Supporting Support: Caring for Call Center Employees During COVID-19
By Elaine Davis, CHRO of Continuum Global Solutions & Atif Siddiqi, Founder & CEO of Branch
The pandemic has upended every industry, including call centers and their employees. Centers rapidly shifted to a work from home model or reconfigured office spaces and operations. Many reduced their workforce with automated systems and bots. Others ramped up hiring. But especially during this time, when customers are limited to their homes, they count on compassionate customer service to help them navigate their transactions and needs. You can’t overestimate the value of human interaction and empathy.
But who’s caring for the customer service agents handling this high volume of inquiries, complaints, and issues? Even before the pandemic, customer care providers have had to remain patient and resilient to deliver customers what they needed. And now with COVID-19, representatives must deal with more concerns in addition to their own anxieties within and outside the workplace. To maintain superior customer support during such a tense time, it’s important to also have a strategy for caring for employees. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind about your call center workforce and ways to support them.
Work Disruptions Lead to Financial Disruptions
Given the fluctuations in call center hours and protocols, many agents have had disruptions in the amount of hours they work. Changes in hours also leads to changes in finances. Research on the hourly workforce shows that even with stimulus checks, 76 percent of hourly workers had already delayed or missed a bill payment, with another 10 percent expecting to because of the coronavirus. They also had little to fall back on, as 80 percent of hourly workers had less than $500 saved for an emergency and 52 percent had $0 saved. For call center employees, many of whom already live paycheck to paycheck, work disruptions can quickly result in additional financial challenges.
Connected All the Time
In the shift to work from home, many contact center agents are staying even more connected. While that may mean an increase in productivity for some agents, that can also put contact center agents at risk for burnout. In contrast to other work from home occupations, one study found that agents are working with or connected to their customers online and on the phone usually 80 percent to 85 percent or more of their time per hour.
For agents who have children, this becomes even more challenging. The uncertainty around school reopenings and limited childcare options have left many contact center agents at home struggling to balance the needs of customers, colleagues, and their children. And the vast majority of companies are maintaining their expectations for employee performance in a work from home environment. According to a survey by Willis Towers Watson, 66 percent of companies say they are not planning or considering altering performance expectations or career development and promotion processes for workers dealing with child care issues. At Continuum, we are looking at ways to assist our agents in the US who have school-age children with tutoring and homework help, or supervision of children during working hours.
About 80 percent of organizations that said they have employed expanded or universal work-from-home policies and 67 percent plan to maintain these policies for the long-term, creating a healthy work from home environment is essential for maintaining agents.
As call center employees have shifted to remote work, it’s more important than ever for employers to support them on a day-to-day basis. And luckily, there are ways you can do this that align with your budget while also meeting the needs of the people who power your business.
Acknowledge the mental health impacts of this crisis
With more employees working remotely, one of the most important things you can do is to offer increased support and check-ins during this time. Many employees’ mental health has taken a blow from the isolation, fear, and economic hardship that have accompanied this global pandemic. Stay engaged with your employees, and regularly reach out to ask them how they are. Staying up to date with their lives can go a long way in helping them feel supported at work. There are also various mental health resources you can offer to employees so they have tools to find additional help if needed.
Offer a financial wellness benefit that truly makes a difference
Another crucial aspect of supporting your employees during this time is recognizing they likely need extra financial support. There are many ways you can approach this as their employer, but one way that doesn’t cost either of you additional spend is by allowing them access to their earned wages ahead of time. Earned Wage Access (EWA) lets employees have a portion of their wages before their regularly scheduled payday in case of emergency. We recently launched Branch’s EWA solution to Continuum’s US employee base and have received tremendous feedback from agents who are delighted to have access to their wages when they really need it.
For many people living paycheck to paycheck, an unexpected medical bill or car repair can quickly put them into debt or trigger overdraft fees. With EWA, you’re helping your employees bridge the gap between payday when an unexpected expense comes up.
Continue to address the unique challenges of remote work
As the pandemic continues and more people continue to work from home, it’s important to continuously think of new ways to support your employees and address new challenges that may arise. Maybe they need different office equipment (something as simple as a monitor or a phone headset!) to better help them do their job. Don’t assume everyone has equal access to technology or tools that could be helping them perform their duties better. Reach out and see what can help them work productively at home during this uncertain time.
Supporting your employees mental and physical health—as well as recognizing their unique financial challenges—will go a long way in helping them feel valued. Employees that feel valued and have the tools to tackle their personal challenges are often more productive and motivated at work—and more likely to stick with your company for the long-haul.
Elaine Davis is the Chief Human Resources Officer of Continuum Global Solutions, a global customer care provider for Fortune 500 companies. Atif Siddiqi is CEO and Founder of Branch, a challenger bank that partners with employers to help workers grow financially. Continuum recently partnered with Branch to provide faster pay options and other financial wellness tools to over 6,000 employees across the US.