Coronavirus: How to Keep Your Customer Service Team Motivated & Healthy

When I was a child, I would sometimes watch reruns of The Twilight Zone with my parents. As a child, the stories were scary but, rewatching as an adult, they’re mostly laughable due to the outdated graphics and over-the-top acting.

I routinely find myself in the same state of disbelief while watching the constant updates on coronavirus. It’s unthinkable. Every major city is shut down. Millions of people are under shelter-in-place orders. Any big event scheduled for the next few months has been cancelled.

With all these changes and cancellations, many customer service teams are seeing a flood of inbound requests. Customer service motivation needs to remain high so that we can continue to support our customers effectively. In this time of uncertainty, customers need our help more than ever.

So, with lockdowns being extended across the world, how can you keep your customer service team motivated? And more importantly, how can you keep them healthy? There’s no perfect answer - and needs will evolve as this continues - but there are some guidelines you can follow.

1. Go beyond mindful, be thoughtful 2. Adjust expectations 3. Be transparent

Go beyond mindful, be thoughtful

We’re living in unprecedented times. None of us have seen or experienced anything like it before and simply getting adjusted to our new reality has felt like a full-time job all on its own.

On top of the alterations to daily life, many are learning how to work from home for the first time. If they have kids, they may have had to take on the role of part-time teacher. At the very least, we’re separated from support networks and that alone is a lot to bear.

Being mindful of these potential complications is a great first step, but I encourage you to go even further and be thoughtful.

This means being proactively empathetic to your team’s needs, instead of reactive. So, for those of your team members who have kids, let them know upfront that you’re able to accommodate a more flexible schedule. Work with them on communicating what they need and when they will be online and available.

For every team member, put a multiple break policy in place and make sure you’re actively encouraging them to take those breaks throughout the day. Science shows taking breaks can increase performance and is essential for overall mental health. You could also set up things like virtual happy hours or non-work-related chats so that those who feel isolated have an opportunity to socialize. You’re trying to simulate the same community your team feels when they work in your office.

Another measure you can take is to reach out regularly to check-in with your team. Create structure for each person so they aren’t left alone to self-organize: - Team meetings (whether social or work focused) can provide a needed distraction and help boost your support team’s motivation. - Daily routines such as stand-ups and hand-offs can create connection and keep momentum throughout the day. - One-on-one meetings can help managers gather concerns and stay responsible to the needs of each individual.

In the same vein, be sure to provide your team with all the tools they need. Some companies have supplied their team with items like external keyboards or offered additional discretionary budgets to help bolster work-from-home setups. (Microphones, second monitors, chairs, and desks are just a few of the items that your employees may need in order to stay productive).

It may not be possible to do everything mentioned above - it will largely depend on resources available. But, there will be something you can do. Make sure you’re finding those opportunities to make your team comfortable in their new situation. It’ll pay dividends in the long-run, especially when it comes down to employee loyalty.

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Adjust Expectations

Malcolm Gladwell’s second book, Blink, is all about our ability – or inability – to react quickly in stressful situations. Blink covers many topics, but one that’s particularly relevant today is the role stress plays on our ability to process information and react.

It should come as no surprise that stress causes performance to decrease. With the coronavirus pandemic, everyone’s baseline stress level has increased. Maybe you’re working from home for the first time or have a loved one who’s ill or in the at-risk population. Keeping focused and motivated may not be the first order of business.

Make sure you’re adjusting your expectations of your team’s performance. For some, being able to focus deeply on work is a welcome distraction but others may find it very difficult to stay focused. Everyone will be different, but you need to communicate to your team that you understand and that you don’t expect them to be working at pre-crisis levels.

Valentina Thoerner, remote work consultant, says that this is not a remote work experiment. Instead, this is a stress test of your policies and workflows. Things will inevitably break as your team is no longer able to meet in person, answer questions off the side of their desk and will have to adjust their hours to handle homeschooling kids. Her advice? “Don’t expect increased productivity and, instead, show empathy for those who are hit hardest by these changes. Flexibility can be a lifesaver for parents. Video calls without video can reduce anxiety for those who don’t want to broadcast their shared bedroom. Show empathy, and make sure your employees do the same”.

By reducing your expectations and supporting your team, you’ll keep them motivated and avoid burnout.

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Be Transparent

With so much uncertainty in the world, high anxiety levels are to be expected. In fact, health issues are often cited as one of the most common triggers for anxiety. So, the pandemic almost surely has your team more on-edge than normal.

our management efforts should focus on relieving that stress: be transparent. Open and honest communication is a great way to combat the anxiety of uncertainty. Make sure you’re giving regular updates on how the company is doing and help teammates keep informed about anything coming down the pipeline that could affect them or their position. Act as an advocate for your team members. If they have questions that you can’t answer, help to escalate their voices to senior leadership. Suggest frequent all-hands meetings to encourage upper management to communicate changes and gather concerns when necessary.

It’s easier said than done. If you become aware of something like reduced hours or having to furlough or lay off staff, it can feel like all you’re doing is piling on to an already bad situation. That’s completely understandable but, in reality, it’s not really doing any favors. The best thing you can do when delivering bad news is to be direct.

Transparency helps establish trust. In times like these, trust is an invaluable asset for your team. When we trust our leaders we not only perform better, but also have higher overall job satisfaction and it leads to higher employee loyalty.

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We continue to venture into uncharted territory. We’re all learning and adjusting as we go. Even with things turned upside down, there’s still work to be done. Though that is true, we need to be sure we’re protecting our people and doing everything we can to keep them healthy through all of this. This is no sprint – it’s a marathon – and we don’t know how long it will last.

Be thoughtful: Be proactive rather than reactive. Make time to talk, encourage breaks and be flexible in these uncertain times.

Adjust expectations: It’s easy to think of this experience as just getting used to working from home, but it’s much more than that. It’s everyone trying to figure out working during a global crisis.

Be transparent: There’s enough uncertainty in the world right now, the last thing you want to do is add to it. Remember, trust within your team will pay dividends in many ways. Be kind, be understanding, be accommodating and you’ll be on the path for success in these trying times.

People will remember how companies treated their employees during this time. Those that were compassionate and gave flexibility will have a more engaged and productive workforce. Be thoughtful, be flexible and be transparent - we’ll make it through this as a team.

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