Monday, June 14, 2010

Stress and Call Center Representatives

I work in a call center. The work can be very stressful there, so my wish is to seek ways to help to lessen the stress of myself and the other employees I work with. I want to share with you some thoughts I have had on lowering that stress level.

I have worked at a call center before and while I was there I began to become highly frustrated with the job and with the stress level I was working with. There were callers who were rude and difficult to work with when I had to stay calm and kind.

One day, I had to call a customer service line for a product I had. I called in already irritated about the situation, but tried to be polite to the representative that answered my call. They were not overly helpful and I began to get more irritated and the call began to escalate. Things were eventually taken care of, but I felt badly that I had put the representative through a rough call. It was at that moment that the light came on and I realized that I was the one that would make the difference with my difficult callers and that I wanted to give them customer service that went beyond what I had received. It turned my work around. I began to be so many times more patient with the customers and was able to control my voice level and my frustration. This is key to giving good customer service and to lessen stress. Sometimes it takes a personal experience to open our eyes to how our conduct becomes reflected in the attitudes and conduct of others. My hope is that it will not take this for all representatives, but that we can help them to lower their stress levels before they become as frustrated as I had become. Many do not make it that long; they simply leave their jobs to find something less stressful. This, then costs money for the company because they have to hire more representatives and train them. As a benefit to the representative, the company, and the customer, we must find a way to help them deal with the stress of their jobs.

Call center work is considered among the ten most stressful jobs one can hold (Coscia, 1996; D’Ausilo, 1997; cited in de Ruyter, Wetzels, & Feinberg, 2001). Some of the reasons for stress in a call center are: role confusion, customer aggression, and employee empowerment. Role confusion is really quite self explanatory. Representatives are confused about which role is the most important role mostly. Is it the role to please and help the customer, or the role to please and help the company? It truly is a difficult position to be in, but one that can be balanced with some practice by keeping in mind that there will be some things that will please the company by pleasing the customer. It really is a balancing act, keeping both parties in mind.

Customer aggression is a really tough area to deal with. It is hard to truly want to help someone and solve their dilemma and have them yelling in your ear or end up completely ungrateful when you do. However, this is, and will always be, part of the call center employee experience because we are there to help people who are having problems with whatever product or service we provide. Something to remember in this situation is that the customer has called with a problem, so they have already gotten to the point where they are willing to make a call to let you in on the problem. They are already confused, or frustrated, or perhaps even angry. So the representatives first thought should be to recognize how the customer is feeling. Oftentimes this diffuses the situation immediately. Their emotion has been recognized because you cared enough to listen and hear it. Other times, even though you have recognized and confronted them with this knowledge, they still continue to escalate. At this point, the representative needs to make sure they remain calm. Keeping one’s voice calm and in control is vital to keeping the situation under control. Once the representative’s voice begins to escalate, the situation might be lost. Another important element is to use very positive vocabulary. Words like might, should, unfortunately, sorry and others can leave the customer believing the representative does not know what they are talking about, or that it is a lost cause. Phrases like: I can do this for you!, I will, I apologize, I take responsibility, are phrases that will cause trust in the representative that they can and will remedy the situation.

The third area of stress is employee empowerment. If the representatives do not feel they have power over some things in the workplace, they lose their sense of self-efficacy (de Ruyter, et al, 2001). The leader’s role is imperative at this point. The manager, or supervisor, can make a huge difference by keeping the environment light and by encouraging the representatives any time it is possible (Holman, 2003). Employees should take advantage of areas in which they are empowered, not to “use” the company, but as they have need.

The first thing that any representatives can do after reading this very compressed amount of information is to follow the link I have placed after this to take a stress screening. This will at least help you in seeing where you currently are as far as stress is concerned. This stress screening is provided by Mental Health America.

Thank you for your taking part in this hope for a better work place by reading this blog and taking the screening. Have a better day!


De Ruyter, K., Wetzels, M., & Feinberg, R. (2001). Role stress in call centers: Its effects on employee performance and satisfaction. Journal of Interactive Marketing, 15(2), 23-35.

Holman, D. (2003). Phoning in sick?: an overview of employee stress in call centres. Leadership & organization Development Journal, 24(3), 123-131.