Preventing Customer Service Burnout: 7 Strategies for Contact Centres

April 29, 2024
customer service burnout

Employee burnout is rife in customer service professionals - especially those working in the contact center industry.

From overwhelming workloads to dealing with rude customers, the role of support agents is notoriously challenging.

It’s why more than half (59%) of call center agents are at risk of burnout, and 87% report high or very high levels of workplace stress.

These statistics are extremely concerning, as agent burnout can make your profits and customer experience suffer just as much as your staff.

With this in mind, it’s imperative that call centers take deliberate steps to avoid burnout by cultivating a supportive and positive work environment.

Not sure where to start? Well, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll cover:

  • Understanding the causes of call center burnout
  • The impact of burnout on agents and contact centers
  • How to prevent customer service burnout: 7 tactics


7 ways to prevent customer service burnout...

  1. Know the signs of burnout: Look out for warning signs of burnout (increased absenteeism, emotional exhaustion, cynicism, decreased empathy, mood swings, reduced productivity, increased errors, and social withdrawal) to intervene early.
  2. Supportive training & coaching: Provide comprehensive training on technical skills, customer communication, stress management, and mental health awareness. Offer ongoing coaching and career development planning.
  3. Empower agents with technology: Equip agents with AI tools such as response suggestions, internal-facing chatbots, message rephrasing, and automated training to reduce workload and boost agent confidence.
  4. Manage workloads and scheduling effectively: Implement smart workload distribution, flexible scheduling, regular breaks, and considerate shift planning. Use real-time analytics for workload adjustments and promote a feedback-oriented culture.
  5. Implement remote or hybrid working: Facilitate remote or hybrid working to save commuting time, improve work-life balance, increase productivity, and reduce office-related stress.
  6. Offer excellent employee benefits: Provide competitive pay/bonuses, flexible working conditions, comprehensive healthcare, and wellness programs. Enhance job satisfaction with professional growth opportunities and reward schemes.
  7. Optimise call center efficiency: Improve operational efficiency with AI/automation, diversified communication channels, and self-service options. This creates a streamlined work environment that makes the role of an agent easier, minimising stress.
efficient contact centre agent

What causes burnout in customer service agents?

Customer service burnout is a significant occupational hazard faced by professionals in the call center industry.

It manifests as a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that results from prolonged exposure to stressful customer interactions and high job demands.

This form of burnout is often characterised by deep fatigue, decreased motivation/engagement, poor mental health, and a cynical attitude towards your job and employers.

Call center agent burnout can be attributed to the following factors...

  • High workloads and constant pressure: Customer service agents often face high interaction volumes and are expected to handle tasks/issues within short time frames. The pressure to meet targets for performance metrics, such as handling times, response times, and resolution rates, can also be intense and exhausting.
  • Emotional labour: The requirement to manage and suppress personal emotions while displaying a calm/professional demeanour during interactions is mentally draining. Agents frequently deal with complaints and frustrated or even aggressive customers. In fact, a worrying 81% of customer service reps report dealing with verbal or emotional abuse from customers on a daily basis.
  • Repetitive and monotonous work: The nature of customer service jobs can be highly repetitive, with agents often addressing the same types of queries or complaints daily. This monotony contributes to a lack of engagement and motivation.
  • Inadequate training and support: Insufficient training on handling complex issues or navigating the company’s systems can leave agents feeling underprepared and unsupported. This situation is compounded if their managerial support lacks both emotional backing and practical assistance.
  • Subpar working conditions: Busy contact centers can be very noisy environments, lacking adequate physical workspace and places to relax/unwind during breaks. Exposure to such conditions can contribute to physical and mental fatigue.
  • Work-life balance issues: Customer service employees are often expected to work long hours and shifts, including nights and weekends, plus mandatory overtime. This lack of flexibility often disrupts personal lives, leading to work-life balance conflicts and poor mental health outcomes.
  • Limited career advancement: A perceived lack of growth opportunities within call centers can impact long-term job satisfaction and morale, leading to burnout among agents who feel stuck in their current roles without progression opportunities.

The cumulative stress of facing these daily challenges can have an extremely detrimental effect on agents’ workplace performance and overall well-being.

happy agents in an efficient contact centre

The impact of burnout on call centres and customer service representatives

The ripple effects of burnout in the contact service industry are far-reaching, impacting not just your employees but also the business as a whole.

The following are some of the most significant consequences of customer service burnout:

  • High staff turnover: Chronic burnout is a major factor in staff turnover. Turnover rates for contact centers range from 26% to 85%, far higher than the average 15% in other industries. The repercussions of this can be severe, from hefty recruitment costs to time spent constantly onboarding/training new hires.
  • Decreased performance: Burned-out workers are estimated to be 13% less productive and are often unable to perform to their best ability. They typically handle fewer customer conversations throughout their shifts and make more mistakes, leading to a decline in overall efficiency.
  • Higher rates of absenteeism: High levels of stress and burnout lead to increased absenteeism rates. Agents might take more sick days due to stress-related illnesses or simply need time off to cope with burnout, disrupting the continuity of service.
  • Poor employee health: Burnout can lead to serious health issues, including physical health problems (e.g. high blood pressure) and mental illnesses (e.g. depression, anxiety). In fact, customer service professionals are one of the most at-risk groups within the employee population, with mental illness rates 2x to 4x higher than any other department in an organisation. This not only harms agents but can also lead to higher healthcare costs for employers.
  • Reduced service quality: Call center burnout often leads to a decline in overall support quality. Agents experiencing burnout will lack the energy and motivation required to resolve customer issues efficiently and effectively, leading to poor customer service and increased churn.
  • A toxic working environment: Burnout contributes to a toxic working environment, where negativity, disengagement, and conflict become more common. This toxicity can spread, affecting even those employees not experiencing burnout, further deteriorating the workplace culture and reducing overall team performance.
  • Increased operational costs: All of these factors - increased turnover, reduced productivity, higher absenteeism, etc. - translate into substantial financial costs for your business. The expense of managing the consequences of burnout costs UK businesses around £700 million per year.

It’s clear that the fallout of employee burnout can be devastating for businesses and the call center customer experience.

As such, preventing it is paramount in maintaining a workplace that’s healthy, productive, profitable, and sustainable.

happy support agent and happy customers

How to prevent burnout in your customer service team: 7 tactics

While the effects of customer service burnout are undoubtedly detrimental, the good news is that it can be proactively addressed and prevented.

Below, we’ll provide 7 tactics that can be implemented to eliminate the risk of contact center burnout.

1. Know the signs of customer service burnout

Knowing and recognising the signs of customer service burnout is vital in preventing it.

Early detection allows for timely intervention, which can mitigate or even reverse the effects of burnout before they become severe.

Burnout in customer service workers can manifest in various ways. The following are some common signs to watch out for:

  • Increased sick days: As we mentioned earlier, burnout usually leads to higher rates of absenteeism. A burnt-out agent will often start taking more sick days as a way to escape the stress of their job.
  • Emotional exhaustion: This is often the most visible sign of burnout. Agents may appear tired, overwhelmed, lethargic, or generally lacking in motivation and energy.
  • Chronic cynicism: Agents may develop a negative attitude towards the job, displaying constant cynicism about work tasks or a pronounced lack of enthusiasm.
  • A decline in empathy: Burnt-out agents may show less patience and empathy towards customers, leading to poor customer service, increased customer complaints, and unresolved issues.
  • General mood changes: Sudden changes in mood or temperament, such as irritability or short temper (especially in typically calm individuals), are a significant red flag.
  • Reduced productivity: An agent’s work output might decline noticeably as they begin to feel the stress of burnout.
  • Increased error rates: A rise in mistakes during interactions, data entry errors, or failure to adhere to company processes can indicate that an agent is struggling to concentrate due to burnout.
  • Withdrawal: Agents experiencing burnout typically withdraw from participation in workplace activities and social events, isolating themselves from their colleagues.

Make sure your supervisors, other management staff, and HR teams are aware of these common warning signs.

It’s important that they’re trained not only to detect changes in behaviour that signify future burnout but also how to handle these changes and offer support to agents.

You might consider running workshops for management personnel to teach them the necessary skills for identifying and handling cases of burnout.

agents working in a call centre

2. Provide supportive training & coaching

Effective training and coaching go a long way in buffering the stress that leads to agent burnout.

It achieves this by arming agents with the knowledge and confidence they need to perform their jobs effectively and manage stress, laying the groundwork for a thriving workforce.

To prevent customer service burnout through training/coaching, it’s important to design a program that not only covers the skills necessary for the job but also emphasises emotional resilience and supportive practices.

Here’s an overview of key things to include:

  • Technical skills training: A comprehensive understanding of your business' offerings, mastery of the software and tools you use for customer interactions, and clarity on company policies and procedural standards.
  • Customer interaction training: Communication techniques, both verbal and non-verbal, conflict resolution skills, active listening and demonstrating empathy, strategies for handling confrontation and navigating difficult conversations.
  • Stress management training: Coping strategies for managing stress effectively through methods like mindfulness, resilience techniques, deep breathing, or temporary disengagement.
  • Mental health awareness training: Education on identifying personal and peer signs of burnout, information on available mental health resources and how to access them for support.
  • Ongoing supportive coaching: Regular constructive feedback sessions and guidance, realistic goal-setting, personalised coaching sessions that address the unique or role-specific challenges faced by individual agents.
  • Career Development Planning: Growth opportunities and clear pathways for career advancement to motivate and engage employees.
  • Skills enhancement training: Opportunities for further training and skill development to broaden agents’ capabilities and interests.
  • Team-based training: Group training activities, workshops, and team-building exercises that foster a supportive learning environment.
  • Self-management training: Teaching agents time management skills, multi-tasking, and how to prioritise tasks effectively.

By empowering agents with supportive training and coaching, contact centers can prevent burnout by creating a more resilient workforce and a better employee experience.

team of contact centre agents

3. Empower agents with AI tools & technology

One powerful way to prevent burnout is giving your customer service reps the right AI tool and technology.

This is because artificial intelligence can alleviate burnout by making customer service interactions much easier to manage.

It achieves this by streamlining tasks and providing real-time assistance, reducing agents’ cognitive load and enabling them to perform better and faster.

As well as taking some of the pressure off of agents, AI tools also enable faster and higher-quality service for your customers.

By investing in AI technology for agents, you’ll ensure your customer service teams feel empowered, supported, and able to carry out their roles to their best ability.

With Talkative, you can empower your customer support agents with the following AI features…

AI Knowledge Bases

AI Knowledge bases transform the way agents answer customer queries during live chat conversations.

They work by allowing you to create AI knowledge bases by importing web page URLs from your company site and file-based content.

Once set up, the AI uses your knowledge base dataset and the interaction context to generate relevant response suggestions for each customer message.

Agents can choose to instantly send the suggestion back to the customer or edit it themselves before sending it.

AI knowledge base responses

AI Agent Copilot

The above AI Knowledge Base response suggestions are one component of our AI Agent Copilot suite.

Powered by OpenAI and your knowledge base datasets, this feature is a set of AI tools designed to improve response speed and quality.

In addition to response suggestions, Agent Copilot also provides 'Navi', an internal-facing chatbot that acts as a personal AI assistant for agents.

Navi answers agent questions using the current interaction context and your knowledge base content, eliminating the need for agents to search for information manually.

Lastly, Agent Copilot also offers an AI Autocomplete capability that can predict and complete agent messages, decreasing typing time and facilitating faster replies.

AI Agent Rephrases

AI Agent Rephrases work by offering improved or revised versions of agent messages during live chat interactions.

This means that, instead of having your agents manually edit and proofread each live chat message themselves before sending it, generative AI does all the work for them.

Agents can even choose a preferred tone/style (better spelling/grammar, longer, shorter, friendlier, or more professional) for the rephrases.

AI agent message rephrases

AI Agent Training Simulator

Our Agent Training Simulator revolutionises staff training by allowing agents to engage in virtual simulations of customer service interactions.

Once set up, the AI acts as a customer would in a specified scenario, allowing your agents to interact with it as they would in a real-life live chat conversation.

This not only accelerates the onboarding/training process for new hires but also empowers existing agents to upskill or improve their abilities autonomously.

AI agent training simulator

4. Manage workloads and scheduling effectively

Effective workload management/scheduling is crucial for preventing burnout as it directly influences stress levels and overall job satisfaction.

When workloads and staff schedules are properly managed, employees are less likely to feel overwhelmed by their duties, which is a significant factor contributing to burnout.

Case in point, statistics indicate that employees are 32% less likely to feel burnt out when leadership assists with workload management.

A balanced volume of work helps ensure that agents are not operating beyond their capacity, thereby maintaining both mental and physical health.

Here are several strategies that can be used to improve workload management;

  • Utilise intelligent routing: Leverage chat routing technology to evenly distribute interactions and match customers with the most suitable agent/team. This will not only balance workloads but also ensure customers receive timely assistance from the most qualified personnel.
  • Flexible scheduling: Offer varied options for work schedules, such as flexitime shifts, part-time roles, staggered hours, compressed workweeks, and/or shift rotation. This flexibility gives agents more autonomy and helps them achieve a better work-life balance.
  • Regular breaks: Give agents sufficient scheduled breaks throughout shifts and ensure they always take them. Regular breaks help reduce mental fatigue and contribute to stress management. If possible, provide calm and comfortable spaces within your contact center that agents can use for relaxation during breaks.
  • Monitor and adjust workloads: Continuously monitor workloads using real-time analytics tools (e.g. Talkative’s Supervisor Dashboard) to prevent overload. If certain agents are being overburdened with too many interactions or complex cases, adjustments should be made to redistribute tasks more evenly.
  • Workload variety: Providing employees with more variety in their work can prevent monotony and boost job satisfaction/engagement. Give agents the option to handle interactions across a range of customer contact channels other than voice calls (e.g. live chat, video chat, social media) and rotate repetitive tasks where possible.
  • Consider agent needs: When scheduling shifts, make sure your managers consider agent preferences and life commitments (e.g. childcare). It's important that you try to accommodate these needs/preferences whenever possible.
  • Real-time assistance: Provide live support for new agents or those handling challenging cases. This could be in the form of internal messaging with supervisors (i.e. supervisor whisper) or real-time monitoring during customer interactions.
  • Make overtime optional: Mandatory overtime can be a huge contributor to workload stress and burnout. Establish policies that make overtime hours optional rather than mandatory and ensure that agents who do opt for overtime are compensated appropriately.
  • Feedback and open dialogue: Foster an environment where agents can provide feedback on their schedules and workloads without fear of reprisal. Ensure agents know they can speak up when they feel overwhelmed and ask their peers or supervisors for support. Consider giving agents the option to submit feedback anonymously. Use any feedback provided to make improvements and adjustments to scheduling practices.

By implementing these strategies, contact centers can create a more balanced and supportive work environment that prevents agent overwhelm, improves job engagement, and maintains great customer service.

managing agent workload with routing

5. Implement remote or hybrid working

Thanks to the rise of cloud-based call center technology, remote working has become a viable option for call center employees.

Hybrid or remote working arrangements can be a significant factor in preventing agent burnout by offering greater flexibility and autonomy.

In fact, according to 75% of HR professionals, allowing remote or hybrid working is one of the most effective ways to avoid workplace burnout.

When call center agents have the choice to work remotely or split their time between home and the workplace, they benefit in the following ways:

  • Time and money saved from less commuting.
  • A much better work-life balance.
  • Easier management of personal responsibilities like childcare and household tasks.
  • Reduced exposure to workplace distractions, leading to increased focus and productivity.
  • Improved mental health and well-being.
  • The ability to create and customise a personal working environment in the comfort of their own home.
  • A more positive employee experience that’s tailored to individual preferences.
  • An escape from the contact center environment and office politics, giving agents more space to recharge and practice self-care.

Overall, remote or hybrid working arrangements help contact centers improve agent job satisfaction and mitigate many factors that commonly lead to burnout.

This flexibility also leads to a more committed and loyal workforce, as employees feel supported by their employer’s consideration of their personal needs alongside business objectives.

woman working from home on laptop

6. Offer excellent employee benefits

One straightforward way to mitigate burnout is to ensure that employees feel adequately compensated, appreciated, and rewarded for their efforts.

Contact centers can offer a range of job benefits aimed at creating a better employee experience and preventing burnout. These include:

  • Flexible working: As we’ve covered, offering options such as remote work, hybrid models, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks can help employees balance their work and personal lives more effectively.
  • Competitive compensation and bonuses: Providing competitive salaries along with performance-based bonuses and incentives can motivate employees and free them from financial stress/worries. Remember, you will have to generate a salary pay stub for each agent as well.
  • Healthcare: Comprehensive health insurance or private healthcare schemes (including access to therapy and other mental health services) can support employees' overall health and well-being. Wellness programs that promote healthy living, such as gym memberships or wellness app subscriptions, can also be beneficial.
  • Annual leave: Generous holiday allowance and personal days allow employees to rest and recharge, which is critical for preventing burnout.
  • Social events: Organising and funding social events such as team outings/activities, holiday parties, and other get-togethers outside of work can foster a sense of community and belonging among employees. These events allow team members to let their hair down and build stronger relationships with coworkers, boosting morale and reducing stress.
  • Professional growth opportunities: Offering access to courses and certifications can help employees grow professionally and feel more engaged/valued.
  • Recognition and rewards: Implementing employee reward/recognition schemes that celebrate successes and milestones can boost morale and encourage a positive workplace culture (e.g. employee of the month).
  • Ergonomic workspaces: Whether at home or in the office, providing ergonomic furniture and equipment prevents physical strain and discomfort. This improves agent working conditions, facilitating job satisfaction and optimal performance.
  • Childcare support: Benefits like childcare reimbursements or partnerships with local childcare providers can be particularly valuable for parents in the workforce.
  • Transportation allowances: For those who commute to the office, benefits like subsidised parking or the ability to claim travel expenses can reduce daily stress and commuting costs.

In addition to mitigating burnout, these benefits will help you reduce staff turnover and make the daily challenges of customer service work more bearable.

You’ll also improve your company image and reputation from a worker perspective, meaning you’ll have your pick of the best candidates when it comes to hiring new staff.

smiling support agent on customer call in contact centre

7. Optimise contact centre efficiency

Maintaining contact center efficiency is an essential part of preventing agent burnout and providing a positive employee experience.

After all, you can’t expect agents to thrive in their roles if your call center operations are a mess.

Operational efficiency ensures that your customer service systems and workflows are optimised, enabling agents to handle tasks/interactions smoothly and effectively.

A lack of efficiency will result in roadblocks, excessive workloads, and a chaotic working environment, creating unnecessary stress and difficulties for call center agents.

Contact center efficiency can be improved with the following tactics:

  • Monitor performance: Track and analyse metrics such as average handling time, first-contact resolution rates, average response time, and CSAT scores. This allows you to assess performance, identify and repair bottlenecks, reward high performers, and improve overall efficiency/productivity.
  • Diversify support channels: Expand your customer communication channels beyond traditional phone calls to include other options like live chat, video calls, SMS, email, etc. This helps to reduce call volume and wait times while also allowing customers to engage using their preferred platforms.
  • Implement chatbots: AI chatbots can be used to automate customer support queries and tasks, effectively saving time and reducing agent workloads.
  • Leverage AI & automation: Utilise AI customer service and automation tools (e.g. chatbots and virtual assistants, AI reporting/analytics, IVR systems, etc.) to speed up processes and streamline support.
  • Encourage customer self-service: Promote the use of your chatbot, self-service portal, and website knowledge base. These resources empower customers to resolve their problems independently, decreasing the number of cases requiring human intervention.

Ultimately, an efficient and well-managed call center lays the foundation for happy and productive agents. Without this, your agents will always be at risk of burnout.

agent being helped by AI and automation

The takeaway

The impact of agent burnout extends far beyond the individual. It affects service quality, contact center performance, and the overall success of a business.

Fortunately, it can be prevented.

By implementing the strategies in this article, you can cultivate a workplace culture in which support agents can flourish.

In turn, you’ll reap the benefits of a happier and more productive workforce. You’ll also improve business outcomes and optimal customer service as a result.

But, if you want to get the best results from these tactics, you also need to equip your agents with the best technology to help them in their roles.

That’s where Talkative comes in.

Our solution comes with a range of tools designed to help and empower your customer service team, including:

  • AI Agent Copilot, AI Message Rephrases, and customisable canned messages to improve the speed and quality of live chat support.
  • Advanced, automated training with our AI interaction simulator to help agents improve their skills and confidence.
  • GenAI chatbots that reduce agent workloads by giving customers automated support and self-service.
  • Real-time translation technology to assist agents communicating with a diverse customer base.
  • Real-time support for agents via supervisor monitoring and internal messaging during customer interactions.

We also provide a suite of digital customer support channels - including live chat, web calling, video chat, cobrowse, social messaging, and AI chatbots.

You can even pick and choose the channels, capabilities, and integrations you need - allowing you to tailor our solution to your specific business needs.

Want to learn more? Book a demo with Talkative today, and check out our interactive product tour.

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