How to Manage Dwindling Agent Numbers
At some point throughout a call center’s lifespan, it will undoubtedly go through a period of time where it’s short-staffed. This may be due to a number of reasons: high agent turnover rates, difficultly finding people who even want to work in a call center, summer vacations, family emergencies, etc.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that there will come a point when the number of agents working on any given day is as low as possible. When this happens in a poorly run call center, agents will start to spread themselves too thin and they’ll become stressed (which may lead to even more agents leaving). However, this doesn’t have to be the case in every call center; those that are run efficiently and fairly will have an easier time getting through these periods.
The No. 1 way to mitigate potential disaster when call centers are short-staffed is to create fair schedules. Just because there’s a shortage of agents doesn’t mean managers can suddenly stick agents with 10 more hours apiece and take away their PTO. That’s not what they signed on for, and that kind of scheduling will only make burnout worse. It’s easy to panic in this kind of a scenario, but it’s important for managers to stay focused and fair, even when it feels like everyone is leaving the company. Remember to talk with agents; see what extra work they’re willing to do, and create schedules together.
Also, when it comes to being short-staffed, I can’t stress this enough: teamwork makes the dream work. This is especially important to remember when it’s essentially down to a skeleton crew in the call center. It’s key here to make it clear that everyone needs to work together to keep the call center going. This prevents one person from shouldering the burden and can actually improve agent morale. Working in teams tends to be much more fun than working alone, especially when there’s a lot of stress involved. By leaning on each other, agents and managers alike will find work in the call center much more enjoyable.
Finally, it’s important to stay positive. This should go without saying, but too many companies—call center or not—tend to let employee morale slip. In the call center, where agents are often the first point of contact for callers, it’s of the utmost importance that agents are genuinely happy at work. If they’re not, callers will be able to sense that the agent doesn’t want to be on the phone with them, and that never makes for a good customer experience. So help agents stay positive in whatever ways possible—encourage them to take breaks, incorporate gamification into daily work life, have team bonding exercises, etc.
At the end of the day, call center managers need to accept that they’re going to go through some hard times. However, that doesn’t have to be the end of the organization. It all depends on how managers handle the situation. If managed correctly, a call center can continue to run smoothly and happily, no matter how many agents are employed at the time.