Ricardo, a cable TV call center rep, struggles to remain calm while a
customer explains that she “hates” the company and wants to cancel her
service. Ricardo takes the full brunt of her frustration, enduring
yelling and swearing.
Rachelle, a call center manager, receives final signatures for a major
contract just minutes before she has to deliver news of a demotion to a
member of her team.
At first glance, these situations reflect the common belief that we can
“check our emotions at the door” in the workplace. While the concept of
emotional intelligence (EI) has been around for nearly 25 years, many
professionals believe that emotions can be shut off like a faucet when
we walk into the office or log into email. Many people would even say
this is desirable, given the perception that emotions are a hindrance
to our performance. Business is better served cold.
Here’s the reality: the pursuit of an “emotion-free workplace” is a
mirage, one that can undermine our performance every day. Each of us,
consciously or not, experiences hundreds of emotions each day.
Imagining that success in the workplace requires denying the existence
of emotions is no more realistic than imagining that a driver can reach
her destination by ignoring the weather, traffic, and time of day.
Call center managers and customer service reps aren’t successful
because they eliminate or ignore their emotions. Instead, they use
their emotions wisely. Specifically, they employ the skills of
EI: they recognize the reality
of their emotional state and then regulate
those feelings to achieve their goals. These individuals view their
emotions as a tool for optimizing performance, not as a liability to be
While customer service organizations can benefit from many EI skills,
the notion of “emotional labor” – a term coined by sociologist Arlie
Hochschild – is particularly relevant. Emotional labor is “the work for which you are paid, which
centrally involves trying to feel the right feelings for the job. This
involves evoking and suppressing feelings.” Put simply, when you
express something different than what you actually feel, you are
experiencing emotional labor.
When you work in a customer-facing role, you’ll likely perform
emotional labor throughout the day. Those in customer support roles
will often need to express more pleasant emotions than what they
actually feel in order to improve customer retention. Meanwhile,
someone working in collections might ‘put on’ aggressive emotions to
meet their receivables goals.
In these fields, emotional labor is part of the job. Enduring prolonged
periods of emotional labor, however, creates the potential for
disengagement and an environment where stress, anxiety and depression
become overwhelming. Chronic stress has very real mental and physical
For example, over 70% of U.S. workers are now disengaged in their work.
Research conducted at the Yale Center of Emotional Intelligence shows
that the top negative emotions experienced by employees are
frustration, stress, and overwhelmed. As of 2014, 75 to 90% of doctor’s
office visits are for stress-related ailments. And, 1 in 20 adult
Americans reported current depression symptoms. So, if we want to
perform in the workplace, we need to grapple with our emotions.
One way to combat the stress that’s endemic today is to identify the
emotional labor your team is exerting, reducing it where possible and
improving coping techniques where it’s not. It all starts with recognizing your emotions, which
includes the ability to recognize what you’re feeling, label it
accurately and determine its root cause.
To address emotional labor more fully (and to improve your EI overall),
you also need to apply a second skill: regulation.
This skill is focused on identifying what emotion best fits your
objectives and then using techniques – that you can learn – to regulate
your current emotion to reach the intended one. Notice how Rachelle,
the call center manager, shifts from one positive emotion (excitement)
to another (quietly supportive). Here, we see that regulation isn’t
just about going from unpleasant to pleasant, but is more generally
about optimizing your emotional state for the situation.
Consider the emotional labor that Ricardo, the cable TV customer
service rep, must expend each day, as he keeps his cool in the face of
customer complaints and abuse. Without EI skills, Ricardo could be at
risk for depression and/or substance abuse. According to Rajita Sinha,
Ph.D. at the Yale University School of Medicine, “stress is a
well-known risk factor in the development of addiction and in addiction
As Ricardo develops his EI skills, he gets accustomed to recognizing
his anger and frustration and using regulation strategies to make it
easier to perform the emotional labor necessary to provide excellent
service. He learns deep breathing techniques. He reframes customer
complaints to better empathize with their difficulties. And he imagines
his “best self” so that he can be the type of professional that he
aspires to be.
Taken together, these skills reduce the amount of emotional labor that
Ricardo experiences, reducing his stress, improving his health, and
making him a better rep. As is typically the case when acquiring new
skillsets, the real work for Ricardo is all about practice (and more
practice). The Mood Meter app, downloadable from an app store, is a
perfect first step to support your efforts at identifying emotions.
And, if you’re interested in a complete EI learning program, you can
consider the Emotion Life Lab we offer, targeted specifically at the
busy professional (see www.ojilifelab.com).
It’s no exaggeration to say that nearly everything we have been taught
– mostly implicitly - about emotions is wrong. Life is saturated with
emotion, not just when you’re stuck in traffic. Emotional intelligence
can be the decisive skillset when helping colleagues settle a dispute
or satisfy customers. It turns out that emotions and EI may be your
most potent tools.
Maturing Work-At-Home Model: Bright Spots & Challenges
The work at home model is mature in the contact center world, with a
solid 10 years of significant utilization under our belts. It is
considered low lying fruit for ROI, in that businesses have the same
clear visibility of output regardless of where people sit (in house or
at home) and it appeals to so many people. This is not the case
with many other enterprise roles, but for highly transactional jobs
like many contact center experiences, working from home is - for the
most part - a big, easy win.
The 2019 Remote Working Benchmarking Survey shows that the average mix
of in house vs. at home reps is 70% in house and 30% at home, with some
companies deploying 100% of their reps at home, others just 5%.
So, there's a wide span of mix at home, driven predominantly by
With the maturity of the business model, here are shifting trends we
are seeing from our hundreds of customers who pass through our doors
(via work at home conferences and custom consulting):
1. Business objectives for work
at home have changed. Up until just a few years ago, real
estate cost savings/reduction of facility footprint with the primary
driver for most companies in deploying the work at home
model. Today, with 3% unemployment, the key objective is to
offer rich benefit packages to attract and retain people, and this
includes working from home. This is a big shift.
2. Deployment strategies have
changed. The model is mature, the technology works.
Companies can get more creative now with deployment strategies.
They now include large part-time work forces that office at of their
homes, people that work some days in office and some at home, pop-up
satellite offices in desirable hiring markets for purpose of new hire
training/early day culture building.
3. More support functions and
managers have moved home. For years, many companies asked
managers to remain in office, along with support functions, while
customer experience reps went home. Why? For most, there
was no good reason, except to avoid additional change. Today,
after many trials and tribulations, many managers/supervisors and
support functions work from home for at least part of their schedule,
to effectively experience what their reps are experiencing.
4. Performance results remain
higher than in house for most. Top of the list is
employee satisfaction, which is higher than in house for 98% of
companies utilizing the model. That's directly connected to
retention, and attendance, along with high value metrics (production,
customer satisfaction, selling).
Below are a few areas where a small percentage of companies experience
challenges, and questions I would and do pose to get to root cause:
1.10% of companies report that medical
leave (FMLA predominantly) is higher with home-based reps than in office.
Relevant questions to ask to get to root cause on this include:
a) what is your rep occupancy level running? Are you burning
people out, and they are reaching for medical time off? b)
Are you moving people home that slack off in office? In other
words, are you choosing people to work from home who don't have the
discipline to work from home?
2. 5% of companies report
higher turnover vs. in house. a) Are you using temporary
workers or a staffing agency for placement? b) Is your new hire
training ineffective, causing people to exit early? c) Do your
remote people connect to the company as easily and as often as in-house
employees, in all respects, including socializing, knowledge sharing,
"You only live once, but
if you do it right, once is enough."
~ Mae West
NACC has been burning
the midnight oil and typing until our fingers are sore to bring out
reports to our members. Each is listed below. If you are interested to
see what we are writing about, click on the links
below and download the executive summary of each. If you like
what you see, join the NACC so that you can view these reports and
others that will be coming out soon on our website. These reports will
ensure that you know the latest trends in the industry.