It can be hard to keep a cool head in a crisis. That’s why stress-management is such an important skill in customer support teams, where fluctuations in support request volumes means working under pressure is built into the job.
Every business has its peak season. In some industries these busy periods are predictable — like the run-up to Christmas for ecommerce brands, or January for travel companies, when people book holidays to banish the winter blues. For other sectors, seasonal variations are less easy to anticipate.
Then there are events that no company can foresee: natural disasters, an economic downturn, geopolitical upheaval, or a global pandemic. Support teams are on the frontline of responding to customers’ fears and anxieties during uncertain times like these. And this can put agents under a lot of pressure.
We sat down with author and CS expert Maxine Kamin to discuss the most effective strategies for reducing stress on customer support teams — both during peak season, and in times of crisis.
Keep agents in the loop
When organizations shift into crisis-management mode and people are acting under pressure, communication is often the first casualty. But a lack of clear communication will only increase the levels of stress your support agents face.
There are a few ways you can assist your team:
1. Provide information. Communication is key to stress management in customer service teams, as uncertainty will lead to higher levels of anxiety: managers can ease this strain by proactively sharing information with their team, and checking in with support agents on a regular basis.
2. Make help available in visible ways. By taking care of their support agents, CS teams can take better care of customers: in an ongoing crisis, setting up a help center is a great way to support employees who need assistance, and will allow people to stay connected.
“I recently employed these strategies with a banking institution contact center I work with, and the company experienced a minimal amount of disruption due to the information flow and consideration given to staff members.”
- Maxine Kamin, Author and CS Expert
Learn how the pandemic impacted CS
Make a strategic plan
You can’t always know when your next busy period is coming — but you can have a plan in place to mitigate the negative effects of stress on your customer service team.
When offices closed during the pandemic, companies had to get creative in order to align on strategic plans while working remotely. These difficult times also presented new opportunities:
“I have been involved in several initiatives that have produced amazing results, including calling in online guest speakers who would not ordinarily be affordable for travel reasons, showing motivational videos, screen sharing plans and objectives, and conducting online dialog groups.”
- Maxine Kamin
Research by Forrester found that 53% of customer support teams have seen higher volumes of requests since the pandemic started. And it’s likely this trend will continue, putting even more pressure on agents.
There are a number of strategies you can put in place to help your team prepare for peak season — and putting customer support agents in a strong position to respond to any future crises. These might include:
- Deep-diving into your historic support data to find out the questions your customers are really asking
- Automating simple, repetitive queries, to free up agent time to work on more complex cases
- Helping customers to self-serve — a growing preference among consumers — by updating your FAQs page, creating how-to videos, tutorials, and other support materials
Bring compassion to every interaction
When people are under pressure, the most important thing for customer service team leaders to keep in mind is compassion: for both support agents and their customers.
Here are some ways to show you care.
Take time to listen when your team shares their concerns with you. Many people find it difficult to admit when they are under too much pressure.
Choose your words carefully — when communicating with your customers and with team members. Try to use positive language, without invalidating the other person’s position.
Invest in soft skills training for your customer service team. Not only will this improve customer experience, but will help foster a culture of constructive communication within CS teams.
Maxine’s daily checklist for handling stress
Instill daily habits in your team to help them get through stressful times. Here are some that Maxine recommends:
- Be especially kind to coworkers
- Remember to take regular breaks
- Go for a walk or do some other exercise
- Keep in touch with friends and family
- Take care of yourself and others
It’s impossible to avoid stress altogether. But with these strategies, customer service leaders can help manage stress within their teams.