Usually you are a smiling paragon of customer service virtue. Service excellence and exceptional customer experience is what you strive for, and usually you feel like you are not only helping customers, but making their day better in the interaction. But today... today your interactions seem to be adding to a simmering dislike of most, if not all of your customers or clients.
If you've spent time in the customer service industry, you know you can get there. And we've all heard the negative, and unhelpful language that gets associated with this.
It should be a red flag if you find yourself using this language, especially in general terms applied to groups.
As hard as this can be to remember on a rough day, it isn't really the customer that is the problem, the problem the customer has is the problem, and, in some cases the rep can become, in the customer's mind, part of the problem the customer is experiencing.
While there are many reasons why customer service reps can fail, burn-out can be a big part of the picture, so today we just want to focus on how to prevent burning out by taking care of our-selves. Burn-out is high in customer service. We all know people who 'shouldn't be doing it anymore' and others who will never go back. Let's not let that be you.
Very likely you already have some good habits that support you... but sometimes work takes it out of us, and we need to find extra reserves to do well, or, we need to change or add some habits to get back on our game and as Taylor Swift says "Shake it off".
Here are some actionable tips to take care of yourself and keep your head and heart in the game, try them and start building the habits that work for you:
Thin slices of joy
I love this concept. In the book Joy on Demand, Chade-Meng Tan talks about being mindful of the small, good moments in everyday life,'thin slicing joy'.That first sip of coffee, that smile from someone you know, your kid laughing at something ridiculous.
This is just taking the time to be really present in a moment and think 'yeah, I like that', and then being receptive for the next slice of joy.
At work, it can be recognizing that a customer appreciated your help. How you problem solved a sticky situation. How you enjoy the jokes of your co-worker. The sunny walk you took at lunch. Real small joys, take a moment to recognize and enjoy them.
To some, this could sound like pop psychology, but it isn't. Being aware in the moment of the good has a drastic affect on how you not only experience life, but how you approach it too. Try it out, start making it a habit, see what you think. Small can be powerful.
Watch out for labels
We all are victims to confirmation bias, and when we see someone else in a poor light we are likely to actively pick-up the indications that we are right, while at the same time, we can also discount information which might prove us wrong.
Labels are short cut thinking and negative ones will lead you into sub-optimal responses. Patterns of this nature don't help serve the customer, but they don't serve your mental state well either. Manage your first response, and condition yourself to have that 'best response' at the ready. Recognize when you label and work to change those labels.
Be physically in the game
Unfortunately this part of our lives can sometimes get ignored, but it has a compounding effect on our lives, and it does affect how well we can perform at anything.
Customer Service is physically demanding. It requires resources of self-control and mental acuity to perform well. It requires that you handle stress well and consistently perform at your best. That takes effort, and that effort uses resources... you need to have a reserve. Taking care of ourselves physically can help that.
Avoiding substances: This seems pretty obvious, but it certainly does crop up. Drugs and alcohol take a toll on the body, and though having a night out with friends can be just what you need on occasion to relax, making a habit of it has a long term downside and will affect your self-control, your emotional well-being, and your performance. It takes a lot less than most people think to lower performance, so just be aware.
Sleep: Seven to nine hours of sleep has been shown to be the most effective amount of sleep for an adult, . Lack of sleep leads to cognitive impairment over time, emotional sensitivity, and a lack of self-control. Over time, the situation compounds. The best, most natural stress reliever there is, is our body and mind shutting down and getting rid of those built up hormones and chemicals at the end of the day. So try and put down the device at night, or at the very least turn down the brightness an hour before you go to sleep, and pick a decent time to go to bed for optimum freshness in the morning.
Exercise: You don't have to hit the gym to gain the benefits of exercise, even small amounts help. The other side to this, is that this is time for you. You benefit from the time to yourself, you benefit from the health benefits, and you also benefit from the way that you can physically work out the stress gained throughout the day. Exercise gives you better sleep, better endurance, lower overall stress and positivity about what you can achieve.
Eat right: For me personally, this one means 'watch the sugar', mostly because I love sugar. However, I find I rise and crash hard if I am munching candy, and in the end I feel jangled and impatient. Wired and tired as the saying goes. For you, there might be other foods that affect your mental outlook, positively or negatively. If you don't know, try keeping a log to find out. Which brings us to...
Journal and log
Write down what is going on, what works what doesn't. Especially write down your wins. You need to congratulate yourself and keep track of the good things so that you can see how you are actually having a positive effect. Logging also helps you identify patterns, problem areas, how new practices are impacting your behaviour and your results.
Even just writing frustrations out for yourself will off-load your working memory so that you can get back to what you need to do. If you do write out frustrations though, you want to find a way of letting them go. I recommend writing them out but adding an 'outside' perspective when possible and ending your journaling with all of the things that went well from a 'personal' perspective. It takes some getting used to, but it is a great way of letting go of stress.
Find, and use time for yourself wisely
You will get 'peopled out', and it is important to find time where you don't have to talk to or answer demands of others. Now this is incredibly difficult if you are a parent, and even more difficult if you are a single parent.
Projects can be helpful with this. Get everyone else busy with an activity and work on your own thing. As a regular occurrence, people will get more and more used to not bothering you during that time.
I also recommend doing projects with others even though this is 'your own time'. The reason this works is that it allows a common focus and shared task. A non-competitive and enjoyable task is the most beneficial. You'll find it gives everyone something to do while taking time to actually communicate with some of our 'masks' down. It is the cheapest psychology you can get, and everyone benefits.
Learn how to deal with conflict
Gee... that sounds easy doesn't it?
It absolutely takes effort and a willingness to learn, but being able to manage high conflict interactions actually gives you tools which helps you avoid conflict in the first place. Not to mention, when you do reach an impasse you will feel confident that you can handle the situation, and that will help keep your emotions in check because you know what to do. Trying to do justice to how in a brief blog post is difficult, here is how you might want to start.
Take a course:
There are many great courses out there on how to manage difficult interactions, and we offer this as well as part of most of our customer service courses. Practice is the key to becoming proficient, so do what you can to find out if the courses you are interested in have some form of live practicing or role playing.
There are a myriad of books out there on the topic and more are coming out every year as these skills become more widely recognized. I recommend:
'Crucial Conversations' & 'Crucial Accountabilty' by Paterson, Grenny, McMillan, Switzler. Two books on dealing with difficult conversations, with the first being how you can action-ably deal with conflict, and the second dealing with how to have conversations where you need to hold other accountable to agreements that they made with you... a good choice for managers.
'Dealing with People You Can't Stand' by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner, which despite it's humorous title has some very good information in it. I do have problems with the labels that they apply to some of the behaviors, but being aware that there is an underlying need which need to be addressed, is a vital tool.
I also highly recommend Chris Voss' book 'Never Split the Difference' He was a hostage negotiator for a number of years, and the advice that he gives on negotiation, especially active listening and asking questions, is very much what you want to do in any hot situation. Whether or not you split the difference isn't what is key here, what is key is how you maintain the conversation, find out the real (and often hidden) needs of the other person, and move towards agreement.