By Dr Annemarie Lombard

I was looking for the craziest, wildest, busiest, most sensory overloaded and insane work environment … I clearly found it in the contact centre industry!

The first time I walked into a contact centre I was blown away. Although absolutely electrifying for me, and certainly switching on an extra few brain wires, I immediately knew with certainty that this environment would be a recipe for disaster for about 20% of the population.

Local and international research shows that 20% of the population are highly sensory sensitive to information derived from the environment. This means that their DNA and brain circuits have an over-intake of sensory (see, hear, touch, smell, taste, move) information. Sensory overload is of utmost relevance to them as they experience the world as too loud, too bright, too fast, too tight … plainly just too much. Needless to say the contact centre environment is completely overwhelming for them and results in stress, absenteeism, performance issues and ultimately attrition. Even though they often manage to put effort into tolerating this environment, it often works for only a short period of time. Ever thought why the critical period for losing agents is usually within the first 90 days of employment?

Although our sensory processing takes place in the unconscious parts of our brain functioning, it is critical for species survival. Intuitively we learn what works for us and what not, but mostly – and too often – through trial and error. Your sensory-sensitive contact centre agents will only realise this after being recruited, trained and positioned on the contact centre seat. And, suffice to say, thousands of rands later the realisation hits: “I hate this job.” Research also clearly corroborates the prevalence of high levels of stress within the industry.

When placed in data capturing, e-mail support, or quality assurance, these same individuals would however most often perform at very high levels. Traditionally, these processes, are usually performed in more contained, less sensory overloaded sections and require awareness, attention to detail and rigid processing. Your 20% unsuitable front office callers are well suited for these roles.

My quest as an occupational therapist has been to prove that sensory profiles do correlate with the work performance, absenteeism and attrition of contact centre agents. Correlation results through my doctoral research clearly indicate that your 20% highly sensitive agents spend longer time on after-call work, have longer holding times and lower quality assurance ratings.

The quest continues…

The four main pillars in the call centre industry are:

  • People;
  • premises;
  • processes; and
  • technology.

They are obviously all crucial for sustainability and efficiency, but with the human resource allocation being the biggest hurdle. Your contact centre agent is the key to delivering service, sales or collections, utilising your business process and operations to capture the essence of your client audience.

So, how do we solve this?

Occupational science is a body of knowledge about how we analyse work environments and the people functioning within them. Goodness-of-fit is the vital key to support the fact that matching your talent and workforce to the job description and work environment will ensure productive, less stressed, and sustainable employees. It just makes plain business sense to ensure a best-fit match for the contact centre industry in particular. The industry is known for high training and operational costs, with agent attrition and absenteeism a common problem. This impacts on the bottom line for the company, but also depletes corporate wellness for the individual.

Sensory Intelligence® Consulting has two main objectives for the contact centre industry:

Firstly, to ensure return on investments for companies. If you are spending R17 264.00 (average industry figure South Africa 2007) on training an agent, shouldn’t you ensure up-front that they are suited for the position?

Secondly, a mismatch in the industry impacts on wellness for the agents. Unsuitable agents end up with a high degree of stress and anxiety which have detrimental effects on health and wellness, and results in inflated healthcare costs. As many agents are young and often find themselves in a contact centres as an entry level job, the degree of failure and difficulty to manage has a far-reaching impact on their personal self-esteem and confidence. Therefore, ensure you select agents with more care, and consider their sensory profiles to ensure sustainability in the environment.

Other considerations to ensure workforce optimisation are also to ensure you have a well set-up contact centre include:

  • Good equipment
  • Enough space
  • Air
  • Ventilation
  • Chill rooms (not glorified tea rooms)
  • Leadership that thinks and acts laterally
  • Ongoing coaching and development.

The contact centre business model works, locally and abroad, with unprecedented growth and has huge job creation opportunities for South Africa.

Rethink Contact Centres

How sensory intelligent is your contact centre?

Join us for a highly interactive, practical workshop to take your contact centre operation and customer service, sales and collections to the next level. We will unpack neuroscience concepts, enabling you to make the most of people and space and to boost profit margins.
Executive leaders, management, human resource practitioners, learning and development facilitators, wellness facilitators, and facilities managers will all benefit to make the most of their contact centre operations, profits and customer service.

Our next workshops are set for

22 July 2015 (Gauteng); and
5 August 2015 (Cape Town)

For more information and to make your booking, visit http://sensoryintelligence.co.za/events or contact events@sensoryintelligence.co.za
Like our Facebook pages: Sensory Intelligence and Senses on Call
Follow us on Twitter: @sensoryIQ
You can also contact me for a personal discussion.

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