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The Psychology of a Customer Support Agent amid Covid-19: How the Pandemic Affected their Mental Health

COVID-19 has caused significant panic, anxiety, and concern all over the world. 

Businesses had to adapt in a snap and work harder to understand the challenges brought by the restricted face to face contact, social distancing, and community quarantine measures that authorities had to implement to curb the spread of the deadly virus.

In fact, some of the provisional countermeasures they’ve put in place during the first few months of the pandemic proved insufficient.

Customer service representatives were among those who received the strong impact of the  pandemic. The global health crisis pushed customer support teams to go above and beyond to prevent businesses from losing more customers and partnerships. 

The reality is providing excellent customer service is more important than ever. For startups, excellent customer assistance represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance to significantly improve the quality of the services they provide to their customers. On the other hand, the added pressure also left customer support representatives exceeding even their threshold for both work-related and personal stress.

That said, it is essential to discuss how the pandemic has affected the mental health of customer service workers and what companies can do to safeguard their employees. 

The Pandemic and its effects on the wellbeing of customer service agents

BPOs had to adopt a hybrid of both office and home based work setups to continue their operations while ensuring the safety of all their staff. There was also much focus on embracing digitally driven alternatives for data sharing and organization, team meetings, along with training and onboarding of new agents.

While these adaptable measures are beneficial to the company, is it just as advantageous and fool-proof as it seems to the workforce?

Working from home also has its disadvantages. The isolation, prolonged lockdowns, and uncertainty about when the pandemic will end have all contributed to an increasing sense of frustration among those in customer service roles. Not to mention, not everyone has a home environment that’s conducive for a peaceful work environment. Some staff have to deal with family and financial problems, while others have to juggle tending to their kids’ needs and completing their tasks.

The lack of social support and interaction has also taken a toll on the psychological and emotional health of some staff. Some people do well with staying at home for extended periods. Those who do not are individuals who need constant interaction and validation from other individuals. They constantly seek someone to share their thoughts and dilemmas.

Another crucial factor to consider is how working from home may tend to lead to an increase in workload. Agents with added responsibilities such as parental roles have to deal with their home and work priorities at the same time. Consequently, they may be tempted to work longer hours since there’s no separation between their personal and professional lives.

6 Ways to Protect the Mental Health of Your Customer Support Team

Providing excellent customer service is not an easy job. It is a profession that is regarded as “very stressful” since employees are often expected to be on their best behavior as they tackle time constraints in their AHTs (Average Handling Time), solving complex problems, and dealing with rude customers. 

These factors all combine to make the job exceedingly challenging. Also, since they are the people that customers interact with first, it is essential to keep an eye on their overall well-being at all times.

Therefore, what actions can companies take to better safeguard the mental health of their workforce? The following is a list of preventative actions that companies may take to address their employees’ wellness and protect them from experiencing burnout at work:

  1. Show gratitude.

When you express your gratitude to your employees, not only are you contributing to boosting their productivity and commitment, but you are also improving their health and well-being. Gratitude means acknowledging the work and sacrifices done by your staff to keep your business going. It encompasses appreciation for their individual and collective roles. 

Employees who are acknowledged and appreciated tend to have better sleep and enhanced metabolism. That is because they undergo less pressure and stress.

You can start simple by rewarding them or thanking them personally for a job well done. Another way to express your gratitude by treating your colleagues to lunch occasionally. Whether they are working from home or in the office, your kind words will help them perform better in their jobs.

  1. Actively listen.

Excessive stress can serve as a catalyst for more serious mental health concerns. As a leader, your job is to pay attention to what your employees are saying. More than that, it is even crucial that you pay attention to their nonverbal cues. They may be facing struggles or challenges affecting their work. It may even be something related to the dynamics they share with their co-workers, or they may also be having difficulties understanding the instructions given to them about a certain task.

If they have suggestions, take the time to listen as they share it to you or to the team. Give their words some thought. Research suggests that attentive listening may boost productivity, elevate mood, and prevent possible conflicts. In turn, you are cultivating a positive environment and healthy relations among your staff. 

  1. Respect their work-off hours.

Do you tend to send emails or messages to your staff beyond their work hours? If so, then this is your sign to stop that habit!

Whether you are the CEO, a supervisor or manager, it is to the benefit of both the firm and your co-workers to observe the established work schedule. Punctuality is essential, but also a prompt departure from work on time is critical. Your team may be working from home, but that doesn’t mean you can invade their personal space and time by sending notifications at ungodly hours. Your staff are not robots. Just like you, they also have families and personal matters to attend to.

Don’t push your staff to work past their limits. Instead, encourage them to take a break and be their inspiration to practice a good work-life balance. The reality is no one could have been fully prepared for the backlash brought by COVID. You may not know it, but your staff may still be in the midst of overcoming the added trials caused by the pandemic. Allow them to prioritize their well-being. Indeed, the role they have chosen to take on in your firm is essential, but that does not compare to their psychological wellness.

In some countries, companies indirectly give the impression that leaving work on the dot should be frowned upon. Employees need time to recharge and feel revitalized so they can generate new ideas and provide answers to the challenges they confront at work. In case you need staff to work extra hours for an urgent project or task, inform them ahead of time.

  1. Mental health seminars and training for leaders.

Training team leaders on how to properly handle the well-being of their employees is vital. 

Your team leaders and/or managers are the first people who engage with your support staff. Be aware of the warning signs of mental health concerns that arise within your employees.

Although several executives fail to recognize the importance of mental health awareness in the workplace, this skill is essential to the long-term success of any organization. You must have a thorough comprehension of your team and a keen awareness of the different factors affecting their productivity.

Gone are the days when effective leadership was defined by piling work after work after work on your staff. It’s 2022, and good leadership should now be defined by the capacity to instill honesty, constructive feedback, and a respectful interaction among employees. Moreover, you must be more sensitive when discussing or probing about the difficulties that each of your staff is undergoing. 

Who knows? It might even serve as a springboard for them to open up more in the future.

It is also possible to help workers coordinate their professional and personal obligations and objectives better by training your management team on the importance of work-life balance.

  1. Implement programs that highlight mental health awareness.

Employers should have the capability and resources to provide and maximize healthcare benefits to all of their staff.

A healthy psyche is a key component in helping individuals practice better decision making when dealing with obstacles, setbacks, and even positive experiences. Work-wise, increasing mental health awareness promotes the ability to adapt quickly to shifting roles and responsibilities.

Wellness programs in the workplace may aid in identifying individuals who are at risk and implementing the necessary preventive measures to help them. It may be through recommending or referring them to trained and licensed Psychology professionals.

In addition, employers who provide benefits for mental health have a major advantage over those who do not. Their staff become less prone to burnout, and they are likely to uphold a harmonious work environment. Your team will also feel more comfortable discussing any future issues and hurdles openly and in a more respectful manner 

  1. Consult mental health specialists if needed. 

Unfortunately, there remains a significant level of stigma coupled with seeking therapy or counseling. As such, some people are hesitant or fearful about taking this step, no matter how much it would benefit them long-term. 

Your employees’ health should be their first priority, regardless if they hold a supervisory position or not.

It is critical to stress to your workforce the significance of seeking help from mental health professionals in the event that ordinary exhaustion develops into more deep-seated and extreme repercussions to their overall well-being. 

If you really want to assist your personnel, the first step is to understand what they are going through. You may have a private conversation with them and learn to empathize with their struggles. 

Cooperate with mental health professionals. Create a contact information list of mental health clinics or therapists that your staff can contact in case they have decided to seek professional help. Assure them that the struggles and problems they open up, along with their decision to seek therapy will all be confidential.

Introduce them to guidance counselors and therapists by arranging a Q&A session to acquaint your team with the importance of adhering to their psychological, emotional, and physiological needs. 

Bottom Line

Indeed, customer service is integral to the continuity and success of any company or corporation. An effective way to aid your employees is to place employee well-being and happiness at the center of your culture and priorities. Show them you appreciate them, listen openly to their suggestions and grievances. Remember, prevention is better than cure.

As the world is slowly recovering and rebuilding itself from the aftermath of the pandemic, there will inevitably be tougher tribulations that your customer support team must face and overcome. Whether you decide to have all of your staff return to the office or allow them to continue working from home, you must see to it that their health and safety are not compromised. After all, your support representatives are the face of your company.

May this blog serve as a wake-up call for all organizations and business owners to increase their mental health services and support for their workers!

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