How to manage call-center stress and become a happier agent

Despina Singh

April 26, 20237 min read

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If you’ve ever thought, “Boy, I’m really burned out. Maybe taking time off for a day or two will make my stress go away.”

No, it won’t

Why, you ask? Well, for one thing, when you return to work or to “normal” work conditions from that supposed brief break, nothing’s changed, and the stress will come rushing back.

Here’s the reality: Research by Gallup shows that, while the number of hours people work each week does matter, it’s how people experience their workload that triggers burnout and affects their well-being.

A sure-shot way to reduce call-center stress is to take charge of your mental well-being and make whatever changes are necessary to rediscover your sense of zen at work.

But how do you navigate your way from feeling stressed, unproductive or drained at work to feeling energetic, happy and appreciated?

A study by the University of Quebec said that when call center agents listened to a 10-minute guided meditation session every morning, their mindfulness increased and psychological distress decreased. 

Luckily, apart from guided meditation, there are other ways to reduce workplace stress and become more efficient, creative and happy at work. Let’s take a look at them.

Table of Contents

1. Use the visualization technique

Visualization, or guided imagery, is a stress-management technique you can use to purposefully generate mental images for a positive physiological and psychological response.

People have used various forms of guided imagery for centuries, and these practices go way back to ancient Greek times. Now, the technique is an established approach in Chinese medicine, Native American traditions, and even other means of healing.

It takes only two or three minutes, and you can do it with your eyes shut (no pun intended) while sitting anywhere. It’s really simple, so give it a try:

  • Breathe in and out deeply while sitting in your chair

  • Close your eyes — visualization is best done with closed eyes

  • Take a moment to imagine a relaxing scene and fill in as many details as possible — include smells, sounds, textures and any physical sensations you may feel in that scenario

  • Continue to focus your attention on feelings of calmness

Tech tip: You can use tools like EnVision to personalize your visualization journey and get reminders to practice daily for ten minutes. 

A “peace” of advice: Give yourself the permission to visualize. In case you’re distracted, try to bring your awareness back gently — stay with the pleasant image for at least 60 seconds at a stretch. Rest assured that it will become natural and relaxing with practice.

2. Practice box breathing

Box breathing, or square breathing, creates a rhythm that reminds your body to take deeper breaths and slow down during tough times. The simple yet powerful technique is practiced in yoga, and it has ancient roots. Initially used by military personnel to fight stress, box breathing has now become popular and mainstream.

Here’s a checklist so you can do it right where you are:

  • Breathe in through your mouth for a count of 4

  • Hold your breath for a count of 4 

  • Breathe out through your nose for a count of 4  

  • Hold your breath for a count of 4

  • Repeat the mentioned steps for 1 to 4 cycles 

You can also try to increase your counts by up to 7 as long as the breaths that you inhale and exhale stay even.  

A square diagram illustrating box breathing and the four steps it involves.

Tech tip: Use Calm to practice synced breathing. Many users have reported a boost in overall well-being after using this app. 81% of them even reported less stress.

The best part: It’s not rocket science. All you have to do is follow their animated instructions — just breathe in as the circle expands and exhale as the circle closes back in. It’s that easy!

3. Listen to curated playlists

Nothing can put you in a better mood than your favorite playlist. 

Here’s what research says: Listening to music is more relaxing than walking, drinking a cup of tea, or playing video games, according to Dr. Lewis of UK’s Sussex University. 

A bar chart showing how much stress is reduced percentage-wise when a person performs various activities, with listening to music being the most relaxing, followed by drinking tea, walking, and playing video games.

While you can’t really listen to your favorite song when answering customer calls or responding to emails , you can listen to music between those activities.

Don’t have a playlist? Don’t worry. In their research, Dr. Lewis and his team set out to identify the best tunes for stress reduction.

The experiment saw participants sitting comfortably and listening to music using noise-canceling headphones. The Mindlab team played each track for three minutes. Each track was intruded with stress-inducing auditory and visual distractions, followed by a period of silence. Participants then rated the music on a scale of -5 to +5 to check how relaxed they felt after every track. 

Here are a few songs from their research that have been ranked from most relaxing to least:

  • Weightless by Marconi Union

  • Electra by Airstream

  • Mellomaniac (Chill Out Mix) by DJ Shah

  • Watermark by Enya

  • Strawberry Swing by Coldplay

  • Pure Shores by All Saints 

  • Someone Like You by Adele 

You can check out the full list here.

4. Work out at your desk

Exercise has some direct stress-busting benefits. No surprises there. For one, it pumps up the production of endorphins — your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters. 

And guess what? It turns out that you don’t need a treadmill or costly exercise gear to get a good workout. You can exercise right by your desk. Here are a few exercises to get you started:

 An image showing 12 different stretches you can do at your desk.

5. Celebrate small wins

As an agent, you solve tricky issues and save several customers’ day round the clock. Give yourself props! There’s really no need to wait for year-end appraisals to celebrate your wins. Be your own cheerleader and celebrate every achievement — big or small.

One of the easiest ways to celebrate
is to be grateful for what you have right now. Make it a point to not let call-center stress keep you from recognizing your wins at work.

As a call center agent, here’s how you can soak in the little successes: 

  • Score your calls using metrics such as — AHT, FCR, CSAT, etc. — and don't forget to reward a job well done. 

  • Instead of deflecting compliments from customers or supervisors, absorb them. Small wins lend momentum and keep you going through hard times.

Document all your positive feedback and revisit it often to gain confidence.

6. Don’t take customer complaints personally

Dealing with angry, frustrated customers day in and day out isn’t easy. And not taking complaints personally when the customers think you’re responsible for their unfortunate situation can be challenging. But taking things personally will only aggravate the situation even more.

Here’s a customer-service quote by author and professional speaker Jeffrey Gitomer that can help put things into perspective during emotionally charged situations: 

Biggest question: Isn't it really “customer helping” rather than customer service? And wouldn't you deliver better service if you thought of it that way?

So, drive compassion in your customers by telling them that you’re on their side and helping them out. Calm them and stay calm yourself by using these practical tips:

  • Be empathetic — use phrases like “I understand why you feel this way”

  • Don’t focus on the customer's tone of voice but on the information they’re sharing

  • Try to control your urge to respond to customer accusations

  • Take notes while on long, complex calls so you can propose thorough solutions

  • Don’t forget to smile while on a customer call 😊

7. Reach out for support

Asking for help at work can be difficult, especially when we assume that our requests will feel like a burden to others. But if the resulting stress is too much to handle, sometimes it’s the only option. 

Here's a fact: 70-90% of the help that’s given in the workplace is in response to requests for help. If you don’t overcome your reluctance, you’re literally wasting one of the best go-to resources you have — your peers. 

Here are just some of the additional benefits of collaborating at work. It helps:

  • Recognize your coworkers’ expertise and cultivate mutual respect 

  • Build a collaborative work environment via open communication

  • Achieve goals faster with a shared vision 

  • Explore an effective and fair distribution of workload 

  • Schedule tasks efficiently with your supervisors 

All you need to do to break the cycle is tick the following boxes:

  • Go talk about your stress with a few friendly colleagues

  • Try completing these statements — “I’m currently working on… and I could use help with…” and “I am struggling to… and I would benefit from….”

  • Try gaining a new perspective, support and reassurance on your nagging issues

  • Take time to say thank you to those who helped you put that tough call behind you 

  • Don’t forget to be available when your peers need support

Wrapping up 

There’s a thin line between working hard and overworking at the expense of your mental and physical health. Handling one of the ten most stressful jobs in the global economy is not a cakewalk. We empathize.  

By all means go on a vacation, travel and enjoy the time away from work. But know that you don’t have to wait for a vacation to take a breather. You can feel relaxed and enjoy every moment right where you are, for true peace is inner peace.

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