An Unhappy Customer Service Agent is More Than a Meme

Unhappy customer service agent

An Unhappy Customer Service Agent is More Than a Meme

Updated June 2022 (originally posted November 2019) An unhappy customer service agent is more than a meme, they are a person with difficulties that have solutions.

Emotional Cost – Case in Point: Facebook Moderators

In 2019, Rep. Katie Porter ( D-Calif.) called out Mark Zuckerberg during a House Financial Services meeting for the treatment of content moderators which she likened to “straight out of an episode of Black Mirror.” 

Customer service whether it is as a content moderator, contact center agent or customer sales rep is emotionally taxing. Agents routinely have to match their emotional output with the professional standards set by the company. 

This emotional output comes with a cost. There was a class action lawsuit in California that argued Facebook is responsible for PTSD and Trauma inducing working conditions affecting content moderators. It was settled in 2021 for $52 million.

Facebook uses content moderators to facilitate a positive environment for their users and advertisers, but has yet to provide emotional support systems for these workers. 

The Importance of Mental Health

You might think that Facebook is a behemoth and their issues aren’t relevant to your business, but each business has emotional landmines. It takes serious work for a customer service rep to create an exemplary experience under duress with a smile. Benign customer service issues can rapidly morph into nightmares or there wouldn’t be so many hashtags for bad customer service: #CustomerServiceFail #badservice #refund #servicefail #noservice  #instabadservice #customerdisservice #waiting.

It has only intensified. During the pandemic customer service agents began facing unprecedented behavior from customers alongside increased demand for service. This has put more strain on already stressed agents.

Mental health awareness is one of the positives of the pandemic. Considering the historic numbers of people quitting their jobs in the Great Resignation, and the cost of agent churn, investing in supporting employee well being is both empathetic and a smart business move. There are many ways to do this. Here are a few:

  • Prepare agents with solid, ongoing training that gives them confidence in doing their job. Include the nuances particular to your company and products. 
  • Institute support systems to help agents recover from challenging interactions. 
  • Make communication between team members and between agents and management easy and non threatening. 
  • Offer tools like classes, apps and services to aid in stress management. 
  • Know your coverage needs, plan for overlap in duties and schedule for redundancy. Then if an agent needs time off the business is covered and the agent doesn’t feel pressure to work through burnout.

Creating Empathy and Support – Case in Point: 23andMe

Managing a customer contact center well includes addressing more than customer emotions. Agents shape brand identity. Unhappy customer service agents have a hard time presenting a positive image. Maintaining a positive agent environment is essential to an empathetic brand image. 

Providing customer service is simple in theory. In practice it’s not only difficult, it’s nuanced. It requires agent support for emotional harassment, verbal abuse and enormous pressure. When management proactively connects with agents they can connect with customers. 

Understanding the feelings of others and addressing them in a humane way is fundamental to empathetic culture, both customer facing and internal. Kent Hillyer, Head of Customer Care at genetic testing company 23andMe is known for intensive customer service training. 

Agents train for months before engaging with customers. Not hours. Months! Agents are taught both sympathy and empathy with mock calls to prepare them for common uncomfortable conversations on genetic lineage. Sometimes the answer to “Who’s your Daddy?” is unexpected and upsetting. This is traumatic for both the customer and the contact center agent.

“At 23andMe, Hillyer often encourages representatives to go for a walk after an intense call, or cracks open a bottle of wine to help them decompress.”  This is a far cry from what Rep. Katie Porter accused Zuckerberg of in the House meeting where she detailed a limit of nine minutes of supervised crying in a stairwell for content monitors of Facebook.

Let Technology Help – CSAT and ASAT

Technology does not equate to a lack of empathy. AI tools exist to facilitate a more empathetic company culture by alerting managers to agent abuse. Managers can then encourage agents to take that walk, to decompress, and to express their feelings in a safe space.

Give agents the tools that make their jobs easier, not harder. 

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT) is important, but don’t miss the ROI opportunities of agent satisfaction (ASAT). I helped design CSAT.AI, and I am proud of the feature that lets managers monitor agents specifically to assist with issues that can trigger anguish or trauma. CSAT.AI automates and streamlines the QA workflow with proactive feedback on 100% of interactions, monitoring of empathetic language and customer sentiment.  If you have any questions ask me, Kellyne Clapper, Director of Operations at Navedas.

Kellyne Clapper Director of Operations
Kellyne Clapper, Director of Operations at Navedas