“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers” – Shep Hyken
Customer service staff has the important responsibility of dealing directly with, and managing a company’s customers. This means that they are ‘in the firing line’, withstanding the worst of customer ire, problems, irritation, and even inappropriate behaviour on the part of customers. Customers react this way when the company would have failed in keeping its promises, in the event of a service lapse, and or when a product does not work in the way that it is expected to. All this leads to stress for customer service staff, since it is their job to remain calm, pacify the customers, and provide the most effective solutions to the customer problems. To continue doing their job effectively, it is the onus of the company to find ways to manage and reduce stress for customer service staff. The most important thing to ‘teach’ this section of employees is that they must never take customer ire and shouting personally – they must distance themselves emotionally from the interactions. This however, does not mean appearing robotic and inhumane.
We know that work related stress is a common occurrence now, but stress for customer service staff is one of the worst kind – simply because they are unable to vent their ire back on the ‘rude and shouting’ customers, and additionally must remain polite and patient throughout the difficult interaction. Stress for customer service staff can ultimately lead to low morale and confidence, irritability, and poor health, which in turn could be the cause of internal conflicts with other team members. The performance of service staff could be affected adversely and in the longer term could result in physical and mental ailments / problems. It is therefore necessary for a company to take immediate and appropriate steps to not just reduce stress for customer service staff, but also work towards eliminating it if possible – since ignoring it could over time, mean the failure of the company.
Customer service staff is an indispensable asset for any company today, and it is necessary for a company to care for them, prevent stress, and make them feel valued and important. A company must train its employees to recognize signs of stress and bring it to the notice of the leaders (without fear of any kind), since ignoring stress or repressing any other kind of negative emotions would only compound the problem, leading to bigger and unmanageable problems in the future. Today, every company must divert resources towards OSH (Organizational Safety and Health), for the well-being of its employees and the business. Among the many things that companies can do to reduce stress for customer service staff, the most important is training and coaching. This would involve ‘teaching’ the staff to first care for themselves – this may seem obvious, but is one of the most forgotten aspects when on the job. Everyone must be coached on maintaining good eating, sleeping, and physical exercise habits – these are essential for anyone to remain mentally and physically strong. This must be encouraged in office by affording employees enough free time and breaks when at work, proper distribution of workload, time off, work from home opportunity, adequate compensation, proper appraisal system, and a robust reward and recognition program.
As part of training and coaching, one of the best ways to reduce stress for customer service staff is to teach them to apply the ‘power of thinking positive’. This is the belief that problems are smaller than the person is, they would be able to deal with any challenges, and that the company and its leadership will stand by them at all times. With such a mind-set and approach, it will not be hard for the service staff to manage tough situations and the inevitable difficult customers. Of course, attention to and regular monitoring of the behaviour and moods of service staff, is necessary to note any significant negative changes. When each staff member remains aware of what ‘stress looks like’, they would be more inclined to help themselves and their co-workers. Providing an environment that is cohesive to collaboration and support, would ensure that the service staff would feel more relaxed even when dealing with tough situations.
As mentioned, affording breaks and time-off are important techniques to reduce stress for customer service staff. Affording such time allows the staff to engage in hobbies and other relaxing activities to reduce stress and unwind. When the staff do return to work, they would come back rejuvenated and energized. In fact, many companies today have recreation rooms, games, and hobby centres, in the office premises, for their staff – these serve as places for staff to relax and unwind during their break time while on the job, which serves to improve greatly the quality of the work and overall well-being.
Among the top relaxation techniques propagated by experts in this field, humour is one of the top ways to reduce stress. For their own sanity and work performance, service staff must learn to keep a sense of humour, and genuinely smile even when faced with challenges. This is easier to say than to actually put into practice, but it does prove immensely helpful. We do not mean that service staff must continually joke with each other, or that they should make light of a customer’s problem – all it means is keeping a cool head even when situations are not conducive and happy. A company should encourage its employees to speak about their concerns, and problems rather than ‘suffering in silence’. When employees know they can express their grievances and share their problems, with hope of getting respite, they would be a lot more relaxed and would be able to do their jobs better. They must know that they can seek support from within their peer group and the company’s leaders. Everyone would experience similar issues and hence would be better equipped to understand and empathize. Such measures prove highly effective to reduce stress for customer service staff, and other employees too. The feelings of being ‘united’ and ‘in it together’ are relaxing and stress alleviating.
Given that customer service is inherently a stressful job, it would be necessary for the company to reduce stress for customer service staff through regular praise and recognition for their good work and efforts. The company must have a culture wherein each person would be encouraged to recognize their own efforts and openly praise them along with the efforts of their colleagues. Praise and recognition are feel good mechanisms, and help to alleviate negative thoughts and emotions. While regular improvements must be a focus, praising whatever has been done well, is also equally critical. A company must have also a robust reward and recognition program, through which consistently great service and good behaviours should be rewarded with tangible gifts, such as a monetary pay-out, incentives, plum projects / assignments, overseas short-term assignments, promotions, and other such rewards. Not only do these incentives serve to reduce stress for customer service staff and other employees, they also encourage the top performers to do even better, and serve as encouragement for others to achieve top spots.
The reason a company must focus on reducing stress for customer service staff is that the job is tough and highly taxing by its very nature. The employees working in this role are more prone to burnout and would over time fall ill and or quit their jobs with a company that does not care for them. We know that today employee attrition is one of the biggest problems and is the cause of huge expenses for any company. Rather than try to assuage the problem when it becomes too big, it would be prudent for a company to ‘nip stress in the bud’ for its service staff and all employees.