Is your empathetic customer support team suffering from burnout? Here’s what you can do to alleviate the pressure, retain your employees, and promote a positive workplace culture.

Your customer support team members are your company’s unsung heroes. They keep your customers around and bear the brunt of everyone else’s mistakes. Research shows that customer support is psychologically taxing. People who provide a high level of emotional support to others can develop empathy fatigue. This can cause them to disengage, leading to anxiety and increased levels of burnout, which significantly decreases their job performance. It also affects your organization. Your customer support team is key to helping your company thrive: they manage customer relationships, and they’re often at the frontline of your company’s reputation. (We’ve all seen a customer support experience that has gone viral — for either the right or wrong reasons.) So when customer support agents leave, it costs your company money and time to onboard the next employees. Not only that, but having fewer hands on deck can detract from your support team’s overall efficiency, leading to longer wait times and more frustrated customers. Here’s how you can stop your customer support team members from burning out and prevent their churning before it happens.

Your customer support team is the interface between your company and your customers. They spend their days on customer calls, following up with other teams internally to get the right answers, and responding to tickets. When there are so many people to accommodate, it’s easy for your customer support team to feel that they’re spread too thin without ever really getting to invest in one task or customer. Add in competing priorities, and you fragment your customer support team’s attention, leaving them feeling like they never have the satisfaction of completing a job. While multitasking used to be a standard part of most job descriptions, research has discovered that it’s actually counterproductive to peak performance. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that 2-3 minute interruptions — even as simple as flipping between tabs or screens — doubled the number of errors participants made in an assigned task. The more people tried to do at once, the worse they performed (with compounded consequences the further along they went). Other studies have found that multitasking doesn’t just make you more prone to errors, it creates mental blocks that make you anxious. The result is that the energy you expend as you multitask can reduce productivity by 40%. Couple that mental strain with the demands of any customer service job, and you’ve created a recipe for stress, exhaustion, burnout, and high turnover.

If your customer support team falls into the multitasking trap, encourage them to start monotasking — that is, producing better work by focusing on one thing at a time. Monotasking is easier said than done, especially when customer support teams are trying to manage multiple situations simultaneously. Here’s how you can help your team start monotasking:

  • Let your team members specialize. Instead of having your entire team handle any problem that comes their way, allow certain team members to be responsible for specific customer queries. (For example, you could assign them to different products.) This will give your team more ownership over their work and make it easier for each team member to meet their customers’ needs.

  • Keep separate to-dos for each customer. Instead of keeping an overall to-do list, organizing separate ones for each customer will help to clearly track progress and ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

Minimizing your customer support team’s interruptions means they can stay focused on tackling one task at a time — and funnel their energy into productive work instead of frustration.

Your customer support team needs to have a good sense of their schedule each day. But that’s easier said than done, because part of the job description is to communicate with customers as soon as queries arise. Maybe your star team member is super focused on her research for Customer A. Meanwhile, she can see urgent messages from Customer B popping up in her inbox. When she spends all day navigating these competing demands, she feels less and less in control of her own day. Effective time management is an issue facing many customer support teams: 73% of support professionals at large call it their “greatest challenge at work.” The result is that day in and day out, your customer support team feels like their workload is out of their control. Not knowing what’s in store each day can cause a lot of anxiety and exhaustion that builds up over time until your employees reach a tipping point when they can’t take it anymore — and leave.

Your employees will spend less time on the edge of their seats if they know what their day will look like, even if they don’t know exactly what they’ll be doing. Here’s how to nip the “unpredictability” problem in the bud:

  • Communicate early and often. The sooner that your team knows about product changes or shifting deadlines, the more they can plan ahead. A stable schedule makes it easier to deal with unpredictable changes that could veer their days off track, so don’t delay important conversations.

  • Schedule time locks for each customer. This means setting aside time to get all your work done for a specific customer. This might mean designating time for adjusting customer payment plans, relaying messages back to the relevant internal team, making customer calls, or catching up on emails. 

  • Motivate your team to track time using the time tracking feature in Teamwork Projects. This is great for helping individual customer support agents to figure out how long it takes to complete certain tasks. When people see exactly how they spend their time, they can spot patterns — like spending too much time helping one customer while others are waiting — and make more effective choices.

Your customer support team members are the middlemen communicating between your customers and your back-end team at all hours of the day. Often, they end up bearing the brunt of the frustration for things outside their control, like unexpected outages or bugs. Being on the receiving end of communication all day long and crafting the right responses to keep these relationships alive is hard work, but it’s likely overlooked. Customer support can feel like a thankless job at times. A lack of appreciation can only go so far until your employees feel like their work and contribution isn’t valued…and look for another organization where it is. 

In the midst of a busy day, it’s easy to focus only on the tasks ahead of you. Taking a step back and making time for small gestures of appreciation can have a positive impact on many aspects of your business, including employee morale and productivity. Hearing positive feedback at work satisfies a psychological need and is proven to be 5.6x more powerful than negative feedback. Thanking your customer support team can create stronger connections and loyalty. Here are simple ways you can show your appreciation for your customer service team:

  • Just say thank you. Employees can give their colleagues in customer support shout-outs in team meetings and in 1:1s. Additionally, customer support staff can support each other by calling out instances when they see their colleagues doing great work.

  • All-hands support. Here at Teamwork, each team member, no matter what department they work in, spends a few days a year working in customer support. All-hands support is an excellent way for your whole company to gain firsthand insight into customer experience, while also reminding everyone how demanding the support job can be.

  • Share their successes with the company. If you see a team member get a glowing piece of customer feedback, or handle a super-tricky situation with impressive grace, don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with the company at large and sing their praises. At Teamwork, we have a company-wide Teamwork Chat channel for #wins that we use for just this purpose.

Customer support often means prioritizing client satisfaction, but this comes at a very high price if your own employees suffer. Giving your team members support with their schedules, permission to handle one job at a time and some much needed appreciation can go a long way to improving morale and curbing high turnover rates. Do you have any other tips for preventing employee burnout? Let us know in the comments below. This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.