What your agents aren't telling you about working in a call center (hint: customers get angry more than you think)

What Agents Aren’t Telling You About Working in a Call Center

The average American feels bored for five years of life. And, what’s rated as the number one most boring task that sucks up years of your time? 

Skip the cliches about waiting for water to boil and watching paint dry. While stuck in my house, I’ve cooked often and repainted nearly every room in my abode. So, I can attest that yeah, waiting for water to ferociously bubble when all you want is to scarf down some pasta, is painful. But, according to most, it’s not nearly as painful as waiting on hold for customer service

This preconceived notion about customer service means people aren’t all that eager to speak to the helpful agent working in a call center. And because most of us have experienced a dreadful service interaction at some point, there’s now a stereotype that customer service is terrible more often than not. That kind of negativity makes us anticipate a poor experience, dooming the conversation before it even starts.

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That means when customers reach out, already frustrated with a problem and awaiting a bad time, your agents take the heat. 

I wanted to see what goes on behind the scenes and how all this pressure (and customer frustration) impacts your agents. You can’t improve your agent’s experience without understanding it, first. 

So, I culled through review sites and call center forums to get a glimpse at untold agent stories. I’m sharing with you, so you can learn what your team struggles with, and how you can help.

Here are three things agents aren’t telling you about working in a call center.

Interested to see some of these stories first hand? You can find them here.

1. They get blamed for user error.

Agents have to problem-solve for user error, and it negatively impacts their agent experience and often, their performance metrics. 

Sometimes the user error was simply because of poor training, and a quick conversation with a knowledgeable agent brought the clarity the customer needed. But other times, customers misused a product or were completely careless, and they still expected agents to solve their problem. And if the agent couldn’t solve the customer’s problem? They were blamed for the customer’s carelessness. Ouch.

That time a microwave turned pink.

One woman microwaved her nail polish, and it exploded, ruining her microwave. She called customer service and asked them to replace her microwave because it was still under warranty. When the agent told her that her warranty didn’t cover incidents surrounding misuse of the product, she was, to say the least, mad. And she wasn’t just mad at the situation, but at the agent, nonetheless.

What you can do about it:

Implement better customer training. Work together with other departments in your company, like your marketing team, to create training manuals and helpful guides for customers. Create clear and concise upfront contracts with customers, so they always know what’s expected before calling customer support. 

And, dedicate a team (or a few agents) to check in on new customers to see how satisfied they are with their recent purchase. Set a checklist for what employees should cover on the check-in call (like product or service training, existing warranties, and what your call center team is there to help with). Take some burdens off your agents, and be a leader who drives the whole company to solve customer problems.

2. Micromanaging isn’t the kind of management they need.

We’ve talked a lot about the need for frequent coaching in your contact center.

But, frequent coaching doesn’t mean you need to micromanage your employees. Looking at agent stories, there are so many agents who complain that every move they make is monitored and every call that goes a tad beyond average handle time is scrutinized. Not only do your agents feel like they’re measured on unattainable metrics, but they feel like every KPI is constantly a point of contention, too. 

Help your agents identify their weak spots, so they can improve, but don’t create a culture of fear and negativity. Agents want the freedom to do their jobs and help customers the right way, and sometimes that means missing a metric or two. And remember, just because an agent wants a bit more freedom to get the job done doesn’t mean they never need your help. A ghost of a supervisor or manager is just as harmful to your customer and agent experience as the micromanager. 

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The daily drive by.

An agent has been working in a call center for eight months, and his manager pops up every time one of his calls extends past the 15-minute mark. His manager scolds him for being on the phone too long, then when he promptly hangs up to please his manager, he’s scolded again for not solving the customer’s case during the first interaction. 

Meanwhile, when the agent takes a call and begins to work through a scenario he’s unfamiliar with, he can’t find his manager anywhere. The agent has questions, but he doesn’t have resources or a leader to help him answer those questions. So, his metrics are once again squashed. This isn’t the time to dish out repercussions for lengthy calls. Instead, managers should look at why the call took so long. Is there an empowerment issue for the agent? Or, are there gaps in the agent’s training that need to be addressed? Has the customer called in five times prior and begs the agent to find a lasting solution?

What you can do about it:

Coach your agents frequently, but without hovering. In-line training lets you coach often without stealing your agents’ autonomy. You can send them quick feedback and words of encouragement after interactions, so you can keep tabs on what’s happening, while not being too overbearing. 

Don’t buzz around the office like a fly your agents wish they could swat. Emphasize the positive interactions your agents have, too, rather than just harping on the negative ones. Schedule time to discuss metrics when needed, but don’t hound agents about numbers every single day. 

Remind your team of overarching goals, and encourage them to keep improving. Surface performance metrics to your agents daily, so they can keep tabs on their own metrics and understand how the work they do each day impacts your customer goals. And be available and approachable when your agents need help, so they have the resources to always do better.

3. Poor interdepartmental communication creates blockers for agents working in a call center.

When departments aren’t aligned on company goals, customer communications, or promotional efforts, agents have to deal with the repercussions. Sometimes this means customers get information your service team doesn’t know about. So, when a customer reaches out with a question, your agents don’t know how to answer it. 

Other times it means customers reach out about certain promotions, new features and benefits, or a pricing change and they get incorrect information because the right stakeholders weren’t involved internally. Then, your agents then to fix a problem that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.

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A pale of empty promises.

Let’s say, for instance, a member of your sales team doesn’t know about a promotion the marketing team launched. So then, a sales member accidentally misleads a customer. This misinformation causes problems for your customer service team. 

False promises or wrong coupon codes leave the sales team member with an upset customer. But because they’ve already closed the deal, solving the problem now falls to your agents. Then, your agents have to deal with the frustrations and come up with a solution that benefits both your customer and the company. That’s a lot of pressure.

What you can do about it:

Encourage your team and team leaders to communicate frequently with other departments, and lead by example. Communication doesn’t always have to be formal. You can send a few emails, start a quick chat on Slack or Teams, and when we’re back in the office, chat in the break room to build more relationships. 

Hold meetings with company stakeholders, or send informative company-wide communications when you have news to share. Keep other leaders informed about what’s happening in your contact center, and encourage them to follow pace with their department’s communications, too. The more you can keep the lines of communication open, the better your company can work together to solve customer problems.

Understandably, with a negative perception of customer service, customer interactions can come with frustrations for your agents. But, listening to your agents and coaching the right way can help your agents improve their performance and handle every customer interaction with poise. There are dozens of untold stories about your agents’ daily experience – tune in to what’s really happening, so you can change their stories for the better.

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We originally published this post on October 3, 2018, and we refreshed it for new insight on February 4, 2021.