Contact center agents’ brains are fried.
The cause is a production line mentality. Agents hum along like factory workers in an endless queue of customer contacts. Everything is tracked, measured, and evaluated. Efficiency rules.
Multitasking is seen as the key to efficiency. The more you activity you can squeeze into an agent's day, the more efficient you are; or so the thinking goes.
It's rampant among contact center agents. The average agent now uses seven screens to serve customers (source: ICMI).
All this repetitive multitasking leads to a disorder called Directed Attention Fatigue (DAF). Symptoms include distractibility, impatience, and difficulty starting and finishing tasks. Psychologists have described the symptoms as being identical to ADD.
The only known cure for DAF is rest.
That rest can be hard to come by. The noisy break room? Nah. What about one of those new collaboration spaces? Collaboration isn’t rest. How about a conference room? Sorry, there's a meeting in progress.
Some savvy contact centers are giving agents a place of their own called a quiet room to decompress.
What are Quiet Rooms?
These are special rooms specifically set aside for quiet reflection. They give agents a place to stop the rampant multitasking and recharge. Perhaps read a book or listen to some music.
VITAS Healthcare calls their quiet room the Serenity Room. They provide hospice care services, and the Serenity Room was originally designed as a place for Chaplains to provide grief counseling to patient families. When they built their call center, they decided to include a serenity room for their agents.
According to Patient Care Administrator Joann Gawczynski, the serenity room has become a popular place for agents to regroup after a difficult call or to just take a break.
“Our serenity room allows our staff a quiet room to go and relax. They can put on the radio or listen to a CD. It’s set up as a sitting room you may have in your own home.”
A recent ICMI poll found that approximately 50 percent of contact centers have quiet rooms. Couches are popular, but you might find a yoga room or even bunks where agents can catch a few winks.
Rest is Key
Many agents take a break from work but put themselves right back on the multitasking hamster wheel. They pull out their phones and text, chat, like, and play games.
Agents don't just need a break from work. They need a break from multitasking.
That's what makes quiet rooms so useful. Unfortunately, office space is a precious commodity. Not every contact center can designate a whole room for peace and quiet.
Some contact centers take advantage of their outdoor surroundings. Getting out into nature is an effective way to recover from DAF.
The agents at telecommunications company Phone.com hike what is simply known as The Hill. It gets the blood flowing and offers a sweeping view of the surrounding community at the top.
The Hill really gets the team's creative juices flowing. It's even spurred this musical homage from Jeremy Watkin, Phone.com’s Director of Customer Service.
Creating Your Quiet Room
There are four characteristics of a quiet room that can help agents recover from DAF (source: Kaplan, 1995).
Being Away. The environment should feel like an escape from the normal workplace.
Fascination. It should allow for activities that are effortlessly absorbing. Examples including reading a book, working a puzzle, or listening to music. Nature has been shown to be highly effective too.
Extent. The environment should be able to rich enough and large enough to promote sustained rest. In this sense, a Quiet Corner won’t work nearly as well as a Quiet Room.
Compatibility. The space should be compatible with agent decompression. In other words, your agents might love having an Xbox, but saving the world from space aliens won’t make their brains feel any less fried.
I'll admit that the concept of a quiet room seems a bit new-agey. Perhaps too new-agey for senior executives to take seriously.
It might be helpful to consider the payoffs when designing your quiet room.
DAF is a huge cause of agent burnout. If you can prevent DAF, that will lead to better calls, better service, and better agent retention.