How to support your customer service team during the cost-of-living crisis.

20 July 2022

The pressure placed on customers is constantly spoken about, but what about the service staff on the frontline?

Customer service staff need the full support of their business and regular CX feedback and guidance from their leaders during these difficult times too.

The harsh reality of working within a customer-facing role is the abuse you may receive at times. Verbal to physical abuse towards shop workers and call centre agents has been a longstanding issue for those in customer service roles, but during the pandemic, the number of incidents increased significantly!

Why did this happen? 

  • Customers are stuck at home.
  • Call queues becoming longer and
  • Many people struggling financially because of COVID-19.

And it’s the customer service workers that experience the brunt of all this frustration. The Institute of Customer Service revealed that in 2021 – “60% of customer service workers experienced hostility across the year, ranging from shouting and swearing to racial abuse, death threats, spitting and physical attacks”.

Now, as businesses get back into the swing of things in 2022, abuse of customer-facing staff cannot continue to fall under the radar. With soaring prices of general living expenses and the nation already gripped in a cost-of-living crisis that is causing anxiety for people up and down the country, abuse and hostility will likely rise further for the workers on the receiving end.  

In a time like this, there will already be many unreported pressures on customer service workers who are dealing with angry or upsetting calls about these rising costs. These employees are the “forgotten workers” of this crisis and in the coming month’s action MUST be taken to protect them and their well-being in the long-term, not just during high periods of stress.  

Nobody is saying that this will be an easy fix, but the industry needs sustained commitments through initiatives, tools and policies that demonstrably support these workers’ well-being. 


Protecting your workers’ wellbeing:

Many customer-facing workers have reported that their organisations have policies to try and help support their mental health. However, research has revealed that whilst nearly all workers are aware of these mental health policies, only 32% said their leaders and managers follow them ‘all the time’. This suggests that while policies have been created, a lot more could be done to ensure they are consistently being implemented across the board. 

“Long gone are the days where complacency is an adequate strategy, businesses need to actively transform their working practices to put the wellbeing of frontline customer service staff at the heart of everything they do”.

Actively promoting the well-being of these workers and ensuring this forms part of your organisation’s culture is key!

Whether you’re still working from home or are back in the office, here are a few things you should be considering:

  • Encouraging staff to take regular breaks between calls or busy periods and
  • Setting up frequent check-ins to allow your team room to breathe and break up busy workloads. 

Managers need quality training to identify early signs of burnout and how to provide mental health support. This is essential to help improve staff well-being before it’s too late. 

An alternative strategy to improve morale is achieved by championing the value that each staff member brings to the business and the softer skills they possess. Customer-serving workers, especially long-standing ones, are extremely skilled and celebrating their accomplishments as well as showing them a clear progression path will help them see their job as fulfilling and a long-term career.  

This isn’t just the moral thing to do. Putting employees’ mental health, well-being and development first is the necessary catalyst for happy customers to follow. After all, you can’t have a great Customer Experience without happy and engaged employees.  


Rebalancing employee experience with customer satisfaction:   

Businesses have long operated with customer-focused tactics. Including having rules such as ‘the customer comes first’ and the ‘customer is always right’. Historically, these rules have defined businesses for years. Yes, it’s evident that this is simple business sense and will help drive revenue, loyalty and growth, Therefore it’s understandably easy to fall into the trap of constantly prioritising customers. However, if businesses do not urgently fix the balance between customer satisfaction levels and investment in staff well-being, we will all suffer.

“Businesses need to transform their working practices to put the wellbeing of frontline customer service staff at the heart of everything they do”

It is vital that in 2022 employee experience must become just as important as the customer experience. Why? Because as prices continue to soar, many businesses will unconsciously be focused on keeping their customers happy to maintain revenue but considering the needs of your employees goes hand-in-hand with this. 

It is no longer a case of choosing between the customer or your employees, it’s focusing on how these two elements can work together in tandem. Making sure your employees have the support and tools in place to deliver excellent customer service will help to ensure that your staff aren’t burned out and your business thrives. 


Tech support: 

Technology is the extra support needed, no more than ever, to reduce burdening workloads. It is via AI and automated responses to simple queries and repetitive tasks that help your frontline workers to be free from frustration and burnout. For example: using automation at early points in your customer journeys, through things like chatbots can help remove mundane tasks and make staff lives infinitely easier! 

Ultimately, this helps to ensure that employees are mainly dealing with high-level and complex interactions which demonstrate real business value, and which are more likely to deliver higher job satisfaction. 

Automating quality assurance is another example of technology being used to improve the employee experience. Rather than managers wasting hours and hours trawling through long backlogs of call recordings to check how workers are performing. Instead, speech analytics can help to automate the process by flagging calls with certain trigger words or negative sentiments. Managers can then target these specific calls to either implement further training or sub in when employees might be facing a high volume of angry, abusive calls.  

In the remaining months of 2022 and the following years to come, employee well-being must become more than just ticking boxes because there are customer-facing workers out there right now who are already at breaking point after months of being overworked and underappreciated. 

The reality is that – 72% of customer-facing workers say that they are “burnt out” OR will be burnt out very soon, this figure rising to 83% for those working in contact centres.


How can we help you?

Customer-facing staff are the cornerstone of every good business, so let’s give them the support they deserve. HOED Research can provide regular customer experience insights that will enable businesses to quickly identify pinch points or burned-out team members no longer able to function optimally. Contact the team at sales@hoed.co.nz to arrange a Teams Skype.  

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