Nearly 50 ways to help burn out in customer teams

Whenever you talk to frontline customer services and customer experience pros, the subject of burnout or fatigue always crops up. What do you do with those team members in the trenches who are war-weary, going through the motions, operating the systems but just burnt out?

There’s surprisingly little written about it. Perhaps it’s because no-one wants to admit to either being burnt out or leading a team where people have just had enough.

But in modern call and service centres, with the pressure that comes from ever more demanding customers (and management teams too), it’s so important to acknowledge, spot and then fix burnout. Here are 48 ideas to get you started…

What does burnout look like?

Before you can fix it, you need to know the signs. It doesn’t show up easily in metrics (although the effects of it do – lower NPS, poorer satisfaction scores). That’s because it’s emotional:

Burnout is an individual’s response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors within the workplace (Maslach et al., 2001)

Absolutely. And anyone who’s worked in a customer-facing role will know just how emotional it is.

Beating burnout

Combine inefficacy, exhaustion and cynicism and you have burnout as Tiago Paiva,CEO and Co-Founder of Talkdesk, explains exactly what the symptoms of burnout are and how to spot them.

Tiago points out thirty ways to beat burnout – useful in itself – but perhaps even more usefully, looks at the causes and the anatomy of burnout too.

Burnout in the workplace
Tiago Paiva,

In a modern customer service centre, dealing with informed, smart modern customers, the old ‘work harder or you’re fired’ just doesn’t work (if it ever really did). Instead, people want to know they’re doing a good job despite the customer complaints and tantrums.

A few basics

Sincere gratitude, a bit of friendly competition and getting involved on the battlefield yourself will make a big difference to your team – as Len Markidan from Groove points out.

Most importantly, as the graph below shows, a little bit of appreciation goes a long way to motivating teams.

power of appreciation
Joel Gascoigne, Buffer

Len uses the well-known story about Charles Schwab and his steelmill workers to illustrate how to get competition subtly but effectively. Perfect when your service centre cynics have their radar scanning for new ‘initiatives’ to shoot at.

Use proven psychology

The splendid Chris Ward from My Customer has looked at some foundational psychological theories about customer service and how to use them.

The section on Priming – or ‘reframing’ – talks about how to change the perspective of the war-weary agent. And, critically, it makes the point that beating war-weariness is a constant process, not just a one-off fix.

It also explains how giving teams broader guidelines and autonomy to use their training and instincts – and even discuss with the customer how to resolve problems. This sort of autonomy and customer involvement transforms agents from drones into partners.

Give teams a purpose behind their everyday work

Jeff Toister takes up the theme of autonomy in his blog “The REAL Way to Motivate Customer Service Employees”. He explains that, to work effectively, motivation has to come from within you, not be painted on from the outside. Quite a challenge when you’re facing your fiftieth complaint call of the day.

Toister explains that making the purpose of your work explicit and clear is important. It can be incredibly tough to find a purpose amidst all the systems, process and flak, but it’ll be there. This is often where a little outside help can be useful, to see the wood from the trees.

More in this fantastic animation by the RSA.

Looking deeper

Provide Support’s Julia Lewis looks at how you can use Maslow’s well-known hierarchy of needs practically to help revitalise the war-weary.

She looks at social, esteem and self-actualisation aspects of how customer services teams work and gives some great real-world suggestions for harnessing them.

Customer service today

Every generation of customer people has felt that customer are getting more demanding – it’s nothing new. But the speed of change has definitely increased.

The internet now means your customer can be better informed than you, even if they don’t have the whole story. Social media mean they can team up with fellow customers and launch a crusade – justified or not. And they know that regulators are so often on their side too. The need to harness every useful technique available has never been more important.

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