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Avoiding Unnecessary Stress in Call Centers, and How to Look on the Bright Side

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How Negativity and Frustration Can Pile up in Call Center Work

I suppose it's different for everyone. But here are the main things, and boy, do they add up if you let them.

First of all, the clients. Naturally, those are going to vary depending on your specific field of work, but we all know those types:

  • The "simple question" caller who has a question that is anything but simple.
  • The "stupid self-explanatory question." For my line of work, that would be something along the lines of "Hi, I booked a bed and breakfast rate, and I just wanted to double-check if I have breakfast included."
  • The customer calling a department completely unrelated to his question and demanding to be transferred. An example would be calling reservations when you need accounting.

Those clients are all frustrating, but there is very little we can do other than forget about them as soon as possible. No one is going to change the way they think and do things just because you tell/want them to.

There are, however, types of calls where we can make things better for all parties involved.

  • Complaints. In my experience, most people with complaints simply want to get something done efficiently. If the complaint is reasonable, I take ownership of the situation on my company's behalf, and then immediately follow up with a clarification question and a helping statement. It can be simple: "I'm sorry for the bad experience. What is this regarding? I might be able to solve this for you." And then I do just that. Even if it takes an "extra mile" for me, it's better to solve the person's problem than listen to them complaining. It may be more work, but it involves less emotional pressure. Naturally, your company will have rules and regulations, so do only what's applicable when it's appropriate. It's surprising how often the escalation is provoked by a trivial matter handled poorly.
  • People who want a lot of information about a transaction but then want to complete the transaction themselves on the company website. I know how it feels. The customer wants you to do all the work even though you will have nothing to show for it, because it won't help you hit your targets if they do the transaction on the website themselves. Look at things from their point of view, though. Customers are often incentivized to do things online, but the websites they visit are not always great and intuitive. I was in that situation yesterday in fact. My own mobile provider grants a discount and a wireless speaker if you renew your two-year contract online; however, the new conditions were unclear from just looking at the website. So I became "that customer" myself; I went to an office, got all the information clarified, and then renewed my contract myself on the website in order to get the benefits. And it's the same at work: customers get bonus points when going through the app or on the website, but they very often have questions or requests that the website doesn't answer. Not ideal for us, but I understand the customers too. I too prefer to have my vacations sorted out in advance with as few unpleasant surprises as possible and with as many benefits as I can get.

The Call Center Office Itself

Even in an office that meets regulatory standards for heat and illumination, the inevitable office wars for lighting and AC controls can get quite overwhelming. It is easy to enter a never-ending cycle or annoyance and frustration breeding more of the same even over little things. But if you manage your emotional energy well, most of those pent-up feelings can be avoided.

Be Aware

If you feel severe adverse effects from your work life, such as acute depression or physical pain, seek medical attention. Remember your health comes first!

The Art of Letting Negative Emotions Go

Getting straight to the point, the advice below is what allowed me to not only relieve my stress problems but also improve my results tremendously.

When working with people—especially customers—over the phone, it is easy to soak up negativity, since it's easy for callers to use a call center agent as a vent. The issue at hand might be something quite minor, but it may well be the last drop in someone's cup. Either yours or the customers. After all, the people we interact with all have their own full-bloodied lives with problems and passions of their own.

And here is the thing that helps me the most: somebody else's negativity does not have to become your own. It's like a poisonous gift. Poisonous or not, just like any other gift, you can refuse to accept it.

Now, very few of us are saints, and anger, annoyance and negative toughs are part of our lives. And that's not just normal but healthy, as long you learn to recognize those emotions and to let them go instead of building up pressure inside yourself.

You see, the way I see it, whenever you feel negativity you can either hold on to it like a grudge and allow it to get at your thoughts all day, or let it run its course and forget about it.

Notice, though, that we are not speaking about trying to avoid negativity altogether, since at least for me that never works. I rather allow myself to feel it, and strive to recognize that it's an unproductive emotion. Once I can identify negativity, it becomes much easier to let it go and forget about it.

How to Actually Let Negativity Go

Here are the questions that help me:

  • First of all: identifying what stresses me, be it annoyance, anger, or something else.
  • Asking myself why am I feeling that way. Is it something rooted in my personal life, or the result of an interaction with a client or a colleague?
  • Asking myself if there is an objective reason for such a strong reaction.
  • Asking myself if it will matter in an hour, a day, and a year from now
  • Attempting to put myself in the other person's shoes.

Once I answer these questions, losing negative thoughts becomes natural, for me at least.

Improved Results at Work When You Can Lose Negative Thoughts

In the beginning we mentioned improving results. And that's exactly what has happened to me when I started being more " zen". And that's what I hear in the calls of my colleagues as well.

Here's the thing: If you are under emotional pressure, you are using more energy and are prone to overreacting to insignificant problems. On top of that you feel tired quicker.

I was stunned when I started listening to calls and realized how much can be achieved by just a little kindness and active listening. I've listened to countless calls that went from the customer raging over the phone to a pleasant and productive interaction, just because the agent empathized with the customer and let them know they wanted to help.

In my experience, just like violence breeds violence, annoyance breeds annoyance. Finding the will to resist being pulled into that cycle is all it takes. People are not inherently bad; their bad attitude is in almost all cases just the result of a previous interaction. Most will appreciate an understanding approach that lets them know you are doing all you can.

This technique will not only get you better results, be it in customer service or sales, but is likely to leave you feeling less tired at the end of the day.

More Helpful Thoughts to Escape Negativity

Naturally you will have to find your own way of being the best that you can be. In the end everyone is different and those are just ideas that helped me and others around me.

To put things again into a few words:

  • Don't resist emotions, but learn to let them go rather than keeping them inside like a pressure cooker. It's okay to be momentarily annoyed and to move on, but don't ruin your whole day just because of one interaction, be it over the phone or someone cutting you off on your way to work.
  • Be aware of your feelings. Ask yourself why are you annoyed or angry.
  • Understand that people are different and what is common sense for you may not be for someone else.
  • You can't change people, or re-educate them, if they are unwilling to conform to your internal rules and moral guidelines.
  • Use helping statements to let people know you are trying to resolve the problem for them. Statements such as "I'll try to solve this for you," "Let me double-check if something can be done," "Bear with me as I try to resolve/clarify that for you," are better than saying simply "stay on the line please." A more personal approach always helps.

© 2019 Raven Ives

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