The Year of the Agent

The Year of the Agent

/ People,
The Year of the Agent

Industry research confirms that attention to employee engagement is on the rise.

According to the Chinese tradition and the lunisolar calendar, this is the Year of the Dog. The Chinese New Year coincides with the first day of the Lunar New Year, which this year fell on Friday, February 16th. Of all the 12 different animals that are cyclically associated with each Chinese New Year, I think the Year of the Dog is my favorite.

According to the Chinese horoscope, the Year of the Dog is a good time for a lifestyle change, like quitting a bad habit or moving to a new house, and for starting new business ventures. I started Saddletree Research nearly 20 years ago, so I’m not really up for starting another new business at this point. And I know I have some bad habits I should quit so that could be something, but the biggest reason I like the Year of the Dog is that I like dogs.

I’ve had dogs for most of my adult life, all either rescue or shelter dogs. A rescue dog is one that was a shelter dog that didn’t get adopted and ended up on the shelter’s euthanasia list. Euthanasia lists are usually published by animal shelters on Friday mornings and dog rescue organizations peruse these lists looking for dogs that are adoptable even though they weren’t adopted during their shelter stay. They will then go to the shelter and “rescue” those dogs and try to adopt them out themselves.

I have two rescue dogs and one shelter dog. Just about every day is “Take Your Dog to Work Day” at Saddletree Research. In this picture, rescue dog Friday and shelter dog Copper consult with the CEO after a long day at Saddletree Research global headquarters in Cave Creek, Ariz. My other rescue dog, Skidboot, pulled guard duty in the lobby that day and missed the photo op.

If the contact center industry had its own calendar, I think 2018 would be the Year of the Agent. We started to notice a substantial shift in attitude toward contact center agents and customer service professionals in general during our 2017 research. Each year, Saddletree Research conducts a survey among members of the National Association of Call Centers (NACC), a not-for-profit industry research and membership organization based at Middle Tennessee State University. To test our theory that attention to employee engagement was on the rise, we asked our research participants what their attitude toward employee engagement was. Their responses are illustrated in Figure 1.

Fully 97.9% of respondents indicated that employee engagement held some level of importance in their contact center. This is an overwhelming result, but not entirely unexpected. This research is representative of the industry as a whole with a confidence level of 95% and a margin of error of 3.6%.

I recently came across another industry report about employee engagement; this one was sponsored by Calabrio and focuses on agent wellness in this time of customer-centricity. The Calabrio report, titled “The Health of the Contact Center: Agent Well-Being in a Customer-Centric Era,” confirms what most of us have suspected for a long time and validates much of the data revealed in the results of the 2018 Saddletree Research/NACC survey of end-users. Interviewing over 1,000 contact center agents in the U.S. and the U.K., the Calabrio report doesn’t mince words when it states that many brands still don’t value people on the customer service front line as critical assets in optimizing the customer experience. Furthermore, the research reveals that agents still feel ill-equipped to resolve customer issues and feel disconnected from the rest of the business.

While most vendor-sponsored research today seems to be laser-focused on topics such as bots, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and other esoteric subjects, the Calabrio report gets down into the nitty-gritty of actual contact center operations and the often-overlooked role of agents in the trenches.

“In today’s competitive landscape, customer experience is a differentiator, and contact center agents are a brand’s ambassadors during every single customer interaction. However, many agents are tired, stressed out and poorly equipped to meet customer expectations,” said Tom Goodmanson, president and CEO at Calabrio. “We surveyed 1,000 agents to uncover the true health of today’s contact centers, including agent confidence in the ability to be successful in their jobs, the challenges they face and how technology will dictate the future of the contact center.”

The Calabrio research reports that 25% of all agents feel stressed multiple times each week, and that 12% feel stressed all the time. More than half of contact center staff agree that their company isn’t doing enough to prevent agent teams from burning out. Not surprisingly, 43% of Calabria’s research subjects admit to being unhappy in their contact center roles and 35% are considering leaving their jobs within 12 months.

The 2018 Saddletree Research/NACC research project found that turnover is also seen as a problem by about 87% of North American contact center management, as illustrated in Figure 2.

The Calabrio findings dovetail nicely with the Saddletree Research/NACC findings regarding workforce turnover and the challenge it presents to the contact center. Given the universal acknowledgment of the agent turnover problem by both agents and management, the next logical step is to find a solution.

Goodmanson continues, “Agents are looking for a better employee experience that will help them meet customer expectations. They want a more flexible working environment, better technology, more training and data-driven feedback from their managers.

“Creating loyal customers starts with the contact center and its ability to deliver on the promise of a great customer experience,” said Goodmanson. “It’s clear that companies need a greater focus on people, alongside changes in technology. The goal is to create a path to zero attrition by empowering agents to quickly make informed decisions and deliver on the service their customers expect.”

Agent stress, burnout and turnover has been a problem in the contact center industry for about as long as there has been a contact center industry, and it is a problem that must be addressed. As the Calabrio report points out, we are learning enough about the agent workforce now that the goal of zero attrition is not out of the realm of possibility and certainly deserves further exploration.

We may not be able to have our own Year of the Agent yet, but I believe we are on the cusp of the Era of the Agent. To download the complete Calabrio report, visit

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford served as Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specialized in contact centers & customer service, from 1999-2022.
Twitter: @PaulStockford

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