The dark side of call avoidance policies: Featuring a cloaked agent

The Dark Side Of Call Avoidance Policies

It’s a fact: some agents will skip out on answering customer complaint after complaint (after complaint).

And with 66% of the people contacting your call center already fuming before they even speak to an agent, can you really blame them?

Customers call in angry at your company, and agents feel the heat.

Then, even when they fix the issue, more than three-fourths of customers remain frustrated. Knowing this, it makes sense that, sometimes, an agent might try to sneak into a two-minute reprieve.

In an effort to discourage the two-minute time-out, many contact centers have strict call avoidance policies. These policies outline what it means to avoid calls. And, they detail the consequences that follow when an agent ignores the ringing machine on his desk. (Hint: packing your stuff into a cardboard box and heading for the door).

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Here’s what these policies often look like.

What is considered call avoidance?

We flipped through call center handbooks to find some examples of call avoidance. Here are the six most common behaviors:

  • Taking your phone off-the-hook without making a call.
  • Logging into voicemail to avoid a call.
  • Taking excessive (and unnecessary) bathroom breaks.
  • Staying on the line with a customer longer than necessary to close the call or log any necessary information.
  • Intentionally taking too long to record after call work.
  • Remaining in conference mode longer than required when transferring a call to another agent.

What happens to agents who avoid calls?

Strict policies leave little wiggle room for agents to adjust on the fly and do what’s best for customers. Sometimes this means staying on the line a bit longer after a transfer to make sure a customer gets the help they need. And sometimes, it means taking a second to be mindful and clear their head so they don’t pass unneeded frustration off to the next customer.

Call avoidance because of heated customers

But tough policies leave no room for human error or asking for a little flexibility here and there. That kind of rigidity on the job creates a poor experience for your agents, who then hand the negativity off to customers. Plus, firing a stellar agent after one bad day heightens turnover, which we all know is bad for customer service (and for business).

To give you some insight into why such strict policies can be so harmful, we wanted to see how these policies really impact the agents who have to adhere to them.

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Here are a few first-hand experiences from agents.

“I work at home, and I heard the tornado sirens. I immediately took shelter. I failed to log out of the system properly, which caused me to sit in an idle status for a long period of time. I was accused of call avoidance and fired.”

“I needed help with a call, so I put the caller on mute and asked my coworker a question. My manager saw, and I was suspended for putting a caller on hold unnecessarily.”

“I was helping a customer who called in several times before for the same issue. I needed to transfer her to tech support and decided to stay on the line while they helped her. It was a complex issue, and I wanted to make sure it got resolved this time around. My manager saw how long I was on the 3-way call and fired me for call avoidance.”

There’s a problem with call avoidance policies.

Guidelines surrounding call avoidance are certainly necessary for contact centers – there’s no arguing against that. But, that doesn’t mean you need to create a terrifying beast-of-a-policy that hovers in the clouds above your agents.

Policies that are too strict mean you have agents who are constantly paranoid that you could mistake a decision they make (that someone didn’t neatly detail in their handbook) for call avoidance. Not only does this added pressure create unnecessary stress for agents, but it creates a culture of mistrust and fear that looms over your entire contact center. The stigma around these tough policies even leads some agents to believe they only exist as your scapegoat when you need to reduce headcount.

Call avoidance as an excuse to reduce headcount

Inevitably, a lack of trust and a team of frightened, stressed agents negatively impacts your customer experience, too.

Don’t fret, though. It’s absolutely possible to create reasonable call avoidance policies that give your agents guidelines but don’t make them work in a fearful, negative atmosphere.

Here are some minor changes you can make to your call avoidance policy to make it less of a monster for your agents.

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Eliminate zero tolerance policies.

Zero-tolerance policies are basically just intimidation tactics to scare agents out of slacking off. There are specific instances where you might need strict policies, like if an agent has been performing poorly and needs a formal reminder to straighten up. But, these tough policies actually have a negative impact on your agents who consistently work hard. Those agents shouldn’t be scared that if they make a single mistake, they could get fired. They’re human.

Mistakes WILL happen on the job. If the intention of your agent (let’s call her Jessica) is good, but it’s just the execution that needs a little help, coach her to handle the situation differently next time rather than immediately cutting her loose.

Let your agents tell their side of the story.

Even if it seems glaringly obvious that Jessica was avoiding calls, don’t assume that her actions were intentional. Have a real conversation with her. Point out your concerns and allow her to explain her actions.

No policy can account for all the nuances that occur in your agents’ daily, human lives. It’s up to you as a manager to listen to your agents before you hand out consequences or pink slips. Once you know the full story, then you can decide how things should play out for Jessica.

Address the root cause of the problem and be flexible.

If you do catch Jessica obviously avoiding calls, dig into the reason WHY before you criminalize the situation. If she’s a first-time offender who normally works hard, and she starts sending calls to voicemail, sit down with her. Give her the chance to be open and honest about why she was avoiding calls.

Maybe tons of calls in her queue are bogging her down, and she just needs five minutes to catch her breath. Or, what if she doesn’t feel empowered to answer the questions on her calls. Maybe even, absenteeism has been high for weeks and she’s overwhelmed with the extra workload. It’s even possible she knocked back a few too many iced lattes to stay awake, and those excessive bathroom breaks were necessary.

Situations change daily, and life at work (and at home) is constantly in flux. Don’t create an environment so rigid that your agents resort to trickery to catch a break.

Check in with your agents and see what’s happening behind the scenes. Then, you’ll know how you can coach better to fix the issue. Or, you’ll know it was just a one-time event because Jessica had a bad night’s sleep.

Your agents are unique. And your policies can’t possibly document every situation that will pop up at work. Be flexible and create guidelines for your agents. Then, take time to make sure they learn those guidelines and understand why they’re important to delivering better service.

Leave room for your agents to adapt the guidelines to personalize their agent experience. Ditch your assumptions. Instead, create flexible policies and rely on technology to monitor agent actions more intentionally. The ultimate goal is to create an environment where agents feel confident, not frightened, to do what’s best for your customers.

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We originally published this post on March 6, 2018, and updated it on January 31, 2020.