ABCs of Mindful Customer Interactions
Imagine my astonishment when the training department received multiple requests to assist with phone anxiety in a contact center. Times have changed. We have a generation of colleagues that prefer text messaging over phone calls and communicate in that channel for most things. You can order food, schedule doctor appointments, confirm appointments, speak with your family and friends, and more via text. There isn’t a need to make a phone call EVER.
Speaking to strangers in this strange new channel has become a cause of anxiety. Some of our colleagues have reported an inability to answer calls due to fear and anxious thoughts. I needed to find a solution that could be implemented on the floor without harming our service levels or quality scores. An article that I had recently read from Lilli Powell, Professor, Darden School of Business, The ABCs of Mindful Interactions, came to mind. Her mindful interactions process was easily adapted for customer interactions proving that any activity can be done with mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
It is commonly thought that those who meditate hope to stop all thoughts and rest their minds in thoughtless peace. Thoughts happen. It is what we choose to do with them that matters. Returning to your breath when fear or anxiety begins to rise allows the feelings to move through you. Impossible? Not according to thousands of years of meditative practice.
Andy Puddicombe from Headspace teaches the practice of noting; a meditative practice that teaches folks how to note their thoughts and feelings that distract them while refraining from analyzing or placing judgement. Attempting to note all of your thoughts will become overwhelming. To put it simply, if it’s a thought, label it as thinking. If it’s a physical sensation, label it as feeling.
Dealing with thoughts and feelings is how mindfulness meditation works. When you notice that you are distracted by thoughts or feelings, note the emotion, whether it’s nervous, anxious, or fearful without analysis or judgement. Then gently bring your attention back to the object of your meditation (your breath). This is how to relate differently to distractions and increase your ability to focus and concentrate.
Let’s now apply this to contact center work.
Before you answer a contact (chat, email, phone), transition into present moment awareness to fully “arrive.” Adjust your posture to be alert yet relaxed. Relax into your sitting posture with a few deep breaths.
After a few seconds of awareness of body, bring your attention to your natural breathing process.
Once you’ve arrived, take stock of your breath. Keep in mind that inhaling brings you oxygen into the body, so if you need energy, breathe in deeply. Likewise, exhaling ejects carbon dioxide, so if you need to relax breathe out deeply.
You can use very soft mental labels to guide and sustain attention to the breath. “Rising/falling” for the abdomen and “in/out” for the nostrils. Let the breath breathe itself without control, direction, or force. Feel each breath from within the breath, not from the head. Feel the full breath cycle from the beginning through the middle to the end.
Answer the contact (chat, email, phone) and begin to shift from your stress response to one of curiosity and service. As emotions arise like nervousness, fear, or anxiety, simply note, “I am feeling nervous,” without evaluating whether it’s good or bad. Just notice that the nervousness is present. Refocus on the object of your meditation (your breath) and continue to serve the customer from a place of curiosity and service.
Remember, when an interaction meets some sort of resistance, either from your feelings, the customer’s behavior, or something external like a time crunch, it’s difficult to stay connected to your intentions, the other person, and the moment. Our instincts may narrow our focus for self-preservation. Take a moment to recenter in an alert-yet-relaxed posture and grounded curiosity breathing.
Repeat with each contact.
At the beginning of this article, the anxiety around answering phone calls and a preference for texting may have led you to believe that I was specifically speaking about the millennial generation. In reality, I’ve found that contact center professionals of all ages experience anxiety in their pressure-filled roles.
Practicing mindfulness before, during, and after each interaction puts you in a much better position to recognize the anxiety as a feeling and not let it control you. Like any new practice, this might take a few extra moments at first, but as you practice and form a habit, you’ll find that you naturally flow into your next customer interaction without delay.
Sheri Kendall-duPont’s passion for creating positive change within organizations led her to FCR. In her current role as Training Manager she has developed programs that have inspired those in leadership to create a coaching culture. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management from Northwestern Christian University and a Master’s Degree in Training and Development from Roosevelt University. Her career in education began in 1999 and since then she has developed workplace learning opportunities for non-profit organizations, institutions of higher education, government agencies, healthcare organizations and contact centers. Follow Sheri on Twitter and LinkedIn.