Reducing Stress on Customer Service Teams During a Crisis

We sit down with customer service author and expert Maxine Kamin to discuss the best strategies for calming nerves and working as a cohesive unit amongst customer support teams.

What you’ll learn in this article:

  • You can help your agents feel reassured during a crisis by providing them with information and visible access to help.
  • Moving training and onboarding online, to a platform like Zoom, will improve its consistency and effectiveness.
  • You can make everyone feel more involved, while including all perspectives, by creating your strategic crisis management plan with input from all over your organisation.
  • Managers can show their compassion for an agent’s particular situation by listening and asking questions.
  • By working towards a common goal (like getting through a crisis), teams can actually come out of this event as a more cohesive unit than ever.

Few cogs in the global economic machine have been as affected by the COVID-19 pandemic as the contact centre.

Every industry -- travel, insurance, telecommunications, eCommerce, to name a few -- has seen a tremendous rise in customer cases.

And while contact centres worldwide are asking their customers to please be patient with them, the internal reality of these customer service centres tends to be nothing short of chaotic.

So as a customer service team leader, what can you do to help your team weather this storm?

We sat down with customer service expert, author and consultant Maxine Kamin to discuss the best strategies teams can apply to not only make it through this crisis, but to come out the other side better than ever before.

Contact centre crisis management basics

Customer service teams frequently go through difficult times.

Representatives are on the frontline, handling specific business needs as well as environmental and societal concerns that “take over” their environment, sometimes in a heartbeat. Such examples include handling hurricanes, other natural disasters, and this pandemic. During such events, business as usual stops.

Two ways to assist employees at these times are:

(1) to provide information

(2) to make help available in visible ways so people can stay connected.

Setting up a help center is a way to show concern for those who need assistance.

By taking care of employees, staff members can take better care of customers, in person or remotely, and can remain as calm as possible, knowing their most critical needs will be met.

It is essential to keep an information line available as well, and for managers to check in with employees frequently.

I recently employed these strategies with a banking institution contact centre I work with, and the company experienced a minimal amount of disruption due to the information flow and consideration given to staff members. Needed supplies were delivered to those most in need.

Move onboarding online

It’s essential to keep training going during the crisis. I have been helping organisations develop learning online for new employees, clients, and staff.

Zoom and other online platforms have been critical to maintain communication.

The challenge with on-line learning is to engage the participants, including activities, discussion questions, and break out sessions instead of just lecturing.

>> Learn all about Hiring and Onboarding Customer-Obsessed Agents in eCommerce.

Make a strategic plan

Strategic planning involves different parts of the organisation working together to create a plan. For the present pandemic, strategic plans need to be generated to take into account the new and unusual circumstances that exist.

It’s useful to originate a strategic planning team to brainstorm ways to keep the financial, human resources, training, and other parts of the business functioning.

Include team members from varying segments and levels of the organisation, as well as customers and providers. All have important perspectives.

Online meetings for goal setting and action planning, as well as ways to evaluate the effectiveness of plans, are ways to provide a roadmap for success during these trying times.

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 on-line dialog groups.

Compassion changes everything

The most important thing for customer service team leaders to keep in mind is compassion. There is nothing that is more essential than caring about staff, customers, and associates.

How do we show compassion? Here are some ways to show you care:

Listen. Spend extra time listening to the concerns that people share with you. It is hard for many to admit that they are fearful. And, there are a lot of reasons to be worried about the present and the future at this particular time.

Ignoring concerns by saying, “There’s nothing we can do about it,” isn’t helpful.

There are ways to be positive without invalidating feelings. Determine what you can do about a situation instead of what you can’t. Ask questions that show you care about whatever conversation you are having.

In a pandemic, it is not business as usual. Recognize people’s accomplishments in this trying time. Find something that brings your team together. Some companies are having talent shows online to reduce stress and let humour and human interaction ease tensions.

>> Learn all about How to Manage Soft Skills for Customer Service Teams.

And remember to use lessons from this crisis to your team’s advantage

The old adage that people come together when presented by an outside threat is something that can have long lasting results.

Right now, there is a common goal to work toward: get through the pandemic. The goal is bigger than any other one since survival rests on people cooperating and collaborating.

Getting to know colleagues during this time can be a warm as well as productive experience. Friendships may result. Trust may heighten. Working together may never be the same -- it may just get better.

Maxine’s checklist of daily habits for a crisis

Instill daily habits in your team to help them get through this crisis. Here are some habits Maxine recommends:

  • Be especially kind to coworkers
  • Take breaks
  • Go for a walk or do some other exercise at home or at work
  • Take care of yourself and keep in touch with friends and family
  • Support yourself and others

There’s no denying that getting through the COVID-19 crisis has been a challenge for teams worldwide -- and nowhere are these challenges more apparent than in a contact centre right now.

But customer service team leaders can cope by using some simple strategies. Keep employees well informed, and provide visible help to all. Move training and learning online for ease and consistency. Develop a strategic plan that includes all levels of your organisation, and create a success roadmap in an online meeting. Finally, remember to always show compassion for what your individual team members are going through.

Follow these steps, and you and your customer service team could just come out of this crisis stronger than ever!

Maxine Kamin, M.Ed., is the author of three books, Customer Service Training, Ten Steps to Successful Customer Service, and Soft Skills Revolution. Her books help individuals, leaders, and trainers work with teams and improve communication. They include activities for team building and improving communication. She is a consultant and has worked in academia, private industry, and nonprofits. She can be reached at www.touchconsulting.com.

 

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