Holistically Approaching a Frazzled Customer Service Professional

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This article was originally published on the FCR blog on October 20, 2018. Click here to read the original.

How committed are you to getting that deposit back when you purchase and consume a beverage in a recyclable container? I was committed enough to go to my local grocery store — that was before I realized I had to process each can and bottle by hand and the machines wanted to scan every barcode. No thanks.

After a bit of searching I found a local place called BottleDrop and was pleased to learn that they’d give me special bags with labels that I can take home, fill, and drop off full of recyclables. They take care of the processing and deposit the money into my account. It’s a great deal.

On a recent visit, I had a quick customer service question for the woman behind the counter. Before I could ask my question, she blurted out in a rushed tone of voice, “If you’re here to ask for more bags, we’re all out.” I responded with something like, “Thanks for letting me know. I was actually wondering if you can help me get a new BottleDrop card. I seem to have lost mine.” The rest of the interaction was fine. She was able to help me with my question and told me where to go and who to call to get a new card.

It’s the quick and somewhat frazzled response that stuck out to me as I reflected on that customer service experience. One bit of context that’s worth mentioning is that this particular location is typically crowded with a variety of folks — especially those who are either homeless or are near homelessness and recycling is a major source of their income. It’s a volatile crowd and I’ve witnessed altercations on some of my visits. I wouldn’t consider it an easy environment to do customer service.

I couldn’t help but wonder how this environment might take a toll on the woman who assisted me. How many times had a customer yelled at her that day? How many fights did she break up? How many times did she have to deliver the bad news that they were out of bags? How many times did she have to defer to someone else because she wasn’t empowered to take care of the customer?

What do you make of this encounter? It would be easy to solely lay the blame on the customer service professional but that seems a bit unfair to me. As we assess this more holistically, I have three recommendations.

Recommendation #1 – Alleviate product and policy pain points.

Before coming down hard on a frazzled customer service professional, all leaders should first ask what events led them to be that way. And trust me, if you as a manager or business owner take the time to ask your agents, they will tell you in as much detail as you want to hear the problems they’re experiencing. Whether it’s through round table discussions, one on one conversations, or shadowing your agents while they serve customers, take the time find out those issues that frazzle your team and do anything and everything to make improvements and alleviate those pain points.

Recommendation #2 – Emphasize the importance of self care.

One difficult customer is one thing. A day full of them is entirely another. I can remember times as a manager where our queue was out of control and it completely stressed my team out. I’ve also been in their shoes a time or two. I would often tell them, “The queue is mine to worry about, not yours. I don’t need you to be a hero. I just just need you to be the very best you can be on the call you’re currently on.” In busy situations, some agents might attempt to shoulder the load on their own. While the sense of responsibility is appreciated, it’s also a fast track to burnout. My friend Jenny Dempsey says,

“In order to take the best care of others, we must first take the best care of ourselves.”

Make sure this is happening on your team. This means quality breaks, healthy snacks, plenty of rest, and a good work life balance. If you want to hear more, Jenny is speaking on this topic at the upcoming Zendesk Relate Conference.

Recommendation #3 – Coach for better people skills.

I intentionally put this one third in the order of recommendations. It’s so easy when receiving less than stellar customer service to blame the agent. And yes, even though there are challenging issues and incredibly stressful situations, agents can still choose a great attitude. In the scenario above, they need to take the time to carefully listen to the customer before jumping to conclusions. Regularly coaching your agents reinforces the experience your customers should receive.

In my opinion, frazzled customer service service professionals are frazzled for a reason. By working to alleviate the root cause of the stress and developing them both personally and professionally, you’ll have both happier agents and happier customers.

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