If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you know that each day brings new stories, some funny and others not, of the things your customers have said or did. From the customer who accidentally destroys your product and demands a refund to the customer who cracks jokes throughout a call.

Sometimes those calls or interactions reveal human suffering. Perhaps it’s a young mother who cannot afford to pay for medication she desperately needs or overhearing abuse in the background, customer service can take an emotional toll on your team. Job-related stress and emotional trauma contribute to agent burnout and attrition. We all know that attrition is expensive, not to mention the emotional costs to your team.

Here are some tips for dealing with overwhelming support incidents:

  1. Overcome stress like a Navy Seal. The U.S. Navy Seals are an elite group of soldiers who encounter extreme stress in the course of their work. Recruits are taught the art of self-regulating using a technique called box breathing or 4×4 breathing. Psychologists and self-help gurus have been touting this technique for years, some going as far to recommend that you start every morning by setting a five-minute timer and completing the exercise. The concept is simple:
    • Expel all of the air from your lungs
    • Keep your lungs empty for four seconds
    • Inhale through your nose for four seconds
    • Hold your breath for four seconds
    • Exhale for four seconds
    • Repeat for several minutes
  2. Talk it out. After a difficult interaction, especially one that’s causing you to relive trauma, make sure to have a buddy who can listen and offer support. That may be a supervisor or a co-worker. It’s most likely that just having someone listen will be enough to release built-up tension so you can move on with your day. Comparing the absurdity or silliness of these interactions can lead to laughter and an ability to put things into perspective. It’s okay to step out, take a breather, and vent to a supervisor. Remember that it’s not a personal attack!
  3. Change your surroundings. When we experience a situation that upsets us, the environment around us plays a big role in holding onto those thoughts and feelings. Think in terms of your five senses and find healthy ways of making changes. This can be accomplished by taking a break for a quick stroll or even at your desk. Here’s an example with a cup of coffee:
    • Sound – Intentionally listen to the sound of the coffee brewing or pouring into the cup. Hear the sound of sugar gliding under the surface and tinkling of the spoon as you stir.
    • Touch – Now hold the cup with both hands. Feel the warmth emanating from the mug and the weight in your hands.
    • Smell – Raise the cup to your nose. Inhale. Notice the aroma.
    • Sight – Close your eyes as you raise the mug to your mouth. Take a quiet moment to clear your mind and think of only your coffee.
    • Taste – Take a sip. Notice how it tastes. Is the flavor what you expected or is there anything new you can taste?
    • Repeat – Try to notice at least three new things during this exercise.
  4. Celebrate gratitude. During stressful situations, reflecting on all the things you are grateful for in your world helps to refocus your energy. Set a timer for three minutes. Take out a sheet of paper and begin to write down the things you are grateful for in your life: family, colleagues, pets, hobbies, or simple things like having a job. Dig deep. Keep writing. Don’t think about your timer…just write as quickly as you can. When your timer goes off, take a look at all the things on your list. Remember, your hard work has lead to that list. Each day is filled with challenges. This too shall pass and you’ll find a way to handle the situation and move forward.

Customer service agents deal with some pretty wild interactions. Be ready to support them so they can continue to provide the outstanding service your customers love while staying sane and healthy.