What customer service agents need in the workplace of now

Profile picture for user caitlinkeohane By Caitlin Keohane March 4, 2021 Audio version
Customer service agents have kept things running from home instead of call centres since the first lockdown - but are they getting the support they need? Caitlin Keohane explores the pain points emerging from Zendesk's latest research

Customer service agent with burnout asking for help © Krakenimages.com - Shutterstock
(© Krakenimages.com - Shutterstock)

The future of work is now — and the workplace is anywhere we work. Just as many consumers changed their spending and communication behaviors in ways they plan to stick with, employers and employees alike are finding that shifts made in the past year have slowly cemented into sustainable reality. For customer service agents traditionally working in large call centers, that new reality is looking very different.

Key facets of how we work might have been dismissed as impossible barely a year ago. They proved quite possible, quite quickly. Many realities coexist though — some employees suffer in solitude and others appreciate more time with family in the chaos of work, home, school all blended into one togetherness tornado.

That all said, the future of work may be now, but we might also consider it something of a rough draft. We have learned, shall we say, what works, and also what doesn't.

In our recent Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report, we identified some of the pain points that customer service agents and administrators are feeling around workplace issues.

Agents need support

Anywhere we work is our workplace now. Zoom's daily active users skyrocketed from 10 million to 200 million. Half of the support teams we surveyed are fully remote now. This is in line with what's happening at many industry leaders — Dropbox, Spotify, Reddit, Google, Twitter, as well as Zendesk have all instituted some sort of permanent remote or otherwise flexible work options.

There's a concerning trend within this trend — 68% of those surveyed in our CX Trends Report say they're feeling overwhelmed. Harvard Business Review wrote at length about a pandemic of burnout. In their study of 1,500 respondents and 46 countries, 85% said their well-being had declined, and 56% said their job demands had increased.

Remote and hybrid workforces need the same friendly and supportive vibes as a traditional office, even as most to all interactions happen digitally. That's a lot more complicated to create for employees when the humans are scattered, but we must rise to the challenge. Longer-term solutions could include better employee engagement, increased flexibility, and structural changes to workflows according to employees' needs. Our research found that 60% of company leaders say there are plans to give their people more WFH flexibility. This is a huge step that can be instituted now, if it hasn't been already — focus on projects and goals, not an outdated mode of measuring engagement by who's online from 9 to 5.

Agents need the right tools

We have seen big shifts in the past year around how people want to communicate with businesses. Messaging was always going to expand, but it had kind of a supernova. And with the changes in how people communicate with businesses, the heroes on your customer support teams need the right tools to help solve your customers' problems.

Our research found that the vast majority of teams are navigating new tools in the past year. But that doesn't mean everyone has what they need. The research also found that 40% of managers say they don't have the analytics tools they need to measure team success, and 46% of agents lack the tools to successfully work from home. 

This need for the right tools cannot be separated out from the well-being issues. In the HBR study, 55% of all respondents didn't feel that they had been able to balance their home and work life — with 53% specifically citing homeschooling.

The pre-pandemic separation of work and home had benefits, like being able to focus. Although 2% of respondents that HBR study said their lives were "excellent" at this point, the other 98% of us have struggled.

The right tools are no longer a nice-to-have-they are a must have. The right tools mean getting the customer what they need — and also making it as easy as possible for agents to do their job. For some, thriving right now might be too lofty a goal. But at the very least, we must help employees take care of the basics and stay afloat, for their own sake, for the customers, and for the good of the company.