Pandemic rage: How to support your customer-facing employees

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Pandemic rage: How to support your customer-facing employees

Customer rage is causing employees to burn out. Here are three ways to support them, from prioritizing mental health to offering training.

Camille Rasmussen

January 27, 2022 | 5 min read

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Customers are behaving badly. Worn down by nearly two years of pandemic-fueled uncertainty, a political climate that has devolved into hateful discord, and the stress of juggling kids with remote work and fewer social outlets, people are at the end of their ropes. And the more frustrated they get, the more they seem to be lashing out at workers in customer-facing roles. 

You’ve probably heard about pandemic rage by now: shoppers getting into scuffles at the grocery store; airline passengers screaming at flight attendants; angry customers berating customer service agents due to shipment delays. 

It’s no wonder customer-facing employees are burning out and quitting in droves. An August 2021 study reported by The New York Times found only 39% of American adults said they believed America’s tone was civil. The same study found that people who didn’t have to work with customers were happier than those who did.

The impact of handling intense customer interactions more frequently isn’t just hurting employee satisfaction and retention rates—it’s impacting the experience customers are getting as well. Given that employee motivation is the number one obstacle standing in the way of delivering a successful customer experience1, keeping employees happy, engaged, and productive goes hand in hand with keeping customers satisfied. 

So what can employers do to protect their employees’ mental health and wellbeing and boost retention? In this article, we’ll explore three ways you can prioritize your employees during these challenging times.

1. Provide extra support around mental health

The added stress from working with customers today—which may now include new job duties like checking vaccination status, enforcing COVID-19 policies, and even acting as a bodyguard on top of regular responsibilities—will have a long-lasting impact on the mental health and wellbeing of customer-facing workers. 

And it’s a key driver behind the Great Resignation: a recent Momentive study found that out of the workers who plan to quit in the next six months, nearly half say work stress is to blame2. Another one in five say they’re resigning to focus on their mental health.

The pandemic has put mental health in the spotlight for employers. In fact, 39% of employers updated their health plans since the start of the COVID pandemic to expand access to mental health services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's 2021 Employer Health Benefits Survey.

But there’s still a gap between the support employees need and what they’re able to get through their employer health plans. A recent Momentive study found that while 75% of employees say that mental health benefits are important, only 42% of employees have access to mental health benefits2.

Beyond reevaluating your health care offerings, you may consider adding mental health days to your time off policy, encouraging employees to take time away from work, offering access to a meditation app, or providing special training to help employees manage and reduce stress. Before you invest, ask your employees what would help them most, and use the learnings to decide where to focus your efforts.

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2. Prioritize belonging and community

Prioritizing belonging can go a long way toward making your employees feel supported through big challenges—like facing upset customers—and accepted for who they are. But unfortunately, a full quarter (26%) of employees don’t feel like they belong at their current company3.

For companies that have embraced remote and hybrid work models, it can be even harder to retain a sense of community and belonging amongst employees. Workers depend on the emotional support they get from their colleagues, so if your culture doesn’t facilitate connection and collaboration between employees, it can make them feel isolated and less satisfied with their jobs.

In fact, a recent Momentive study found workers who feel more connected to their colleagues are nearly three times more likely to describe themselves as thriving compared to those who feel less connected4.

To improve your workforce’s sense of belonging, start by measuring inclusion and belonging to understand what you’re doing well and what areas you need to work on. 

3. Offer skills development and training opportunities

Continuous learning and development programs can help promote better job performance and build a more engaged workforce, which ultimately helps your business deliver better products and services. 

Your learning and development program shouldn’t be a set-it-and-forget-it approach. A 2020 Gartner study found the number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year over year, so the training you offered just a few years ago might be irrelevant today. 

The number of skills required for a single job is increasing by 10% year over year.

For employees who work directly with customers, the pandemic has fueled the need for a host of new skills—from de-escalation techniques and conflict resolution to enforcing COVID protocols. To ensure you’re preparing your employees for success in a rapidly changing world, make sure you’re regularly revisiting the training and development opportunities you offer. 

The most impactful training and development programs are built and then updated based on employee feedback, creating a cycle of continuous feedback and refinement that ensures that these initiatives are working as intended.

How will you support your employees in 2022?

Your employees are encountering new and difficult situations today—from de-escalating tense interactions with belligerent customers to changing COVID-19 protocols—and they’ll need your support to navigate through in 2022.

Your employees are the lifeblood of your organization. You need them to stay happy and engaged so they can deliver the products and experiences your customers expect and keep your business running smoothly. 

The businesses that are attracting and retaining top talent today are those that listen to what their employees need and roll out new initiatives to support them, whether it’s adding mental health benefits, prioritizing belonging, or offering new training opportunities. 

And don’t forget—a little appreciation can go a long way. 

Momentive offers employee experience solutions that can help you stay on top of employee burnout, wellbeing, and overall sentiment so you can put the people who matter most to your organization first.

Camille Rasmussen is a Senior Content Strategist at Momentive.

1 GetFeedback study of 2,200 CX professionals in the US and EMEA, 2021

2 Momentive study of 6,678 adults in the US, June 2021

3 Momentive study of 12,543 adults in the US, summer 2018

4 SurveyMonkey online poll conducted October 18-25, 2021 among a national sample of 11,227 adults.

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