This year’s customer care week has just lapsed. A lot of pomp and vigor was seen as brands joyfully celebrated their customers. This year, organizations are highly grateful to have customers as the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged many businesses. 

The great theme was Power of Service aimed at celebrating those who diligently serve diverse customers with different types of personalities with utmost respect and a touch of magic despite broken processes and non-aligned or performing products. These are the most valuable but looked down upon and underpaid employees in any organization despite many speeches that  try to convince the public otherwise. It’s no wonder that this lot needs to go through a lot of mental stimulation and reward systems.

Delivering a good customer experience is no mean feat if you are in a customer care department.  A few weeks ago, a video went viral because a bank employee was rude to a customer. Everyone judged his attitude but no one checked to see if he had stress related issues. Under normal circumstances this meant a quick firing letter for gross misconduct without the business evaluating its internal contribution to the incident.  It’s a fact that within one hour, you will deal with irate, happy, talkative or very difficult customers causing acoustic shock to your ears as you adjust to different volumes.

Each day, one has to be ready to manage the issues of the day all iced with a lot of shouting and dissatisfaction deleting the good feel factor. Can you imagine the level of emotional intelligence and negotiation skills required to engage one hundred personalities in a day with different requests? What does this do to one’s mental health and what should businesses do to support the customer service staff and ensure their employees’ mental well-being?

  1. Recognize that mental health is real and it can be exacerbated by the need to consistently give good service under pressure. This needs to be managed through extensive training to handle customer requests and a lot of coaching on stress management.
  2. Set a realistic work life balance. Most customer service staff work in shifts. This means that they do not necessarily work within the 8 to 5pm schedule and they have to leave family members to attend to odd shifts. What does this do to them since they are generally young? Their relationships suffer and young parents are stressed as they leave their babies at home under the care of nannies and relatives.
  3. The customer is always right – Is the customer service staff always wrong? The business must establish the set procedures to deal with different queries. They should also have a way to listen out to the staff opinion too and not always favour the customer. A good technology system should address this.
  4. Set up business processes that are also user friendly. These should be user friendly and balanced to ensure they favor both the organization and the business. Often business owners and leaders only think from a negative experience e.g. lock up stocks to manage fraud while affecting customer experience.
  5. Empower their staff to resolve issues. How can organizations achieve this? Ensure that you have the right technology which is agile and flexible to handle the reasons customers call in. The second level escalation should be well thought out and different service levels agreed upon to manage customer expectations.
  6. Businesses should also ensure that they have team leaders who are emotionally intelligent and well supported to manage the frontline staff. Good managers will listen to understand the staff circumstances while balancing performance.
  7. Counselling service should be part of the medical cover for these members of staff as an optional service. This will mean that staff can have a support system beyond the walls of the organization encompassing their private matters too.

Mental health should not be taken for granted and the comfort of the customer facing staff should be well managed as these are the first ambassadors of your brand talking to all your customers more frequently than the managers and the CEO.

Pauline Warui is the Chief Executive Officer at the East Africa Customer Care Centre (EACCC) Nairobi.