Do support agents sometimes have feelings of inferiority when comparing themselves to other departments in the company? Yes.
Is customer service work less worthy than marketing, software development, or accounting? Definitely not.
Let’s talk about feelings of inferiority in customer service. It’s an issue most CX professionals have dealt with – but it doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.
Inferiority complex is a psychological sense of inferiority that is wholly or partly unconscious. It makes people feel less worthy than others and can push them to overcompensate their perceived shortcomings through specific behaviors.
We’re dedicating this article series to this topic to open discussions around feelings of inferiority in support teams – and to overcome those problems once and for all.
Use the #EmpowerCustomerCare hashtag to share your experiences, and opinions on the feelings of inferiority related to working in customer service. Let’s empower each other.
Are you or your colleagues suffering from feelings of inferiority?
Here are seven of the most common signs of feelings of inferiority in support teams.
Note: This overview is not enough to give any psychological diagnoses and should not be used to create any stereotypes or labeling.
Use this list wisely to get a sense of whether your team might be struggling with some of the most widely spread psychological issues in customer service teams.
- Extreme sensitivity to other people’s opinions, especially those coming from other departments of the company: even a well-meant but badly stated sentence can hit a person, who is struggling with professional self-worth, right in the feels.
Feeling nervous or upset (almost) every time other people talk about you, may be a sign of this psychological problem.
- Difficulty handling constructive criticism: though you’d rarely find people who enjoy receiving negative feedback, most professionals understand the value of learning about where they can improve.
That‘s usually not the case with those suffering from feelings of inferiority. Agents who feel less worthy tend to avoid any kind of criticism and can react negatively even to healthy feedback.
- A constant need for compliments and approval: many people who deal with feelings of inferiority tend to (over)compensate for their feelings of insecurity with a constant need for endorsement.
Going out of one’s way to get flattered might seem smug, while, in fact, the support rep is actually feeding upon other peoples’ compliments to battle with self-doubt.
- Social withdrawal from colleagues from other departments: agents tend to form close-knit communities inside their organizations, rather than befriending with colleagues from other teams. In some cases, it might just be a case of people communicating with those closest to them.
However, more often than not, you’ll find that support folks are distancing themselves from other teams that they feel inferior to.
- Endless comparisons with other people: there’s a line between being motivated to perform up to the team’s standards and obsessing over one’s performance. The latter mindset may result in a temptation to compare themselves to their colleagues at all times.
Agents struggling with feelings of inferiority might fixate on specific customer service KPIs – like going out of their way to deliver the highest CSAT scores for the business – which can force the person to think that they are not as successful, not as popular, or not as good as other members of the company who have higher metrics.
- Perfectionism: agents nitpicking on every little detail, instead of focusing on the overall aim of delivering delightful customer experiences, can go too far and start to hinder their work.
While double-checking one’s work before sending it to the customer is healthy and necessary, fixating on perfection in every little detail can be an agent’s way of dealing with their feelings of inferiority.
- Covering one’s flaws: building upon perfectionism and sensitivity towards criticism, the feelings of inferiority can force support reps to hide their mistakes or shortcomings.
Showing oneself in the best light is what most people try to do – but support teams that struggle with insecurities can become self-destructive by not letting anyone help them fill their knowledge gaps or asking for help in other areas.
Be mindful about feelings of inferiority in customer service
Having one or several of these symptoms can hint at feelings of inferiority to some degree. In order to grasp the dynamics behind the issue, you need to understand what triggers these feelings in your company, as well as knowing who is affected by this issue (the entire team or specific agents?), and the root cause of the problem.
Investigate this matter calmly before jumping to conclusions (and accusations!). In some companies, agents carry these feelings of inferiority because of their previous work experiences. So there’s a chance that the current colleagues don’t contribute to these problems at all.
Unfortunately, there also are many businesses that recreate these feelings of inequality on a regular basis. These patterns can become such an integral part of the company culture that nobody even notices to challenge them.
Hopefully, this article makes you think about these issues and encourages you to stand up against the feelings of inferiority in customer service teams. We’ll offer actionable tips on how to find the root cause and beat it in future articles.
Have a story you’d like to share about feelings of inferiority in customer care? Join this thread dedicated to the topic in the CX community Quality Tribe.
We’re collecting stories to help raise awareness of the struggles support folks face on a daily basis. Help us #EmpowerCustomerCare