All jobs are stressful to some degree, but it’s particularly tough for customer support agents.
Working in customer support involves a high level of job-related stress. The constant pressure to solve customer problems, blaze through the support queue, and deal with upset and angry customers can take its toll on even the best support team.
Your support team is emotionally responsible for the well-being of your customers, and constantly demonstrating empathy all day can lead to fatigue.
While working in customer support can be a rewarding profession, it’s not uncommon for the daily grind to creep up on you. If employees are overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated, the result can be burnout.
What is burnout?
According to the World Health Organization, burnout in the workplace is characterized by three things:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- reduced professional efficacy
If they’re experiencing burnout, your employees have less energy available to do their jobs, they feel alienated from their work, and they are not as effective at work. These are alarming symptoms that have a negative impact on your ability to deliver high-quality customer support.
Even worse, burnout can lead to other problems such as absenteeism and high staff turnover. 50% of employees have already left their jobs due to burnout issues.
What are the signs of burnout?
More negative customer feedback
If your team is struggling with burnout it will reflect in their interactions with customers. Reps will be more negative and stressed when speaking to customers, potentially leading to more dissatisfied customers who feel your company doesn’t care about them.
This will show up in the form of more negative feedback, complaints, and dropping satisfaction levels, so keep an eye out for these red flags.
Performance is suffering
Burnout means emloyees won’t be putting the same effort into their jobs, which can result in poor performance. They’re more likely to make mistakes and have low morale and are less able to meet the demands of the job.
If your agents are performing less well than before, this could suggest they are burnt out. While performance issues aren’t always tied to burnout, if burnout is a factor the tips below will help you get these issues corrected.
Getting into a bad temper regularly
Most customer support reps are hired for their ability to handle difficult customers and gracefully deal with all sorts of situations. But if your rep is regularly getting into a bad mood about customers or various parts of the job, this could be a sign they are experiencing burnout.
A burnt out support agent is less able to handle the more strenuous parts of the job. It’s normal for customer support reps to want to let off steam after handling troublesome customers, but if a bad mood becomes a regular occurrence this is a problem.
Taking more time off work
Feeling burnt out means your support reps are more likely to take time off work due to stress – 12% of employees admit to taking time off because of work-related stress. If your team is starting to be absent more frequently, this could indicate burnout. They may need help to cope with the demands of the job.
7 simple ways to prevent your support team from burning out
1. Hire enough support agents to balance the load
If your employees are regularly feeling overworked because of a high volume of customer support requests, especially during the holiday season, this could be a sign that you need to hire more agents.
When you have more employees who can balance the load of customer tickets, agents suddenly have more room to breathe. This small change can help prevent burnout.
If you’re understaffed, this can result in reps struggling to meet targets and will negatively impact their morale. They will never be able to reach “inbox zero” and may therefore feel unmotivated to help customers.
2. Encourage them to take regular breaks, including lunch
It’s easy to skip breaks—especially when you’re busy—but it’s important to encourage your agents to take time to step away from their desks. Don’t make your team feel like they’re chained to the queue the whole time they are at work. Support agents need to feel like they have permission to take short breaks to recharge their batteries and center themselves.
Without breaks, employees are less productive and more prone to burnout. Breaks enable support reps to maintain their focus and work for longer periods of time.
3. Spread your reps’ time across different support channels
One surefire way to push your team towards burnout is requiring individuals to be on the phones for their entire shift. The phone is a demanding support channel, requiring real-time conversations with customers and intense interactions. These have the power to sap your support reps of their engagement and increase burnout.
Instead of having your agents on the phone all day, have them swap between phone, email and live chat.
4. Hire agents who have the temperament to cope with stress
It may sound obvious, but there’s no point in hiring someone who isn’t going to be able to cope with the demands of the job. Your customer support agents need to be resilient, strong problem-solvers, have excellent communication skills, and be able to manage their time well. If that sounds like a tall order, that’s because it is.
Not everyone is well-suited to working in customer service. You need to make sure you hire people with the right temperament. If your employees can cope with stress, this means they are less likely to suffer from burnout as a result of their work.
5. Ensure support from supervisors is readily available
There are always going to be times when support agents have to deal with difficult, and sometimes rude, customers. They shouldn’t be left to handle these conversations alone.
This is where support from supervisors comes in. Your supervisors should be readily available to step in if a customer’s behavior becomes aggressive, helping to protect your support reps from abusive customers.
6. Have recurring 1:1 meetings
Customer support reps have busy jobs. They’re always tackling the ever-growing queue, dealing with a backlog of customer issues, and trying to keep everyone happy. They might not have time to sit down with their manager and discuss their concerns, let alone work out how they could make their job better.
That’s why it’s so important to schedule regular 1:1 meetings. These meetings help you always have your finger on the pulse of how your reps are feeling, even if you need to discuss negative feedback. When you schedule these meetings, you have the chance to catch small issues before they grow into huge problems, and can take steps to correct them quickly.
7. Show your team some appreciation
Customer support can feel like a thankless job. Your support team works hard, but often they may feel unappreciated for their efforts.
Showing your team appreciation for their efforts is one way to prevent burnout. Saying thank you for a job well done is one way you can show appreciation. Regular incentives or rewards can help with this.
Many support teams find success in establishing monthly or quarterly awards for things like most tickets solved or highest average CSAT rating.
There’s a high risk of burnout in stressful jobs such as customer support, but you have the power to prevent it if you watch for the warning signs and intervene early. It all comes down to being mindful of the stresses of the job, and finding ways to mitigate it.
By taking intentional action to prevent burnout, you’ll reduce the negative impact on your customers and make your support team a better place to work.