Stress in business can come from many sources: from finances, bosses, employees, or customers/clients/patients (depending on what your type of business calls “end-users”), just to name a few. Workplace stress is not a new concept. It’s been around for as long as people have worked, or for basically as long as people have inhabited this planet. But how we interact with all of the people we come into contact while conducting our business can increase or decrease our stress levels and the stress levels of those other people.
As Schneiderman, Ironson and Siegel write, “Stressors have a major influence upon mood, our sense of well-being, behavior, and health.” Stress can cause people to grind their teeth, have digestive problems, high blood pressure, cognitive problems, fatigue, irritation, helplessness and depression. We may not always be able to control the source of the stress, but we can control our responses to it. And in business we can often control if we relieve or create more stress in our customer service connections.
For three days this week I was in the hospital with an obstruction in my small intestine due to adhesions from a surgery a number of years ago. Hospitals can be stressful places since they are sometimes chaotic, not very private, the “end-users” are often in pain or experiencing some kind of trauma, and everyone has needs to be met.
In that type of business, many employees provide “customer service” to the patients, and those employees may not always be on the same page. For example, my attending physician discharged me and said I’d be out of the hospital in an hour. An hour passed and no one came with paperwork and both my husband and I went separately to check with the nurse to find out what was going on. We both were told that a consulting surgeon on my case said I couldn’t go home yet and that I had to stick around for a few more hours. You can imagine how much this increased my husband’s and my stress levels, inducing irritation, frustration, anger and elevated heart rates.
Harvard Business Review says that the thing most customers/clients/patients value or consider “kick-ass customer service” is when they see results. And customers most appreciate these results when they happen quickly or when customers don’t have to fight for them. Take a moment and think about a time when you received something in the mail that wasn’t quite in the condition you expected or were scheduled for a flight that was cancelled or delayed. How did it make you feel? Were you calm with a “oh, that’s life” attitude or did it make you sad or angry or frustrated so that you felt your stress level rise?
Now think about what happened if/when you reached out to customer service or the company’s representative. Did that person treat you with kindness, try to understand the situation or problem, and come up with a satisfactory solution? (All things that could lower your stress response.) Or did the customer service rep seem to be responding from a script, appear un-empathetic, or even apathetic and not offer a satisfactory solution? (All things that could add to an already stressful situation and create more stress.)
Finding ways to incorporate appropriate humor into customer service situations, as well as delivering timely results, are two ways to diffuse stressful situations and to contribute to your customer’s mental, physical and emotional well-being.
When businesses figure out a way to do this, and to do it well, they often create repeat customers who are happy to spread the word about their experiences and to recommend the business to others. And all because the business reduced their stress instead of contributed to it.