Over the past twenty years, an overwhelming amount of studies have conclusively demonstrated that work-related stress negatively affects a growing number of people. Customer service stress is no exception.
Every day, customer service industry workers must juggle demands and complaints of varying degrees of complexity, all in a fast-paced, high-stakes environment. As a result, they are particularly susceptible to both acute and chronic stress.
How does customer service stress affect employees?
Workplace stress is a critically widespread problem. 80% of American workers reported feeling stressed on the job every day. This overwhelming prevalence means that stress as a phenomenon greatly affects employees and employers alike.
Stress is responsible for high employee turnover
When one comes to work in the morning already feeling the symptoms of stress, it will be a challenge to get through the day. Employees dealing with high levels of stress have a higher incidence of sick leave, absenteeism, disengagement, and attrition.
The high rate of employee turnover for which the customer service industry is known is clearly linked to customer service stress. Given the considerable investment of both time and money that goes into the recruitment and training of a competent customer service representative, no business can afford to ignore the dangers of a stressed workforce.
An Integra Survey poll reported that 19% of respondents had quit a previous position because of job stress. Moreover, nearly one in four had been driven to tears because of workplace stress. The Harris study referenced above revealed insight more sobering still: the rampancy of stress-related violence in the workplace.
25% of respondents have felt like screaming or shouting because of job stress.
10% are concerned about an individual at work they fear could become violent.
Aside from the potential financial and organizational strain that stress puts on businesses, it’s evident that the primary victims of customer service stress are the representatives themselves.
Stress is detrimental your health
This is a no-brainer. The harmful consequences of stress are known to everyone. Disordered eating, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, this smorgasbord of physiological and psychological ailments is common knowledge.
But when the main cause of your stress is your job (a mainspring which you cannot easily remove from your life), how can you make do? Employers and employees alike are realizing the importance of managing the effects of stress and mitigating its triggers. This guide aims to help representatives of all walks of life handle their customer service stress.
How to get the upper hand over acute customer service stress
Acute stress refers to the short bursts of intense distress we often feel in a difficult, but short-lived situation. For customer service workers, this can mean a difficult conversation with a customer, an aggravating exchange with a coworker, or an upcoming deadline.
All of these situations are temporarily finite, and once they have passed, the symptoms of stress usually dissipate. Acute stress can also work as a motivator, allowing you to think on your feet and rise to a challenge. However, prolonged or frequent acute stress is an open doorway to chronic issues, so there’s no reason to let it get the better of you. Here are some tips to weather the storm of acute customer service stress.
Recognize the symptoms
The first step to managing the daily onslaught of acute customer service stress is to get the jump on it.
Symptoms of acute stress include:
If you can be conscious of an imminent stress spike, it’s easier to defuse it before it gets overwhelming. Identify oncoming strife, and employ the following techniques to stop customer service stress from sabotaging your day.
Learn to breathe
Once you’ve identified those looming symptoms, you need to know how to repel them in the heat of the action. Perhaps you’re on the phone with a customer, or trapped in a meeting, or in another predicament which precludes you from taking a salutary time-out.
In a pinch, practice cyclic “equal breathing”, a technique favored by yogis, but easy enough for everyone. Inhale through your nose to the count of four, then exhale through your nose to the count of four. Repeat. Simple! Deceptively so: this exercise can lower your blood pressure, clear your head, and prevent a fight-or-flight response by keeping you mindful and in control.
Reach out for support
If you’re struggling with a task and the resulting stress is too much to handle, it’s important to be able to ask for help. Feeling stressed can often make one feel inadequate and powerless, making it even more difficult to ask for assistance and upping your stress levels even more. Break the cycle, and don’t let yourself get trapped in the same stressful situation over and over.
If you’re dealing with an upset customer, ask your coworkers or manager for insight, or maybe for someone else to step in if you feel you won’t do the situation justice. When faced with a short deadline, figure out what you have time to accomplish, then delegate the rest or negotiate an extension.
Help can also mean emotional support. Your coworkers share the same environment and similar duties, so chances are you are all dealing with similar triggers. Venting can do a world of good. Lending a reciprocal ear can help foster a better and more supportive professional atmosphere. A strong support system can make external stressors seem less threatening.
Given the impact of unchecked stress on your performance and engagement, it’s a better bet to ask for help than to power through on your own and risk compromising either or both of those important factors.
Don’t take it personally
The paradox at the crux of delivering excellent (and profitable) customer service and live to fight another day is to get personal, but not take it personally. Personalized customer service is necessary to building customer loyalty. However, if you let negative encounters with customers affect you too strongly, you will be susceptible to an untenable amount of stress.
In the case of a conflictual exchange with a customer, it’s important to learn to let negativity slide off you like water off a duck’s back. No matter how badly a given interaction goes, you need to keep enough distance to turn the conversation around, if possible. If the conversation can’t be salvaged, that distance will allow you to pick yourself back up and carry on without a cloud over your head. Sometimes it’s okay to say no to a customer, and go on to fight another battle.
Compartmentalization is healthy when it comes to customer service; without it, you might find that acute stress events pile up and open you up to suffering from chronic customer service stress.
Defeating chronic customer service stress: get to the root of the problem
Chronic stress is due to an ongoing problematic situation. Chronic customer service stress could be due to a number of irritations which you find yourself, for one reason or another, unable to resolve.
The reason why chronic stress is more difficult to dispel than acute stress, is because its roots tend to run much deeper. In the workplace, external factors affect your degree of control much more than you may like: customers, managers, and coworkers all influence your stress levels.
Start planning ahead
Customer service requires flexibility and adaptability. Unpredictable imperatives will pop up, problems will take longer to solve than you expected, etc. But if you’re constantly flying by the seat of your pants, the adrenaline rush will eventually make you more frazzled than sharp.
Adding structure to your day can help limit stress triggers. Planning out your activities will allow you to have a broader view of your daily, weekly, or monthly schedule. This way, you can avoid schedule conflicts and better budget your time.
Of course, unforeseen events are bound to happen. Make sure your schedule allows adjustments, so that you never find yourself trapped by your own planning.
Celebrate both the good and the bad
Dealing with repeated stress assaults and the fast-paced industry of customer service requires determination. One way to better weather periods of high pressure is to acknowledge this pressure as readily as its alleviation. More clearly: make a point to recognize your wins as well as your losses.
When you did a good job, solved a tricky issue, or un-ruined a customer’s day, you deserve props. Give yourself props! Being mindful of your triumphs will help you come to terms with the moments which weren’t as exemplary. Also, it will help you put those bad moments into perspective, and let you move on from them with ease.
Maintain a healthy work/life balance
This perspective is key to lowering your chronic customer service stress levels. Your time away from work should be time to recover from your daily stressors. Nothing heals more from a bad day at work than laughing with loved ones and forgetting about work entirely. Leaving work at the office is crucial to protecting your private time. This can be especially difficult for those whose office is their home.
Don’t use your laptop or phone to check Slack, emails, or ongoing projects, or better yet: unplug completely. Do what you can to leave work-thoughts where they belong. That could be a mutual ten minute venting session with a loved one (don’t get bogged down and let it run too long), or a complete scission between the two spheres of your life.
It can be helpful to develop a “closing-shop ritual” to signal to your brain and body that you’re transitioning from one state to another. In a sort of Pavlovian self-experiment, teach yourself to instinctually and gently disconnect from work with a ritual stimulus.
Find an outlet
This balancing act can be made easier with the help of an outlet. This could be anything: having a solo cup of tea, taking a walk, doing a set of push-ups, running through a yoga routine, listening to some tunes… Your outlet can signal the transition from work-mode to personal time. It can also help you cool off and focus when stress overwhelms you during the day. Hobbies which stimulate one’s creativity are actually linked to better work performance.
After a conversation when you absorbed someone else’s anger, when anxiety is overwhelming you, take a time-out. This will help you calm down, focus, and come back to yourself without passing that negativity along. Outlets should be therapeutic, but still remain considerate of others around you (primal scream therapy is a no-go).
Take good care of yourself
All these tips for managing chronic customer service stress require discipline and willpower. Unfortunately, in times of elevated stress levels, those traits aren’t exactly what humans are hard-wired to display. Stress can make us want to eat comfort food, miss sleep, isolate ourselves, etc. None of this will help in the long run, and the long run is chronic stress’ game.
In order to have the energy to better resist the effects of stress, you need to commit to a healthy lifestyle. Get enough sleep, try to eat food for its nutritional value and not its carb content, avoid resorting to sugar or caffeine for bursts of energy. Instead, take up some sort of physical activity for both short- and long-term effects on your vivacity and cheerfulness. Whatever you do, don’t go for sudden changes to your lifestyle. The shock and self-administered pressure will make it feel like a chore, and you’ll likely fall off the wagon.
What are the techniques you use to battle customer service stress? Let us know below, and in the meantime, have you tried Aircall yet?
Published on January 2, 2024.