Working with customers on a daily basis can be stressful. Handling peoples’ questions and requests often brings about exhaustion, insecurity and negativity, which can culminate in customer service agent burnout.
Reducing workplace stress should be one of the top priorities for every manager, because:
- From a humane perspective, managers want their team members to feel good and succeed.
- Happy agents equals better customer service, equals better business results. Listen to Employee Experience Comes First by Annette Franz if you're interested in this topic.
- Stressful jobs are bad for employee retention and loyalty. To expand on this topic, Nathan Meunier has looked into other factors affecting customer service employee retention.
Unfortunately, not all managers truly acknowledge the fact that customer service work is stressful. And, those who do, often don’t know what to do about it.
There are a number of things you can do to avoid agent burnout. In order to find ways to combat stress in your customer service team, we need to look at the causes and possible solutions together.
Pressure of time pushes agents towards burnout
Workload is a big contributor to work stress. Assuming that you’ve hired motivated people, your team is dedicated to doing their best with every ticket that comes in. However, oftentimes there just isn’t enough time for that.
Some cases cannot be solved in 10 or even 30 minutes. Sometimes, agents need to collaborate with multiple teams and people on your side, as well as the customer’s side. Complex communication paths can eat away quite a large part of a workday.
We all know how a simple question can easily escalate to a full product demo. With new tickets piling up in the backlog, agents are forced to rush through their work.
Prevent time-related stress by keeping an eye on the following metrics:
- Average Ticket Handle Time,
- Ticket volume.
If you see an increase in either of these indicators, it might be time to start hiring additional support reps. Also, track these metrics over a longer period of time to notice seasonal trends. Perhaps you need some extra force for a particular holiday or month.
Weak internal communication creates unease
Weak internal communication is an additional factor that can magnify the stress caused by too little time and too much work. Customer support agents work as mediators between the customers and your company, and their work relies on cooperation with other teams.
Inter-team communication can bring about a lot of unnecessary fuzz - having to look for the right person to talk to, getting the feeling that they’re interrupting other people, receiving negative attitudes from colleagues etc.
All of these can play a part in customer service agent burnout. Without proper internal communication plans in place, your customer service team might be battling with uncomfortable situations like this every single day.
To build a strong internal communication channel:
- Appoint go-to persons in each department your agents collaborate with. Make sure you communicate this well to all affected parties.
- Agree upon the preferred communication channels. Should agents call other teams, email them or turn to them in person?
- Define levels of criticality. There are issues that need to be dealt with immediately, and those that can be postponed for a while. Respect everyone’s time and communicate all customer service issues with information on criticality.
In addition to these, check out Hubspot's advice on building team collaboration.
Your agents should not be feeling uneasy when approaching other teams to solve customer issues. A solid communication plan makes sure that everyone knows how to handle cases that require cooperation.
Unrealistic requests put agents in uncomfortable situations
There are situations when your agents have enough time and resources to handle customer cases, but still end up feeling down. Unfortunately, almost all customer service reps have met difficult customers who are impossible to satisfy.
Sometimes customers ask for things that your customer reps just cannot do, even if they would really like to. And, there are times when those requests make no sense to anyone in your company.
Here’s how you can reduce the stress related to the cases when the poor messenger gets all the blame:
- Make sure your agents know company’s short- and long-term goals and product roadmaps. This way they’ll be able to decline unreasonable requests with confidence.
- Encourage saying “No” to unrealistic requests by sharing examples of how to respond to these tickets delicately.
- Consider creating a separate label for unrealistic requests on your help desk. You can then easily filter them out when looking at how your team is doing. People tend to leave negative ratings to tickets like this, regardless of how nicely the issue was handled by the agent.
Encourage your team not take issues like this personally by assuring them that it is OK to decline customer issues that don’t align with your company’s goals. And, as Help Scout put it, sometimes breaking up with a customer is the best possible solution.
Monotonous work kills the joy in work
While there are tickets that take a lot of time to solve, there are also cases that take just a few minutes of work. Usually, these make up quite a large proportion of your support volume.
If nearly all your cases require little work from your customer support reps, you’re running the risk of forcing your agents to do monotonous work. Selecting a pre-written macro for every ticket might not be challenging enough for your highly motivated team.
To understand if your agents spend too much time on monotonous work, once again, turn to the Average Ticket Handle Time metric. If it tells you that it takes your agents just a few minutes to resolve their cases, you should probably look into ways for automating your customer service flows and offering self-help solutions.
Instead of letting your team do the same repetitive work day in, day out, trust them with more challenging tasks to keep them motivated. This will sweep away stress like it’s nothing.
Too little feedback causes uncertainty
There’s one more thing that you can do to help overcome all the aforementioned problems. Talk to your team to pin down sources of stress in your customer service.
Even your top-performing agents are probably dealing with stressful situations like the ones we’ve mentioned. Give them opportunities to let some steam out and provide them with feedback on how they’re doing.
Make feedback a part of your customer service routines:
- Weekly team meetings are a great place to discuss outstanding cases in a relaxed atmosphere;
- Monthly or quarterly one-on-one meetings give you an opportunity to get to know how your agents are doing;
- Regular conversation reviews help you understand the issues your agents are dealing with on a daily basis;
- Day-to-day chats on Slack or other team communication channels are a great way to discuss issues as they come up, and to chit-chat on topics more or less related to customer service.
Make sure that you provide enough feedback to all of your agents, including the average performers, who rarely make it to the extremely negative or positive lists. They are all tackling the same stressful situations, and sometimes feedback like “That’s fine, continue” is exactly what they need. There’s no need to pretend that working at customer service is not stressful. Most of the time it is, and this can pave the way to your agents’ burnout.
Keep an eye on the customer service metrics that tell you how your team is doing, and don’t forget to talk to your agents. They are the link to your customers, so make sure they’re advocating your company happily.
Also, reduce stress by looking at cat pictures on Instagram.