Support teams are on the receiving end of many customers' confusion, disappointment, and anger surrounding coronavirus. So what can reps do right now to keep smiling? And how can managers help support them?

Customer satisfaction matters; we can all agree on that. More than 40% of buyers across the globe would be happy to pay a higher price for products or services from a brand guaranteeing a friendly, positive experience.

But that all hinges on a happy, engaged customer support team.

Now customer support is not always an easy job, especially when emotions are running high. And this is truer than ever as the world is in the grip of COVID-19.

It’s an emotional period for everyone, as the effects of the pandemic prompt widespread anger, sadness, fear, confusion, and even despair on a daily basis. Customers contacting a brand’s support department in search of answers may become irate, tearful, or even just desperate for reassurance.

Let’s be honest: customer support agents are always going to get tricky calls and messages, but there’s sure to be a major increase at such an unstable time. Teams have to try to stay resilient and happy themselves — not only to deliver great customer support on behalf of the brand but to safeguard their mental well-being, too.

The changing face of customer support during a global crisis

Remote work might have been gradually becoming more popular, but now — suddenly — it’s the norm. As a result, more customer support reps are utilizing cutting-edge tools to represent brands from the comfort of their own home.

Some employees might not mind this drastic shift too much. In fact, they might even welcome it — especially if they get to be around their family or pets a little longer than before. But that’s not the case for everyone.

Remote work can be isolating, particularly for those in a household of one. In an office, you can get away from your desk to chat with colleagues and decompress. It’s normal and healthy to vent about angry customers or to need reassurance that you acted the right way.

However, now that’s different too. You can still chat with colleagues via video or messaging tools and get things off your chest but it requires a little more effort than turning to your colleague next to you.

This lack of immediate, tactile human contact and workplace atmosphere can add to the pressure customer support teams already feel when dealing with emotional people. Even when customers are simply afraid and looking for comfort, it’s still draining for agents to be polite, warm, and professional every time.

Over days and weeks, this could have a profound effect on a customer support agent’s general well-being and job satisfaction — making a hard time even tougher.

This is why it’s so important to stay as resilient and positive as possible. Below, we look at six techniques to help customer support agents do just that.

6 ways to be more resilient as a customer support agent

Next time you feel your back is against the wall, try to adopt one or more of the following coping strategies.

1. Be willing to stand your ground

Support agents are crucial for showing a company’s human side and helping to make a positive impression. Sadly, though, you’re also on the front line — and the first to take the brunt of a customer’s wrath.

Everyone has felt frustrated by incompetent or poor service at one time or another. It can be hard to bite your tongue at the best of times, never mind when you’ve had a bad day (or the entire month of March!). But some people will take their anger out on agents, often using personal insults, without worrying about the effect their words may have.

While the adage “the customer is always right” is true in many ways, support agents shouldn’t have to accept being spoken to in an abusive manner. Customer support managers should encourage their teams to stand their ground if things turn south, though always in a polite and measured way.

Remaining professional at all times, even during personal attacks, prevents interactions from becoming increasingly heated and ending badly for everyone. You need to remember that the customer isn’t angry at you, even when they say otherwise. They’re angry at the business, products, or about something totally unrelated (like a global pandemic).

Being resilient means recognizing this and calmly trying to get to the root of the customer’s issue. Stay focused on finding a satisfying solution — that’s your most important job.

A note to managers and business owners: you may need to invest in special training to help customer support reps with challenges like this. Standing their ground may not come naturally to many of them, so show you care by providing them with the tips and tricks they need.

2. Learn from challenges and mistakes

Happy workers are up to 13% more productive, and one way to nurture a more positive team is to learn from challenges or mistakes. Setbacks will happen from time to time. Agents will be unable to calm every angry customer, and sometimes there simply isn’t a quick fix or happy ending. This means customers will complain.

Managers need to see these instances as an opportunity to improve agents’ skills, rather than taking disciplinary action. During difficult times, agents are likely already under personal pressure (related to income, family, etc.), and added strain at work can only make things worse. Their job satisfaction will drop and, as research shows, take their productivity with it.

Customer support reps should be encouraged to recognize what they might have done differently to steer interactions towards a more positive outcome. This process should be constructive and fair, focusing on helping agents to grow.

Over time, you’ll become better at dealing with tough situations, providing customers with the solution they need, and — ultimately — growing more resilient. This can lead to higher confidence and satisfaction overall.

3. Automate tasks to prevent wasted time and frustration

Automation is a fantastic way for agents to save time and focus on core tasks, rather than getting bogged down in repetitive or laborious processes.

Everything from email responses to customer inquiries, and directing callers to the agent most qualified to help them, can be automated. It makes life much easier for agents and creates more time to put into more rewarding activities, like giving customers the best experience possible.

For example, context-based routing and automation prevent customers from being bounced from one agent to another until they find someone with the answers they need. And let’s face it, that’ll probably only make them more ticked off, and more ready to start a fight with whoever gets handed their call next.

Automate the routing, and the caller will be connected to the right person quickly and efficiently — which means no wasted time, or negativity, for anyone.

4. Embrace autonomy for greater flexibility and freedom

The latest customer support software empowers reps with more autonomy. You have quick access to a customer’s details, previous interactions, order history, and more while you’re chatting with them.

There’s less need to rely on scripts or gathering information when you know who you’re talking to right away. You’ll make customers feel more valued if you address them by name and refer to previous interactions immediately, which reduces the risk of them becoming frustrated or feeling as if they’re just another faceless consumer.

When given extra freedom and flexibility to handle interactions, customer support agents have more reason to feel confident in their capabilities.

5. Keep working as a team

Communication and collaboration is more important than ever during this period of enforced remote work and physical distancing. While agents interact with customers extensively, you need a chance to be yourself and reflect on the day with colleagues who get it.

Research shows that 70% of people who feel satisfied with their jobs collaborate with people at least once each week, while those who are unsatisfied do so far less often. Even if only in a small way, agents should be able to interact with each other throughout the day and help solve problems together.

You can encourage colleagues and offer advice if they seem to be struggling, helping to make them more resilient. Perhaps listen in on each other’s calls and be willing to step in to resolve difficult calls as a team.

Company culture should be maintained through frequent communication. Any workplace traditions — group lunches, for example — can still take place courtesy of video chat tools. Even a simple messaging tool like Slack can help remote reps feel more bonded together. Don’t forget, a silly gif can go a long way for camaraderie.

6. Never be afraid to seek leadership

Finally, leadership is critical for fostering resilience in customer support teams during this challenging time. Thankfully, embracing automation and agent autonomy leaves managers with more time to develop coaching strategies.

Coaching sessions give employees a chance to discuss their performance and improve their skills. It helps them feel valued and increases engagement significantly. And highly engaged teams demonstrate more than 20% higher profitability than those with low engagement rates — which will be welcome news to many businesses right now!

During coaching sessions, managers can highlight areas in which agents can improve and listen to any issues they may have with tools or processes. Employees are almost five times as likely to feel empowered to do their best work if they believe their voice has been heard.

These should be held on a regular basis via video chat, replicating the one-to-one format of traditional coaching sessions.

Happy agents = happy customers

Good customer support aims to keep consumers happy, but the people providing the support deserve satisfaction too. Employers and employees are facing a challenge like no other, which means maintaining a united workforce is incredibly difficult — but it’s key to help everyone stay on the ball. Follow the six tips above to cultivate resilience and positivity when it matters most.

Dixa, the Customer Friendship Platform, helps centralize communication channels, data, and integrated tools in one user-friendly platform, making remote agents feel empowered no matter where they are. To learn more about our platform and try it for yourself, get in touch with Dixa now.