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 take the heat. It makes sense then, that 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 call avoidance. (Hint: packing your stuff into a cardboard box and heading for the door).
But is call avoidance really the enemy when it gives your agents the space to create a better experience for customers?
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 interaction or log any necessary information.
- Intentionally taking too long to record post-interaction 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 to unique circumstances in-the-moment to do what’s best for customers. Sometimes an agent might need to stay on the line a bit longer after a transfer to make sure a customer gets the help they need. And sometimes, agents might need to take a second to clear their heads so they don’t pass unneeded frustration off to the next customer.
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 often cause more harm than good, we wanted to see how they really impact the agents who have to adhere to them.
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.
Call avoidance guidelines are certainly necessary for contact centers – there’s no arguing that. But, creating reasonable guidelines and enforcing a terrifying beast of a policy that hovers above your agents are two different approaches.
Policies that are too strict mean you have agents who are constantly paranoid that you could mistake a decision they make for call avoidance. All that pressure creates more stress for agents. Not only that, but it fosters a culture absent of psychological safety. Some agents even think these policies only exist as your scapegoat to reduce headcount.
Inevitably, a lack of trust and a team of frightened, stressed agents negatively impacts your customer experience, too. Turns out, psychological safety is the top factor of a high-performing team.
Don’t fret, though. It’s possible to create reasonable call avoidance policies that give your agents guidelines but don’t make them work in a negative atmosphere. Here are three minor changes you can make to your call avoidance policy so it’s less of a monster for your agents.
1. Get rid of zero-tolerance policies in your call center
Zero-tolerance policies are basically just intimidation tactics to scare agents out of slacking off. Sometimes you need strict policies, like if an agent consistently performs poorly and you need to put them on a PIP. But, tough policies have a negative impact on your agents who consistently work hard. Your rock star agents shouldn’t be scared that if they make a single mistake, they’ll get fired. They’re human.
Mistakes happen on the job. If the intention of your agent (let’s call her Jessica) is good, but her execution needs a little help, coach her to handle the situation differently next time. Offer relevant and actionable feedback rather than immediately cutting her loose.
2. Let your agents tell their side of the story
Even if it seems glaringly obvious that Jessica avoided 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. See what Jessica wanted to accomplish and how it helped the customer before you flag her file with call avoidance.
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.
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3. 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 pressed pause.
Maybe high absenteeism in your call center has her overwhelmed with work. Or, maybe she doesn’t feel empowered to answer customer questions, so she presses pause more often than she should. 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. 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 to 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 outline every situation that’ll 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.
We originally published this post on March 6, 2018, and updated it on March 31, 2021.