The Mental Health of Customer Service Agents - the insights from our report

13 May 2024

4.5 min read

Given it's Mental Health Awareness Week, we thought we should take a look at Mental Health in customer service.

For an ecommerce brand, much of the success of the customer experience rides on frontline customer service agents. For all the improvements brands can make in UX, logistics, or payment systems, one bad conversation with a customer service agent can undo all the good work and tarnish your reputation with that customer. 

It’s hardly controversial to say that happier employees tend to perform better than unhappy ones. But for any doubters, there is a growing wealth of evidence that happier agents can actually help brands sell more. So what can leaders do to look after and support their team members’ mental health.

To understand a bit more, we asked over 500 customer service agents working in retail for their perspective, and what some of the major factors that affect their mental health are. But here are some of the key insights we took. 

Read the report here to see what actions that brands need to take, and see what brands like yours are doing. But in the meantime, here are some of the insights we found.

Customer wait time has an impact on employee mental health

One thing that it would seem that a brand cannot control for is the behaviour of their customers. Put frankly, if a customer decides to be difficult (or just an asshole), that will make all but the most thick-skinned agents feel worse about themselves.

However, in this case prevention is better than the cure. Finding ways to stop customers from getting so upset would go a long way to making things easier. 

With that in mind, 69% of the respondents to our survey said that long customer wait time has an impact on their mental health. If brands can target first response time, resolution time and otherwise speed up the process, agents can see improvements. 

Managing spikes in ticket volume can help employees feel better

We all know the feeling of arriving into work and knowing that today will be a tougher day than normal. For agents, that feeling can set in as soon as they see the number of tickets outstanding for the day, or what their allocation is.

59% of our respondents said that they felt worse when they saw a significantly higher than average ticket volume at the start of the day. Much like the mood of customers, this feels like something that brands have little control over. After all, some spikes are anticipated, but many are not.

However, what can be predicted is the type of questions that make up a spike – “Where is my order” and variants, product quality issues, returns, discount codes not working – so if brands can find ways to address these issues without having to pass them to a human agent, then they can protect their agents. 

In terms of making outstanding ticket numbers visible and stopping this from happening – there is a degree of dispute, with some leaders keen to hide this information from their team, while others are happy to share it. The conclusion from agents, was that the majority like to know this information, but it wasn’t overwhelming - there was around a 2/3rds to a 1/3rd split. 

There needs to be a balance of quality and quantity of work

While agents were generally not a fan of targets in terms of ticket numbers, one thing that was clear was that agents preferred to have to deal with fewer, more complex tickets, than lots of repetitive tickets.

We sometimes hear from leaders in the contact center space that agents like to start their day by getting a few easy tickets out of the way as a warm up. That may be true for some, but for a brand this is an expensive way to handle an “easy” ticket. 

For a customer as well, having to wait until a human agent is free to answer an “easy” question is not a great experience as it slows down the process. Far better to solve these issues through self-service or automation. 

AI has a major role in improving agents’ mental health

Artificial Intelligence divides people into enthusiasts and the fearful. One of the main reasons cited for AI scepticism in AI is that it would replace agents’ jobs. Press releases touting how many people', such as this one from Klarna, don’t do much to help matters. 

However, faced with a growing number of customer service tickets, brands need ways to increase capacity, and it’s simply not scalable to keep hiring while looking to keep margins low. Similarly, outsourcing vasts amounts of customer service tickets during peak times can be wildly inefficient if you underestimate the number of tickets you get. 

AI on the other hand can be helping agents all year round. By giving quick and detailed responses, customers can be placated until their issue is solved. But more than that, AI can actually get to the bottom of many common issues and actually solve them without an agent getting involved.

This has the knock on effect of reducing the volume of tickets agents have to deal with, shortening customer wait time, and ensuring that agents have tickets that are worthy of their skillset. 

Read the full report to see our full recommendations for customer service teams.

Let’s be realistic: AI is not a magic wand that will suddenly make an unhappy workforce happy. But it can help to reduce the effect of some of the stressors that make customer service agents.

To discuss how AI can help your existing team, speak to us today.