Practicing mindfulness has been a popular concept in western society for many years now. Introducing mindfulness in the workplace has become fairly common, especially for corporate leadership teams. These tools are not just for the leadership any more. Successful mindfulness and meditation programs have been integrated at every level in major companies like General Mills, Ford, Aetna, Google and Procter & Gamble, just to name a few. Customer service and contact center staff need the tools to reduce stress, increase focus and productivity, as much, if not more than the average office worker. It is a tough job emotionally. Unfortunately, many of the workplace mindfulness programs available require a commitment to downtime for participation that is just not practical in a contact center situation. The good news is that introducing mindfulness on a smaller scale, in a less intrusive way to the work shift still has a positive impact! Case studies have shown improvement on just about every KPI with the contact centers that simply gave instruction on mindful breathing and encouraged agents to practice it throughout their day. Better metrics, happier customers and more engaged agents are results we all want to know more about. Without doubt, there is a place for some level of mindfulness in your contact center.
Let’s back up for a minute and make sure we are on the same page about what mindfulness is and what it means. There are varying degrees of misconception, not only about what mindfulness is but how accessible it can be. Simply put, mindfulness is focusing on and living in the moment. That’s it. Being here and now, giving attention to this moment in time. Easier said than done. Mindfulness techniques are used to work toward achieving the state of being in the moment and focused on one thing at a time. No one is ever completely mindful 24 hours a day, every day, hence the term “practice”. There are effective and positive benefits to practicing mindful techniques whether you spend hours or merely minutes a day on the process. So, now that we understand what it is, how and why does it belong in your call center?
There are three main ways I have seen the introduction of mindfulness to a team of agents affect positive change:
Retention – Investing in an agent’s EI (Emotional Intelligence) creates a loyalty and desire to excel at their jobs. A small midwestern call center I worked with last year was really struggling with attrition. This was compounded by being in a location with a very limited pool of candidates. It was important that they retain the reps they brought on board and that just wasn’t happening. Only one of three new hires were staying for six months or more. With no sweeping changes, just a little revamp of training and adding mindful techniques, the improvement was almost immediate. Not only during initial training, mindfulness was encouraged and practiced with all reps on the floor as part of the overall culture. Now, at nearly ten months later more than 65% of that group of agents is about to celebrate their one year anniversary with the company. In addition, there has been little or no attrition with existing reps and they are now planning to expand. On a larger scale, a few years ago Bank of America leadership was fraught with staffing issues at all of their many international call centers. After analysis of their practices by an outside firm, changes were implemented that included mindfulness. More importantly, the corporate leadership gained an understanding of how important investing in their employee’s overall emotional health and sense of purpose is to company culture. With minor, inexpensive changes they were able to drop their turnover rate from 40% to 12% globally. The financial benefits to improved retention are undeniable.
Productivity – Within one week of introducing mindfulness to that same small outbound sales call center last year, productivity increased by 17% and they are maintaining it. Absenteeism is as toxic and counter productive to a call center’s productivity as attrition is. In addition to agents being more focused and able to perform at their best, mindfulness creates an overall peace of mind and wellness that decreases call-outs and time away from work. The benefits of a more focused staff can be seen in call length and first call resolution as well. Maneuvering resources for answers becomes a smoother, more efficient task. A clear, balanced mind has better recall and confidence. In addition, a mindfulness practice creates a sense of peace that is no match for the angriest and most difficult of callers to shake. Agents who participate tend to escalate fewer calls and garner higher satisfaction scores than those who do not have the tools.
Customer Satisfaction – Employee satisfaction directly correlates to your customer’s satisfaction. Seems to be obvious, but somehow it has been forgotten or overlooked for much too long in the call center branch of customer service. When an agent practices mindfulness, they learn to balance their breath, their thoughts and their actions. Arguably, the customers who interact with them benefit as much as they do. When the most angry, dissatisfied customer is on the line, a mindful agent is much more likely to be able to diffuse the
situation and calm the customer. A mindful agent is more confident and focused, which naturally translates on the phone. Even when policy challenges them to resolve issues in a different way than a customer may request, the agent’s delivery and “humanness” will often make up for it. Rather than having two frustrated people on a phone call essentially commiserating in their unhappiness, you suddenly find that you have the informed and helpful advocate you always intended to have helping your customer. Mindful agents will connect and form a bond with your customers on a personal level. The decrease in escalations means your customers are not getting transferred and eliminates additional frustration.
In ten years of informally and two years of formally teaching agents mindfulness techniques, I can boldly and honestly say there is no downside to introducing it to your employees. I have seen it completely revolutionize things, transforming a call center in amazing ways. I have also seen it integrated on a small level, added as a tool along with many others. Regardless, the results are always positive. The degree of improvement corresponds to the level of participation. Whether there is a minimal increase in a few KPIs or it becomes the core of your company culture, it proves to be well worth the time and effort to cultivate. – Debi Mongan
Debi Mongan is a tried and proven leader in the Call Center and Customer Service field with over 25 years experience. She is an innovator and has excelled at managing call centers both inbound and outbound, handling sales and customer service. She has held call center management positions in the publishing, E-commerce, professional baseball and travel industries. Debi founded The Mindful Call Center consulting, and is currently dedicated to combining these two worlds and helping Customer Service employees and their companies blossom.