Americans quit their jobs at record rates through 2021: 4 million in April, 4.2 million in October, 4.5 million in November. All told, 47.4 million people handed in their resignation letter last year — nearly one-third of the entire workforce.
The newly unemployed reported a myriad of reasons for their decision: toxic culture, job insecurity, reorganization, lack of employee recognition, poor response to the pandemic, the list goes on. These drivers aren't new. They've been festering through the pandemic — and that's sort of the problem.
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, people battened down the hatches. Tens of millions of people had lost their jobs and those who kept theirs were grateful for it. But as the situation stabilized and the economy began to rebound, the floodgates opened, unleashing a tidal wave of pent-up frustration.
But the Great Resignation didn't hit all fields and functions equally. While airlines lost just 5% of their staff, apparel retail experienced an eye-watering 19% attrition rate. If that sounds high, just wait until you hear about the worst-hit functions. In customer service and support, more than 70% of agents have considered quitting in the past six months.
Why support and service agents are so prepared to quit is a complex question. In many ways, they sit at the epicenter of the crisis, both personally enduring the turmoil and professionally bearing the brunt of ongoing disruption. In order to help support agents cope during this difficult period, we have to first understand these pressures in detail.
A perfect storm for support
The COVID-19 pandemic was tough for everyone. But the disruption hasn't been uniform. While some have been lucky enough to continue near to business-as-usual, contact centers have not.
The joint healthcare and economic crisis was something of a perfect storm for customer service and support, heaping immense emotional and greater professional burdens on frontline staff. There are three key dimensions to highlight:
Remote work transformation. Since their conception in the 1960s, contact centers have operated as *physical*business units. Team leaders relied on floor walks to monitor calls. Managers used informal one-to-ones for impromptu coaching. Because they were surrounded by colleagues, agents naturally overheard innovative approaches and picked up tips. The pandemic led to a rapid transformation to distributed work.
Call volume peaks and troughs. The pandemic drove extreme change in contact center call volumes with 41% of businesses reporting higher call volumes. Some industries — home services (+92%), senior care (+77%), and financial services (+45%) —were particularly hard hit. These weren't simply more of the same calls, either. The pandemic wreaked havoc across settled industries. When family members called into care homes or customers contacted their HVAC installer, they brought complex questions and emotionally-charged queries.
Staff shortages. Despite increasing call volumes and growing call complexity, contact center headcounts aren't increasing. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to one call center president, there are approximately 25% fewer contact center agents than before the pandemic due to cutbacks and a lack of remote working resources.
Considering that contact center workers are being asked to do significantly more with fewer resources, while simultaneously navigating a once-in-a-generation healthcare-economic crisis, it's not surprising that many are thinking about leaving. Indeed, it's surprising that so many are still here.
To avoid the imminent support worker exodus, you need to act now.
But what should you do?
How can companies support their support staff?
The simple answer is: Hire more people. But with a brutal market for talent and already tight budgets, that's not always an option. Besides, it's not an infinitely scalable tactic.
Most businesses will hit a point of diminishing returns where throwing more people at the problem stops returning results. To build a sustainable contact center, you need a *technological*approach. Specifically, you need technology that augments your agents' performance and empowers customers to self-serve.
"Migrating customers to self-service is long overdue and will alleviate cost and employee pressures, but simply adding more channels or functionality will have the opposite effect," said Devin Poole, senior director analyst in the Gartner Customer Service and Support Practice. "Instead, service leaders should focus their attention and investments on the end-to-end resolution journey and migrate key contact types to self-service channels. This has proven to drive more cost-effective customer behaviors while maintaining the service experience."
Technology like AI-powered site search (which agents can leverage!) tackles that end-to-end experience. It's not an isolated fix. Instead, it transforms your entire frontline support.
Improved help site search and case form defection both allow customers to solve their queries *before*they hit submit on a contact form. Developer doc search delivers relevant search results from in-depth articles for technical support. And when a customer really needs to talk to an agent, Yext Answers keeps helping.
Agent desktop search acts as an external brain. Instead of expecting agents to know everything about everything, we put searchable institutional knowledge at their fingertips, helping agents resolve cases in record time.
Your support agents need your help — now
We're not out of the pandemic just yet. Even when COVID-19 becomes a thing of the past, it'll leave immense disruption behind. With pressures high and demand unrelenting, we have to think about how best to support our people. That means looking at how the crisis has affected specific fields and functions. Contact center staff are under unique pressures. After two years, they're hurtling toward burnout at an alarming pace.
But we have the technology to shoulder more of the burden, help agents to work faster, and empower customers to self-serve.
All you need to do is seize the opportunity.