Kristin Robertson, KR Consulting, Inc.
This is the second installment in a two-part series on stress in the support center.
“Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it.” This wise statement, by author Samuel Johnson, neatly describes an approach to lessening stress for those who provide customer service and support. Each service provider must either know the answer to the customer’s question, or should be secure in the knowledge of where to find the answer.
In the first installment of this article, we discovered that recent scientific research has identified the four most stressful situations, all of which are commonly found in support centers. The four major stressors to a human being are:
- Lack of control
- Lack of information.*
In part one, we discussed the first two stressors, uncertainty and conflict. In this article, we explore the final two stressors, lack of control and lack of information, and discover ways to mitigate these elements in a support center.
Lack of control
Lack of control in the support center environment is similar to uncertainty. We cannot control who requests service from us next, or what the problem will be. Sometimes other department cause the problems that the support center must handle, such as a network outage. The reactive nature of customer support creates a stressful environment.
However, there are actions to take to reduce the support center’s lack of control or to increase an individual’s perception of control. Some suggestions are:
- The support center manager must use her influence to become involved in change control or product development. It is proven that organizations produce better results when the support center, whose members hear customer concerns every day, is included in the planning process for changes and product releases. In addition, unsuccessful changes or releases are extremely costly to an organization in terms of customer downtime, spikes in call volumes to the support center, and reduced customer satisfaction. By getting involved in the change process, the support center gains control of the changes that it will have to support.
- Encourage analysts to exert as much control over their personal environment as possible. At their cubicle, analysts can be encouraged to display pictures of family members, add green plants or artwork, and even play soothing music very softly. These measures can give the analyst some measure of control over their physical workspace.
- As a support manager, allow analysts more control over the group’s functions. Some support centers identify a committee that is in charge of the fun activities in the support center, such as celebrating birthdays and conducting monthly social activities. Other support centers create a team of analysts to address concerns brought up during employee satisfaction surveys. Delegating short-term projects to individuals or analysts and giving them time off the phones to complete them also increases their sense of control.
- Create scheduled times when the analysts are not responding to incoming support requests. Some groups create rotations with other departments for support analysts, in which the analyst shadows an individual in one of the second-level support departments. Some smaller internal support centers are able to rotate their analysts from phone-based work to desk-side support, which increases job diversity and the perception of control over one’s schedule. Scheduled time off the phones also provides a respite from reacting to incoming issues, and provides analysts with more control of their time.
Lack of information
Employees do not like to fail at their jobs. Lack of information, such as not knowing how to solve a problem or not having access to proper tools, is very stressful but common in the support center. Lack of information is especially stressful to new hires, and contributes to the terror of independently taking the first support or service call. Even new hires must either know the information, or know where to find it, as Samuel Johnson reminded us in the opening quotation of this article.
What are some ways to provide more information to support analysts and lessen their stress? The first step is to provide robust training, both at first, when employees are new hires, and ongoing. Even in a very small support center, a formal new hire program should include a schedule of learning tasks for the new employee to complete. The program might include an orientation with both Human Resources and the support center manager, scheduled classes taught by support center personnel, independent reading, and exercises in the support center’s lab. New support analysts should be scheduled to attend training classes designed for customers as an introduction to how the customers use the products, but customer training cannot substitute for in-depth trouble-shooting training that only support center personnel can provide. Many support centers allow new hires to listen in on phone calls and make that part of their training process; double jacking with an experienced analyst is best offered in conjunction with formal study and training.
A good way to ease the new hire into taking phone calls independently is to conduct a four-step “initiation” process:
- First, the new hire simply listens to an experienced analyst or mentor and discusses each call during the wrap-up time at the end of the call.
- The new hire listens and documents the call in the service management system as the mentor speaks with the customer.
- The mentor documents the call while listening to the new hire speaking to the customer. At the end of every call, the mentor offers encouragement and education to the new analyst.
- The last step is for the mentor to observe the new hire talking and typing, offering help when the new analyst needs it.
This process offers the new analyst a way to gradually take more and more responsibility for handling the support requests, and provides a level of quality assurance for the customer experience. After all, it is not fair to the customers to unleash ill-trained new hires on them.
A robust knowledgebase is an important factor in ensuring that support analysts have access to readily available information. KR Consulting embraces the knowledge management methodology called Knowledge-Centered Support (KCS) as a way to ensure that knowledge is constantly evolving and analysts are responsible for the integrity of the knowledge solutions. To read more about KCS, visit KR Consulting’s website.
Stress in the support center is a given. As we have learned, scientists have identified four major factors that stress human beings, and they are common in the support center. As leaders and service providers who are aware of these stressors, it is our job to lessen their impact on ourselves and those we work with. The benefits will be increased personal well-being, greater employee retention and a more productive work environment.
* E.R. De Kloet, “Corticosteroids, Stress, and Aging,” Annals of New York Academy of Sciences, 663, (1992), 358.