Managing Customer Service Stress

“To be a champion, you have to learn to handle stress and pressure. But if you’ve prepared mentally and physically, you don’t have to worry.” – Harvey Mackay

Everyone faces some amount of stress irrespective of the stage of life, position, occupation, age – there is a point when stress seems to overpower and overwhelm. We are focusing here on customer service and anyone who has ever worked in this area will tell you, passionately may I add, that customer service is a highly stressful job. Managing customer service stress will allow the agents to keep in control, remain healthy and handle pressure situations much better. We all know that any kind of excessive pressure that is placed on us and is not handled well is bound to have serious negative effects. It has been seen that in the workplace stress leads to high attrition, absenteeism, reduced efficiency, increased friction between teams and team members and extreme dissatisfaction with everything related to work, which many times spills over to family life as well. Stress is known to give rise to physical and mental illnesses as well.

Given that customer service staff deal with situations that are high pressure they are more prone and vulnerable to stress. Customer interactions in large numbers are attended to daily – irate customers, incessant ringing of phones, queuing up of calls and queries, pile up of emails and now also managing customers via social media. Stress in the customer service realm is not a maybe – it is part of the job and in most companies is written down as part of the job description – “ability to deal with high stress levels”! There is no magic formula or pill for the stress to go away. The truth is that customer service staff cannot just wish away these stressful situations and people, but they can manage their thoughts and reactions to these. This is what managing customer service stress is about – managing how they react. The good news is there are ways and means to control reactions and keep stress at bay. Within the work environment too, we see that some people remain unflustered and resilient in the face of the highest pressured situations while others simply crumble at the slightest hint of a pressure situation or person.

If you are the lucky few who can smile through these situations – you can stop reading now. For those of you, who find it hard to negotiate stress read on. Most stress is caused by extraneous situations and so most often not the fault of the agent handling it. This makes it even tougher to manage as you are at the receiving end of an unreasonable, frustrated or even very angry customer who is unwilling to listen. The kind of stress from dealing with difficult situations daily for a number of hours can be overwhelming and ultimately burn the agents out due to stress. Office politics, tough team members and demanding bosses compound this situation leading to further frustration. Managers and leaders should be especially mindful of these circumstances and monitor the teams and agents for signs of stress: irritable employees, sudden rise in customer complaints regarding curt behavior, too many leaves of absence, surge in the number of agents falling ill and general friction within the teams due to low morale and blaming each other.

It is important that stress is kept to the minimum and if there seems to be an environment built up of stress, it needs to be dissipated for the agents to provide great customer service. Managers can re-look at strategies and processes of the teams and adjust them accordingly by:
– Redistributing and lightening workloads
– Energizing the work environment by team building activities
– Provide adequate training so that the agents are more in control of their jobs
– Team building activities, recognition and providing support must be encouraged
– Strict dealing with unacceptable behavior and pesky employees
– Reiteration of the job function and helping each agent with the necessary support – technology, morale boosting
– Rotate jobs so that agents feel encouraged and energized to work on something new. A reasonable challenge is always welcome and rejuvenating

Customer service agents too must be aware of their work environment and alterations to their physical and emotional well-being. Managing customer service stress is every individual agent’s responsibility as well. They must understand that:

– A frustrated customer is vexed for reasons that are not personal to you. They are probably very harassed and very upset – imagine yourself in their situation. They are often so harried that they do not even know the effect their ire is having on the agent. All they need is someone who will listen, understand and ensure that their problem is resolved. If as a customer service agent you behave as a sponge and soak in everything, you are bound to suffer from stress. De-personalize the barrage because you know that the outburst is sometimes exaggerated and once the customer has vent, they will be calm enough to listen to what you to say. Remain courteous and genuinely empathetic.

– Sometimes a customer who has called you before in a mild and relaxed tone, calls back extremely irate. You would need to realize that something has triggered this response and its most probably emanating from the company or brand you represent. Keep your cool, apologize for the inconvenience in a pleasant tone without a rote script and soon you will find that this customer is nicer than when they called earlier.

– Remember a customer is not calling or showing temper simply because they have nothing better to do. There is something that has stirred this reaction – an unmet need, a failed promise – from your company. Listen attentively and focus on what can be done to clear up any misunderstanding and resolve the customer’s problem. When customers perceive that someone is listening to them, they are more than willing to sort matters out calmly.

– Before sitting down to start your day, ensure that you understand what your day could entail. Keep that mirror before you so that you remember to keep smiling. Remember that there will be customers who will push you to your limits of patience, but you are in this job wilfully and it is required that you remain courteous and professional. If as an agent you lose your cool, efficiency will drop and there will be a higher number of customers who are dissatisfied at the end of the day. Whenever you have ended a particularly stressful call or interaction, take a few minutes to speak with someone or grab a nice hot beverage.

– As your control over such situations increase, you will find that you remain in good mood till the end of your work day. More such days will increase your efficiency and get you better at your job and in managing customer service stress.

– If you feel that your workload is becoming unmanageable such that you are spending less time with your loved ones, bring it to the notice of your supervisor. A healthy work life balance is a great way to reduce stress.

– Foster congenial, if not friendly, relations with your team members. A supportive team and pleasant working environment help immensely to keep stress away. Share jokes, encourage each other and be available to cover up for a sick or absent team mate. They will do the same for you too. Make a team of friends – people who will lean on you and let you lean on them

– View each frustrated customer and challenging work as an opportunity to shine and show others your capability. The more such situations you can command, the better your prospects for promotions and good salary increases, becomes.

– Attend team meetings and office functions to understand and synergize with others in the team. Remaining aloof will only make it tougher on you and add to your stress levels

Companies must have regular training and stress management programs for their customer service staff. Also ensure that you are not short on staff since this would increase pressure on the current staff and not allow them time to attend such beneficial programs. Take feedback from the customer service agents and incorporate as many suggestions as possible to alleviate stress from the workplace. Managing customer service stress is just as essential a skill for the agents as any other and must be consciously inculcated for greater job efficiency.

Create interactive decision trees for customer service management, cold call scripts or self-service. Improve sales performance metrics and customer delight across your call centers.

Interactive Decision Tree