Want lower employee turnover and benefit usage, and higher customer retention? It's time to take CSR exposure seriously.
Want lower employee turnover and benefit usage, and higher customer retention? It’s time to take CSR exposure seriously.

Whether you’re the irate 50-something customer who can’t figure out the app or the 20-something customer service rep trying to explain it, the result is the same:  frustration, anger, fear, and powerlessness sometimes masked as power. The contact goal? Maximum efficiency. But contact center culture misses a critical point: if the CSR can’t manage his or her own emotions, he or she certainly can’t manage the customer’s. Here are four ways organizations can reduce the impact of trauma on a CSR’s performance. With these, strategies contact centers can slow CSR turnover, reduce benefits usage, and eventually create happy customers and higher sales.

1. Calculate the Cost of Trauma

Employers who say, “But we’re not a counseling clinic!” need to wake up. Chronic exposure to customers’ trauma affects employees and the bottom line. Think about the quality of customer interactions, morale issues, absenteeism, job abandonment, employee turnover, benefit usage, and eventually customer enthusiasm and retention.  Short term thinking prioritizes quantity – get the contact time down! But how do employee metrics that focus on extracting the last drop of efficiency affect long-term balance sheets? If the answer brings you back around to employee turnover, benefit usage and customer retention, maybe it’s time to evaluate new metrics based on the quality of the CSR-customer relationship or CSR empathy. Contact centers need to make conscious decisions about short, mid- and long-term outcomes against the value of handle time as a driver. For example, GoDaddy’s customer loyalty is in part driven by 365x24x7 coverage and suggesting the customer call for advice as well as for support. Metrics focus on the outcomes of calls rather than average handle times.

2. Slow & Steady Wins the Race

The limbic system is the reptilian part of the brain charged with protecting life and limb. When a customer is redlining, the CSR’s limbic system can’t help but respond. Recovery time for the limbic system is an average of—hold on—20 minutes. Can a CSR realistically wait 20 minutes between calls?  Of course not! But consider the costs of going fast in comparison with the cost of slowing down and make an informed decision with both in mind.

3. Reframe Employee Blowout

If you’ve been in the business long enough, you’ve seen it: a CSR come-apart. When a CSR explodes from his or her chair screaming profanity, what do you think? Changing the frame of reference from a focus on “what’s wrong” with the person to “what happened” to them can help you bring the broken CSR back into the fold, as well as help understand and prevent the conditions that create CSR breakdown.

4. Measure With Intention

Make a deliberate effort to identify quality, customer-centric, CSR behavior and reinforce it. Most monitoring processes in which a manager or team reviews calls are biased by personality and preferences. What the monitor rewards may not be what customers really want. Performance monitoring can become a weapon that creates fear in the CSR and places the customer’s needs at the bottom of the list.  Consider including your monitoring process an evaluation of how often the CSR lets customers “inside,” welcomes them, really listens to them, and satisfies their needs in a heartfelt way.

These strategies can ensure your organization responds to the trauma that your reps can’t help but internalize from escalated customer interactions. By learning to honor what’s important to your reps, you can shape CSRs that represent what’s important to your business. Maybe it drains a little from your daily till, but your long-term balance sheet will thank you.