be unrealistic — another cause of call center stress. 

Step 2: Motivate employees with incentives

Even small rewards can make a big difference in job satisfaction. 

One way to motivate agents is to set up an employee incentives program for those who do excellent work. The rewards can be monetary or non-monetary. 

For example, you could give out bonuses for great performance or simply show your appreciation by awarding a “customer service superstar of the month.”

It’s best to have multiple incentives. Competition can be motivating within reason, but more winners means more happy employees. Visual representation of offering incentives to reduce call center stressSome customer service software offers gamification features. Agents complete tasks to earn points, move up the leaderboard, win rewards, and work towards achievements.

Step #3: Have a clear path forward

Small prizes for high achievement are important, but in the long run, employees want more. Agents — especially your top agents — won’t want to stay at your company if there’s no room for advancement.

Talk to your employees about a career path and let them know that you’re invested in their long-term success within the company. 

Step #4: Implement AI chatbots and automation

Artificial intelligence and process automation make call center work faster and more efficient. It also makes it less boring. When you automate the most repetitive tasks and common customer inquiries, agents can focus on more interesting work that requires a human touch. 

AI chatbots from Freshworks can help customers with inquiries as well as supporting agents in their work. 

Customer-facing AI

A chatbot is available at any time to respond to your customers’ questions with the best fitting answer from your knowledge base. It can even detect intent and follow up the answer with relevant conversation flows that engage your customers. 

AI-powered chatbots by Freshworks can provide personalized support by engaging in conversations that you define with an easy, no-code builder. If a conversation is too much for a chatbot to handle, it can smoothly hand the ticket over to a human agent. 

Screenshot of customer-facing AI by Freshworks

Agent-facing AI

Freshworks’ agent-facing AI can categorize, prioritize, and route support tickets automatically. It uses machine learning and data from your past tickets to automatically suggest fields for new tickets. 

This agent-facing AI recognizes customer queries and suggests a solution article that’s a good fit. It can also suggest canned responses. 

You can also deploy assist bots that guide agents to offer faster and accurate solutions.

When processes are automated and bots take on simple customer conversations, support agents are more productive — and more relaxed. 

Step 5: Invest in the right technology

These days customers reach out to businesses on a wide variety of channels — phone, email, social media, chat, and more. Customer service software with omnichannel support makes it fast and painless for agents to switch channels while working through tickets. 

Automation will go a long way towards relieving the burden on your employees. There are a few other steps you can take as well, such as canned responses and automatic email responders.

Use customer service technology that can detect when agents collide on a ticket and prevent duplicated efforts that are easier to happen while working from home. There’s no bigger waste of time than doing work that your coworker has already completed. 

If your team is working from home, you need to help them set up the perfect home workspaces. Help them get access to good-quality headsets, laptops, routers, monitors, and even ergonomic chairs in order to offer seamless customer service. 

Step 6: Help agents pick up the pace

Those ambitious time limits will feel much more reasonable with the right technological assistance. 

With AI, customers get an instant response, even when the human agents are all busy. An agent-facing bot helps agents come up with quick answers so they don’t have to scramble for information while time runs out. 

Screenshot of agent assist bots by Freshworks

Agents can get through tickets faster if they receive mobile and email alerts about new tickets. Collaboration features also save time. Agents can loop teammates into discussions right inside a ticket rather than making phone calls or running next door to ask a question. 

Case study: CEQUENS

CEQUENS, a leading Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) provider in the Middle East and Africa, was managing customer support with legacy systems. The outdated UI and limited functionality were making it difficult to work efficiently and meet SLAs. 

After implementing FreshDesk, CEQUENS improved their first contact resolution (FCR) from 29% to 70% and their response time from around an hour to just three minutes. 

Screenshot capturing improvements seen by CEQUENS

But that’s not all. According to Mostafa AbdElKader, Manager of Customer Service and Business Operations, support agents at CEQUENS were “over the moon” about the new platform.

Upgrading to more efficient technology made employees happy by reducing the workload, helping them meet SLAs, and improving collaboration.  

Step 7: Create subject matter experts

Knowledge is key to alleviating agent stress. Out of the call center employees who report experiencing high stress, 60% say that they frequently receive calls that their training isn’t adequate to answer. Only 36% of employees experiencing low stress say the same.3

Being an expert isn’t just about studying harder. An agent assist bot can turn any employee into an expert by helping them find information in an internal knowledge base

Agents should also be experts on their customers — invest in software that provides comprehensive customer context with each ticket. 

Of course, training is also essential. Check out these tips for training support team members. 

Step 8: Let agents de-stress

We all need some time off from work, and call center agents are no exception. Make sure your employees have adequate vacation time.  

You can also conduct employee engagement activities to relieve stress together as a team. Fun team activities help employees relax while improving interpersonal skills. The workplace is less stressful when you have friends around.  

Do your best to keep agent burnout at bay

Call center work isn’t easy, but investing in the right tools and creating a positive work environment makes it much easier. 

The happiness and well-being of your support agents are extremely important. Satisfied employees stay at the company, build their skills, and deliver stellar customer experiences. 

For many contact centers, the biggest hurdle to overcome is inefficient technology. For customer service software that can make your call center a better place to work, give Freshdesk a try.

1- https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/74307
2 – https://mnwi.usi.com/Resources/Resource-Library/Resource-Library-Article/ArtMID/666/ArticleID/782/Cost-of-employee-turnover
3 – https://ecommons.cornell.edu/handle/1813/74307
4 – https://www.icmi.com/resources/2019/employee-engagement-in-the-contact-center
5 – https://www.imercer.com/articleinsights/north-american-employee-turnover-trends-and-effects
6 – https://freshdesk.com/resources/whitepaper/whitepaper/whitepaper/guide-proactive-support