Contact centre work can be stressful. So how do we ensure that we can handle call centre stress?
Felicity Hunter asked a number of agents for their tips.
Working as a call centre agent is renowned throughout the industry as being a stressful business. However, there are ways to handle and relieve the stress and get through the working day without tearing out your hair.
Reporter Felicity Hunter went along to 2Touch’s call centre, based at Doxford Park in Sunderland, and spoke to several workers, who revealed their top tips for surviving the strain.
1. Learn to leave work at the call centre door
If you’ve had a particularly bad day and the sales just haven’t come your way, then do not dwell on your failures. Simply start afresh the very next day.
That is how advisor Alex Hindson, who has worked at the site for 11 months, deals with hurdles she encounters.
“It does drag you down if you aren’t meeting your targets, you aren’t getting the sales and you’ve had customers shouting at you all day,” said the 22-year-old from County Durham.
“You should go home and leave work at work and come back the next day and start again. If it’s your attitude because you’ve been getting a bit sick then you’ve got to start again, and start each call like it’s your first call again. The worst thing you can do is take your stress home with you because you’ll only come in the next day feeling the same and that won’t help you change what’s possibly been going wrong.”
Her colleague Simon Harrison, 33, from Washington, said: “You have your bad days and your good days like in any job, but in sales you’ve got to forget about the bad days and drive on. You might have a bad week or a bad couple of weeks, but you’ve got to learn to draw a line and start again, re-focus.”
2. Be nice to the nastiest customers
Simon’s answer to dealing with a call centre’s most aggressive callers is: “The angrier they get, then the nicer you should be.”
He added: “If they are really going for it, just be nice to them. It stops you getting frustrated and you can maintain a professional attitude. Eventually, when they’ve sounded off, they’ll calm down.
“If you were to speak in the same tone as them then you get stressed, it’s unprofessional and the situation can’t be defused.”
Lorraine Pearce, 28, who has worked at 2Touch for five years as a sales advisor, said she has even managed to get apologies from hot-headed customers by speaking nicely to them.
“Let them vent off, don’t take it personally and then do your best to help them,” she said. “Quite often, if you do it right you will get them saying, ‘I’m sorry I shouted at you’.”
Bob Carr, 58, from Washington, said “empathy” is key and “sarcasm is a major no-no”. He told Call Centre Helper: “Tell them you will try and sort it out for them and have empathy with them. Never talk sarcastically either, because that will just make the situation worse.”
3. Water off a duck’s back
Simon said he has learned to forget about the names he is called by frustrated members of the public.
He said: “Just remember it’s not a personal attack on you, they’re angry at something that you have possibly had nothing to do with, or they aren’t happy to hear from you if you’re cold-calling. So, even if they call you all the names under the sun, don’t let it get to you. It should be water off a duck’s back.”
Lorraine said that she tries to remember that she does not know the customer, and the customer does not know her.
“It’s amazing how the public think they’ve got a right to speak to you in the manner that they do, but even if they’re calling you really personal names then I keep in my mind, ‘I don’t know him, he doesn’t know me’,” she said.
4. Learn to bring extra-chatty customers back to the point
Some customers, particularly the elderly, are prone to wanting to chat about everything and anything, from the weather to their dripping tap.
But with time limits on agents’ calls, reining in a chatty punter can be a difficult and often stressful thing to do.
Alex said: “You’ve got to bring them back to the point or some of them will literally have you talking with them forever! It’s usually older people who may be haven’t spoken to anyone all day, so it is hard.”
5. Have fun with colleagues
Enjoying the company of your work pals is essential in most jobs but particularly in call centres, where the stressful conditions can get some people down.
Bob likes to play the “buzz word” game with his colleagues, which entails a worker slipping a chosen word into a conversation with a customer.
“It’s little laughs like that which keep us all going, otherwise the floor would be flat all the time.”
And at times in the past the jovial agent has even turned up for work wearing a woman’s blonde wig.
“I just turn up with it on and we all have a laugh,” said Bob. “The people who don’t know me can’t tell whether I’m being serious or not!”
Simon thought that banter was important. “There’s lots of fun on our team, which lifts everyone’s spirits. We have lots of banter, not carrying on but just chatting and winding each other up.”
Alex added: “If you’re happy and smiley then it comes through in your voice.”
6. Patience is a virtue
Lorraine says ‘patience’ is a characteristic call centre agents should adopt “otherwise they’re in the wrong job”.
Whether it be customers not knowing passwords on their accounts or elderly people misunderstanding numbers on credit cards, it can all take its toll on an agent’s patience.
She said: “Some of them don’t understand credit card numbers or they can’t read them properly or they can’t hear you properly and it is difficult getting the information out of them. You’ve just got to learn to grin and bear it.”
Bob thought that agents should “understand the different generations and don’t take for granted that because most people these days have modern technology, not everyone even knows what it is.”
7. Mirror the caller’s speaking style
Another tip from Bob is to be a voice-chameleon and alter the way you speak for each client. For example, if a customer talks really fast then the agent should speed up too, to prevent any frustrations building up on the other end of the line.
“You have to build a rapport with them on the phone,” said Bob, also a dad of four, who has worked as a sales advisor and a coach at the call centre for two-and-a-half years. “It’s no good you speaking slowly if they’re talking fast, or you speaking loudly if they’re talking quietly, or you using slang words if they’re well spoken, or vice versa.”
8. Avoid getting frustrated
Frustration, whether it be caused by work or events at home, can make all the difference between sales and no sales for bonus-driven and progress-monitored agents.
The more anxious they get, then often the tougher it is to get sales and earn that all-important cash for their own bills.
Bob said staying calm is a must: “You don’t want to be laid back in this job but at the same time you don’t want to be getting yourself all uptight and frustrated about things.
“The more frustrated you get, the more anxious you sound because anxiety comes across in your voice. That isn’t going to get you anywhere.
“Have a short break, have a little laugh and look to see where you can improve.”
9. Make customers feel human
James Bell, 24, a retentions agent from Sunderland, who has worked at the call centre since 2010, said it is important to make customers feel “human” and not just like a number.
He said: “You need to let them know that you are listening to what they are saying and that you do care. Explain to them what’s happening and why you’re doing certain things and always let them know that it’s important to you that their situation is sorted out. It makes customers feel human and lets them know you do care.”
10. Know your product inside out – and that of competitors
Bob revealed another tip to Call Centre Helper which he would recommend to any agent, and that is: “Know your product inside out”.
“Get ready for what you’re dealing with, prepare,” he said. “Make sure you read all the literature so that if you’re asked questions by clients you can answer them instantly. If you can’t you’re done for, you don’t stand a chance.
“You’ve also got to know what your competitors are offering so that you can tell the customer as soon as it crops up in the conversation.”
11. Fiddling fingers and moving feet
Some agents said stress balls, mini games such as pop-up pirates,or fiddling with a pen or paper clip or anything they can get their hands on helps them to focus and perform at the best.
Lorraine said: “It somehow just helps me to concentrate and I know a few colleagues who say the same.”
12. De-stress and do something you enjoy
Sweating stress out in the gym, having a relaxing soak in the bath, taking the dog for a walk, socialising with friends, making the effort to go on staff nights out, smoking, listening to music and pouring a glass of your favourite tipple are just some of the ways to relax.
Bob likes going home and listening to Van Morrison and pouring himself a gin and tonic, while Lorraine likes walking her dog, visiting friends, and listening to music by her favourite bands Greenday and Blink 182.
Adam Gray, 26, an outbound sales advisor from Durham, who has worked at the call centre for six years, said he heads for the gym for a work-out or the different fitness classes on offer.
He said: “It releases a lot of endorphins into your body and makes you feel good about yourself. The last thing you think about is your work.”
Do you have any other tips for staying stress free? Please leave your comments in an email to Call Centre Helper
Bob isn’t wrong about being a voice chameleon but mirroring is only part of the equation. To keep all your customers happy and therefore keep the stress at bay, remember that all conversations go through four phases: 1. Recognition – where you get recognised as someone worth talking to by matching their sound. 2. Engagement – where you say things so you can understand the customer’s real point of view by mirroring their sound. 3. Rapport – asking the right questions while mixing the sound and 4. Collaboration – this is where you can and should cross their transaction to get what you want by making an incongruous sound.
Yeah, to be honest I am also working in call centre and it’s really stressful especially if you’ve started your day with a bad mood. This is really a great help for me because even if your threshold is good you’ll feel burnout at the end of the day… Nice site and I will reflect it to myself. Cheers!
Came across this article after a particularly rough day. Customers just see you as a “number” too you know, who they can shout and scream at and not be bothered. It’s hard not to take things to heart but sometimes it just wears you down. Suppose not everyone is as kind hearted as me,
I try to keep everything positive in mind but sometimes their words really do hurt. Badly. And it is personal. Oh well.
I have an imaginary trailer that I fill out…some issues during the day I deal with and the rest get dump at the end of the day! I am the most important person as I received the phone call and no one can’t tell me that I can’t change someone life positively because I can if they let me. 🙂 be proud of who you are and your work !
I work as a foodstamp/medicaid eligibility call center rep in the US….and I don’t know how much longer I can take it…the constant screaming, crying, berating…I could go on and on…and because it’s technically a government job, we have strict rules, go to work, shut up, take calls.
Just got this job at a contact center that does orders for catalogs, it gets frustrating when customers think we have warehouses near us. I have to follow call flow and worry that when I place their order they get mad. Where is there order, we have vendors too. Our calls are screened so we have to please them. Sometimes they want free stuff, can’t do that. Keeping that percentile is what I worry about 90% on up, not 39% 🙁
Working in a call center as a customer service representative, I have learned that tip number two (being nice even to the worst customers) is the best thing to practice. You’re bringing good vibes in. You’re not joining in the fight. It’ll keep you happy and not stress you out that much.
I use mindfulness exercises in particular focusing on my breath as great way of developing patience, and attentive listening during a call from a customer. Can be helpful to filter out background call centre staff talking etc…
Great article. Absolutely spot on. I have something I’d like to add regarding the following section: “Be nice to the nastiest customers”.
At times, I believe call center staff can feel as though this concept is very cliche and is a practice that does not last long after trying. So how do we get real action that works and lasts?
I have worked in a call center for a decade now and for years I took thousands upon thousands of calls from all types of people. Eventually I even ended up being on an escalation line where the only customers I spoke with were about as frustrated as you can get. I once had someone tell me they hoped I burnt to death in my car as I crash head on into a wall as I left for home after work. I know… unbelievable right?. Those of you who have worked in call centers for a while have seen those 1 in 100 agents who just seem like nothing can get to them. They are always smiling and it’s real. Their calls never get to them! That was me. How can you do it?
The way I was able to wake up every day knowing how I might be spoken to is by the mindset I put myself in from day one. I didn’t just tell myself ‘be even nicer to the upset callers’. I regularly told myself that no matter how upset the person is or what insults they send my way, there is a reason. It is not who they are. It is simply a combination of events in their lives that created a perfect storm of stress and anxiety. The issue they are calling about isn’t even the true source of their anger.
So many people have problems we simply can’t begin to even know. A death in the family. Suicide attempt of a friend. Just found out they have cancer. Recently cheated on. Losing their home. Laid off at work. A child who recently overdosed and is in the hospital. Death of a daughter during birth. Mugged at gunpoint on the street. The scenarios are endless and they happen to people. When I am talking with someone who is particularly toxic, I tell myself one of these things are going on in their life. I actually feel motivated to help them even more than ever.
Sometimes people can feel like their lives are falling apart and they have no control over it. They start to lash out like they never have before. Even being like a totally different person with the people they actually know. It is not our place as a call center employee to judge them. It is not our place to get mad or defensive. It is our place to do whatever it takes to navigate around the challenges presented to us during the conversation.
A co-worker of mine that I respect a lot(Big Will!) once told me something along the lines of, “We aren’t paid to just provide answers and data entry. We aren’t paid to excel on only the easy calls. We are paid to excel on the most difficult calls imaginable. That is our bread and butter.” I believe he was 100% right.
Don’t dread the next call hoping it isn’t someone who will scream at you. Tell yourself that the very next call that comes in will be the worst you’ve ever had in your life. When it doesn’t come, you’re like “okay cool.” When it does, “Now I start earning my pay. It’s GO time!”
So next time you are talking with someone who is really upset… be their Knight in Shining Armor. Even if they don’t recognize you for it.
Thanks for the tips people. I’m just started in a call centre, for a power company, dealing with bills. The main thing is not to take anything personal. As stated, there are many reasons people might be angry, by you being nice, it might make a difference. I look forward to angry customers, I won’t calm them all down, but by being nice you win the moral high ground and come out of it without any regret. One other matter, it would help if we got paid more! Thanks for reading.
I worked in a call centre for over 4 years and let me tell you that no matter how hard you try it will eventually drive you mad. Rude customers are just one of the many things that you needto deal with that are stressful. Dire management, breaks timed to the second, limited toilet breaks, ever changing goal posts and requirements, call times ect. These places really are dead end jobs.
I agree with the last post by Chris on 09Aug. No matter how hard you try the customers will get to you as well as tight kpi’s.I am an optimistic person and I do have a great boss yet building with aggravated people time and time again is very trying. No tips and hints can prevent your blood pressure from increasing. People don’t realize how resistant staff in call centers really have to be generally with very little reward.
Yes. The “I don’t know him” thing sounds pretty good. I will have to keep that in mind the next time I get another horrible call. For me, I like to put myself in mute and take a deep breath while the customer cusses and fusses. It seems like it doesn’t matter how kind or helpful you are. Some customers are simply out there to be complete morons. I had one customer call in, already knowing the answer. I confirmed it and he ranted for almost three minutes about how it was dumb and it went on and on. He asked me twice if there was another solution. I decided to look into it for him to see if there was something else he could try. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. The call got bad and he said some very unpleasant things. So the best way to deal with stress is to read the documents while the person is screeching at you (do not second guess yourself and stick to what you’ve read) and turn the volume down. Be as professional as you can and remember that many of them are going to be angry. Help them, solve their problem/answer their questions and cover your behind by doing what is required for the call. Know that you did everything right and it is a huge relief once the call ends.