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Apeel consumer experience director advocates for greater attention to service agent well-being

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Apeel consumer experience director advocates for greater attention to service agent well-being

service agent self-care

Jenny Dempsey was going through anxiety attacks. Her eating habits were affected. She wasn’t sure how much longer she could endure it.

No, this was not last night, when she and the whole world were awaiting the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. It came from her work in customer service.

Today, Dempey is the consumer experience manager at Apeel, a company based in California whose edible coating product can make fruit and other food last twice as long and reduce waste. In a virtual event hosted by Zendesk late last week, however, she was looking back on her journey from extreme stress to self-care.

Jenny Dempsey customer service
Jenny Dempsey,

“It’s a personal issue for me, because I’m a semi-retired people pleaser. I’ve really learned the hard way by burning out so many times,” she said. “At the time, I didn’t feel I could talk about this outside of going to a therapist or writing in my journal for fear of losing my job.”

The Zendesk event was about ‘How To Raise Your CX Game,’ and Dempsey’s comments seemed particularly relevant now that so many contact centre agents are working at home and no doubt seeing customer expectations and workloads escalate by an order of magnitude.

Of course, I have heard about the need to “check in” with agents and others on the front lines of customer experiences before. Dempsey, however, suggested that what’s needed now goes beyond ensuring mere “employee engagement” and getting real about the challenges agents face and the support they’ll need.

Self-care, in other words, shouldn’t mean it’s up to agents alone, or that superficial fixes will be enough in the current environment.

“It’s not about diet and exercise. It’s setting boundaries in and out of the office and having the right tools and resources to do our jobs,” she said. “It’s also about understanding the different types of stress and recognizing them. And calling it out ourselves — speaking up when it’s not right.”

With political and economic forces adding to the stresses CX and service teams are grappling with inside, a strategy for monitoring and strengthening employee mental health can’t come soon enough for many organizations.

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According to Jeff Toister, a CX consultant and trainer who spoke in the same Zendesk session, the big mistake many companies make is focusing on how to better motivate their agents.

“If you’ve hired correctly, they want to help customers. The bigger issue is agent de-motivation,” he said. “Too often they come to an organization and were promised Disneyland. Then once they start serving customers, they realize Disneyland has burned down.”

Training may help to some extent, but Toister had another simple step: Make sure you’re investing in products and service upgrades that don’t lead to increased frustration from customers — and agents who know those customer frustrations are justified.

“Training can fix, ‘I don’t know how to do it,’” he said. “It can’t fix ‘I’m not able to do it — or the product won’t let me.’”

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