Stress Management Tips for Customer Service Professionals
Article by Donna Earl
Managing stress is an essential job skill for the successful customer service professional. Typically customer service representatives experience burnout from two sources: 1) repetitive routine requests, and 2) frustrated customers. The combination can lead to stress, unless reps manage their responses well. The following are stress-busting ideas to help keep calm and maintain perspective.
- Don’t be a sponge for customer frustration. Their frustration has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it personally. In their emotional state, all they can think of is how upset they are. Most don’t realize the impact they might be having on you. Ignore any personal attacks and exaggerations. At this point in time, they might not be rational. I was on a plane flight delayed by a lightening storm. The passenger next to me was very agitated, and was yelling ‘This airline always does this to me.’ This comment was so outrageous nobody would take his complaints personally. Sometimes the less outrageous exaggerations trigger stress responses. Remember: Never take it personally.
- Remember the angry customer is really a nice person, and has temporarily become a sheep in wolf’s clothing. Think of them normally reasonable, and in a good or neutral mood. They’ve probably called you before with a routine question, and been okay. Now you’re experiencing a blip in their behavioral radar. When talking to them, remember there’s a nice person in there someplace, and if you keep your cool and work with them, you’ll discover that nice customer again. Typically they’ll apologize and thank you profusely if you keep thinking they’ll become nice.
- When customers are frustrated, their behavior is a reaction to unmet expectations. Uncovering their expectations will help defuse the emotion, help you keep cool, and keep the conversation focused on problem solving. Keep focusing on what you can do to close the gap between their unmet expectations and their experience of your company’s services and products. When customers are dealt with sincerely and professionally, they are more open to alternative solutions.
- When you start your shift, make an agreement with yourself that you’ll stay in control of the calls, and in control of your mood. When you’re in control, the customer responds, and the conversation takes less time and is less emotional. When their frustration ‘pushes our buttons’ we’re less effective. The tone of the call is emotional rather than conversational. If you’ve ‘fallen off the wagon’, take a break, regain your cool, and resolve that the rest of your shift you’ll be in control. Find a way of rewarding yourself for your first day ‘in control’, although the lack of stress you’ll feel at the end of your shift is reward enough!
- Keep a healthy work/life balance. One of my favorite call center agents maintains perspective with a current family photo at eye level in his cube. It’s a photo from the latest family vacation. When calls become stressful, he looks at the photo as a reminder that dealing with customers is his job, and his family is his life. What is important to you in your personal life? Bring a representation of your personal interests to work as a reminder to maintain perspective.
- Keep a laugh diary. Remember the last time something made you burst out laughing? Keep a list with key words to trigger your memory of the scenario. When you’re feeling stressed and depressed after a call, look at an entry in your laugh diary to neutralize negative emotions. When you’re not at work, stay alert for funny incidents from movies or reality and add to your laugh diary. While it can be helpful to decompress by laughing about difficult calls with colleagues, it’s healthier not to spend lots of time reliving distress. Consult your laugh diary, and healthy laughing!
- Remember that stress has a physical component. Eat for mental alertness and low stress. Try declaring your workspace a no sugar zone. Although stress can send you running for sugar, the feel good ‘rush’ will evaporate within a half hour. The sugar blues can leave you more vulnerable to emotional reactions. Many people find incorporating more protein in their diet keeps them positive. Try high-protein snacks like sunflower seeds, nuts etc. and see if you notice a difference. It’s important to drink plenty of water. Feeling foggy and frustrated can indicate dehydration or insufficient protein. Eat for success, and you’ll feel calmer and in control throughout the day.
Copyright © 2005 Donna Earl. All rights reserved.Donna Earl teaches additional stress management techniques in her customized on-site Customer Service Training. Contact Donna at 415.929.8110 or at email@DonnaEarlTraining.com for information on seminars, or for permission to reprint this article.