Tackling customer service burnout: The key to reducing contact center turnover

Madeline Jacobson

December 19, 2023

Contact center agent turnover is rising, and customer service burnout is one of the top causes. Before 2018, the average annual turnover for the contact center industry was about 25%. In recent years, it has increased to almost 40%

87% of contact center workers report experiencing high stress in the workplace, and 59% are at risk of burnout. Faced with high call volumes, frustrated customers, and intense performance expectations, it’s not surprising that so many contact center agents leave their jobs.

Here’s the good news: high turnover and customer service burnout are avoidable. The contact centers that are most successful at reducing turnover and burnout are the ones that focus on recognizing their agents’ successes and providing actionable, objective feedback on their opportunities for improvement. For example, leading credit union BCU reduced their agent attrition from almost 40% to 10% by establishing data-driven employee recognition and coaching programs.  

How can your contact center accomplish this? First, you need to understand the root causes of customer service burnout. Below, we’ll take a look at some of the top causes, signs, and steps you can take to improve the agent experience and reduce turnover.   

What causes customer service burnout?

Several key factors commonly lead to burnout for customer service reps. One common thread for all these reasons: a lack of empowerment. Empowering your agents to successfully resolve customer issues can significantly improve their job satisfaction and job performance–not to mention improve the customer experience.

Feeling powerless

In our State of the Customer Experience report, we found that the median rate for agents using powerless-to-help language is almost 11%, and agent confusion is almost 12%. When customer service agents don't have the authority or training to solve customer problems on their own, they may feel frustrated and unfulfilled. No one wants to get bogged down on fruitless customer interactions every day. 

Reduced motivation

Feeling powerless to solve customer issues can lead to a lack of motivation in customer service agents, leading them to become disengaged with their work. If your contact center employees don't feel like they can help anyone, their motivation will suffer. 

Increased stress

Handling complaints from angry customers can be stressful on its own. When your contact center agents lack the authority or knowledge to resolve the problems quickly, this can amplify their stress levels and negatively impact their mental health. 

No sense of progress

Over 90% of workers believe it’s important to have consistent opportunities to learn on the job. And a lack of career development is one of the top causes of employee turnover, according to Gartner.  When employees feel like they are not making progress or that their efforts are not valued, they’re more likely to experience burnout and eventually quit. 

Low team morale

Keeping agents happy can have a ripple effect. Likewise, agent turnover rates can rise if contact center agents don't feel a sense of community and purpose in your organization. Contact center managers can combat this by creating a positive employee experience so that one agent leaving their job doesn't lead to multiple.

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Signs of customer service burnout

How can you spot customer service burnout in your agents? Here are some of the signs to look for:

  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Plummeting productivity
  • Lack of focus
  • Irritability
  • Longer silence times on calls

5 ways to prevent customer service burnout

Reducing customer service burnout does more than just save you the cost of turnover. It reduces the time you have to spend hiring and onboarding new agents, which gives you more time to focus on advanced training and career development for your current agents. This helps your agents feel more confident and fulfilled in their roles, leading to a better customer experience.

There are a few simple steps you can take to empower your contact center agents and keep them on board. Here are five tips to help reduce burnout and turnover in your contact center:

1. Take a data-driven coaching approach

It’s frustrating for agents to get vague feedback from their managers based on a handful of their customer interactions, or to have their performance tied to metrics they don’t have full control over. “Most contact center key performance indicators are tied to the outcome of a customer interaction,” says Don Davey, Senior Director of Customer Success at Tethr. These metrics may include average handle time, first-call resolution, and customer satisfaction. According to Davey, “When faced with something they can’t control, people stop trying to be the best they can be and just try not to be last.”

The solution is to coach agents on the things they can control using conversation data. Conversation intelligence software like Tethr enables businesses to analyze every customer conversation and extract insights into agent performance and the customer experience. You can use this information to coach agents on language and behaviors proven to positively impact CX.  

2. Prioritize ongoing training

In addition to one-on-one coaching, make sure you’re offering team training sessions and setting team-wide goals. You can also use conversation intelligence software to identify and prioritize the top training opportunities for our teams. Some Tethr customers choose one agent behavior to focus on and conduct a month-long sprint around that behavior goal. For example, Connexus Credit Union conducted a focal point sprint around advocacy language–one of the top drivers of a positive customer experience–and increased this behavior by 42% in one month.

3. Listen to agent feedback

Use feedback from your agents to improve processes, policies, or procedures that may be causing problems for customers and agents alike. Find out if your agents feel like they’re lacking essential resources or tools to do their jobs well, or if there are factors in their work environment leading to burnout. 

4. Give agents autonomy

One of the most famous examples of employee autonomy comes from the Ritz-Carlton: the luxury hotel chain gives its employees a budget of $2000 per guest to resolve customer issues without needing to get approval from a manager. While it may not be realistic for your contact center to give agents this kind of pre-approved budget, you can still empower them in other ways. Allow your customer service agents to make decisions within their scope of responsibility without needing approval from senior leadership.

5. Invest in company culture

Your customer service reps spend a good portion of their day at work, even if they work remotely. Invest in a good corporate culture to nurture a sense of loyalty. This includes more than just financial incentives. Make sure they have advanced call center analytics software, proper collaboration tools, and reliable call center technology. Offer professional development opportunities and career growth paths.

As a contact center leader, you shouldn’t settle for an annual agent turnover rate of 40%. By getting to the root of customer service burnout, you can start building a better agent experience and increase your average agent turnover. Focus on agent empowerment and engagement so your agents feel more confident in their roles and deliver better customer experiences.

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This blog post was originally published in February 2023 under the title "Why so many contact center agents quit (and how to fix it)." It was updated and expanded in December 2023.

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