How to Identify and Prevent Customer-Facing Employee Burnout

Giving customer-facing employees the support, flexibility, and tools that they need to do their jobs well is the most important step insurers can take to reduce burnout.

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The Great Resignation is impacting employers in many industries. Insurance has had its fair share of changes. According to a study by the Jacobson Group, 56 percent of insurers are looking to increase staff in 2022. And yet insurers face a 30 percent, three-month turnover among customer-facing employees. The numbers clearly underscore the industry’s predicament.

Addressing rising levels of dissatisfaction among younger workers also is a challenge. The Deloitte Global 2022 Gen Z and Millennial survey finds that “four in 10 Gen Zs and nearly a quarter of millennials would like to leave their jobs within two years, and roughly a third would do so without another job lined up, signaling significant dissatisfaction levels.”

Customer-facing employees in any industry are under constant pressure. They must interact with people who may be upset, demand some kind of action, or need information immediately. They must be polite and empathetic, often in the face of verbal abuse. And they must be able to think quickly and have a good rate of success in resolving problems. If that’s not stressful enough, their calls frequently are monitored and evaluated by supervisors.

It’s no surprise, then, that organizations struggle to retain customer-facing workers. McKinsey concludes that most customer support centers “experience average annual turnover rates of up to 60 percent.” In 2021, jobs site listed customer service reps among 12 jobs with the highest turnover.

Burnout is a major cause of turnover in high-stress, fast-paced customer-facing jobs. And few customer-facing jobs are as stressful as those serving the insurance industry. Clients rarely call a contact center to gush about how great their coverage is. They’re far more likely to be reaching out for help with issues ranging from vexing questions about auto insurance liability to needing insurance funds immediately to cope with life-changing disasters such as a house fire or an accident.

These clients may be shocked, impatient, or stricken with grief. Dealing with emotional and sometimes frustrated customers shift after shift can be debilitating and demoralizing for these customer-facing employees – particularly if they lack the training or tools to support them in their jobs.

The High Cost of Turnover

When a customer-facing employee quits a job, insurers take a financial hit. McKinsey estimates attrition costs organizations from $10,000 to $20,000 per customer-support employee.

The costs of losing a customer-support worker extend beyond recruiting and training replacements. When customer-support operations are understaffed, it creates more work for remaining staffers. This dynamic typically results in lower morale and performance, which can lead to longer waits and a lower level of satisfaction for customers.

Failure to resolve customer problems and delays in supplying answers and information have a negative impact on the customer experience. Inevitably, this results in customer attrition and brand damage. Left unchecked, this insidious cycle can play out indefinitely.

Conversely, customer-facing support employees who are satisfied with their jobs are four times more likely to stay with their organizations for at least a year compared to workers who are unhappy, according to McKinsey.

Recognizing Burnout

The best way for insurers to deal with burnout among customer-facing support workers is to prevent it—or, at the very least, recognize it in its earliest stages. Successfully combating burnout would benefit insurers in several ways.

First, it would reduce attrition and the costs of replacing and training employees. Second, it would improve customer-support performance across the board, which would help boost customer satisfaction. Finally, by retaining workers longer, insurers create more opportunities for themselves to leverage talent by promoting from within—a far less expensive way to fill positions than recruiting external candidates.

There are a number of signs that may indicate customer-facing insurance employees are burning out:

  • Workers may be less engaged or uninvolved in employee appreciation activities such as team lunches or happy hours.
  • They appear to be less motivated and less focused on the job.
  • Their productivity is declining (taking fewer calls or longer to resolve issues).
  • They are short-tempered with clients and colleagues.
  • They are more vocally negative about their job, employer, colleagues and customers.
  • They prematurely escalate cases to supervisors, indicating less determination and willingness to help clients. 

Tools and Tips for Decreasing Burnout

Giving customer-facing employees the support, flexibility, and tools that they need to do their jobs well is the most important step insurers can take to reduce burnout. These include:

Providing challenges and opportunities for growth. Customer-facing jobs can be lonely and leave workers feeling unnoticed and unappreciated. Rather than have these workers perform the same rote functions day after day and night after night, insurers should give them tasks that are challenging yet manageable. This will help keep employees interested while giving them a sense of growth and accomplishment. No one wants to feel as if they’re in a dead-end position.

Using gamification as a motivator and to make the job more fun. Healthy competition among employees and teams of workers has been proven effective in increasing engagement and productivity. After all, who doesn’t want to be at the top of the leaderboard? Games can be coupled with rewards programs that offer recognition to top performers. Gamification vendors can be highly effective partners of insurers in ongoing programs to boost morale and performance.

Offering a Work from Home (WFH) option, if possible. Some insurers are reluctant to allow customer-facing workers to do their jobs from home. But it may be advisable to at least slowly introduce WFH to determine its impact on productivity and worker retention.

Giving employees the tools they need to do their jobs well. There are several technologies that can help insurance customer-support workers be more effective in helping clients. Among them:

  • AI-based agent assist. Insurance customer-support employees are under a lot of pressure to help people who have questions or concerns regarding their coverage, payments, and other issues. Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), natural language processing (NLP) and other smart technologies allow agents to quickly resolve customer issues by proactively providing workers with next best-action recommendations for each stage of a live call or digital chat. These tools also can conduct sentiment analysis to provide cues for employees to respond to clients in the most empathetic way based on contextual recommendations. This enables genuine human interaction that increases job satisfaction.
  • Automation of repetitive tasks. When support workers are trying to help a customer in real-time with an issue related to their coverage, they don’t need to get bogged down with simple but necessary tasks such as opening a new case or pulling up an existing account. Integrating automation can ease the burden of manual tasks for workers, allowing them to focus on more complex tasks and on the client they’re trying to assist.
  • Self-help features for customer Similarly, automation can be used by insurance organizations to provide self-help options to clients. These types of tools not only streamline the support process, but they also offer customers an opportunity to be self-sufficient.
  • An integrated, user-friendly interface. A poorly designed interface can slow down and frustrate insurance support workers as they try to navigate through multiple screens and apps while trying to help a customer in real time. Rather than being forced to bounce from screen to screen, workers should be furnished with easily navigable interfaces that integrate multichannel data.
  • “Train up” agents to the level of your highest performers. AI/ML can be used to raise the quality of support provided by all employees across the support center by learning the techniques of the insurer’s top customer support performers and standardizing them for training and during interactions with client This also enables insurers to provide agents with continuous training and feedback.


The cascading effects of employee burnout on insurers can cause damage to morale, efficiency, finances, brand image and customer loyalty. Intelligent, cloud-based customer support technologies—coupled with initiatives such as gamification and recognition programs—can reduce burnout and attrition by allowing customer-facing employees to focus on helping people.

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Ilya Filipov // As director of industry strategy for insurance, Ilya Filipov brings more than 15 years of insurance and financial services experience to Talkdesk. He has held leadership roles in most facets of insurance, including sales, product, customer service, process engineering, marketing, strategy, digital transformation, finance and investments, underwriting, M&A, and legal and compliance. Prior to joining Talkdesk, he spent five years with Westfield Insurance, a super-regional carrier based in Northeast Ohio. At Westfield, Filipov managed the company’s strategy in personal lines, middle market, surety, and small commercial. Prior to Westfield, he served Western & Southern Financial Group, Cincinnati, Ohio, starting in an executive development role. There, he held a variety of responsibilities in life insurance, sales and marketing, insurance operations, and investments. A native of North Macedonia, and based out of Cleveland, Ohio, Filipov received his MBA from the University of Notre Dame and his BSc from the University of Arizona.

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