Eating Your Feelings in Customer Service

There's a larger reason peanut butter is smudged into your headset

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The phone is ringing off the hook today. You scan the queue – there are 20 calls waiting. You and the rest of the leadership team hop on calls to help.

The chat queue isn’t any better. And, someone just blew up your company Twitter feed with a negative complaint.

Those emails, full of questions needing to be answered, will have to wait.

The customer you’re speaking to must have missed their cup of coffee today. They are taking what was a simple inquiry and twisting it into a full on torture session.

It’s only 9am. How will you make it to noon for your break?

You feel the anxiety rising in your gut. Your forehead is tense. You’re suddenly starving. You reach into your desk drawer and grab that bar you brought for your afternoon snack. You’re going to be here a while.

You didn’t even realize you were eating. You just notice the melted chocolate fingerprints on your spacebar. There’s a bit of peanut butter smudged into your headset microphone. How did this even happen?

You stand up to stretch your legs. You grab a soda. You also snatch a bag of chips from the snack counter on the way back to your desk. The queue is increasing. You chug your soda. Your shoulders are tense and your lower back hurts.

You can’t wait for the day to end, so you can go home, plop down on the couch with your meal and zone the F out.

For many of us in customer service, we tend to be relational people. We may lean toward the emotional side. Empathy might be our middle name.

And sometimes, folks like that are really great at stuffing their feelings.

And sometimes, they stuff those feelings with food.

It may happen in the office, during their stressful shift, or it may be later on when they go home at night to unwind.

As leaders, we may think this isn’t our problem. These people are adults. It’s up to them to take ownership of their food choices.

These food choices are not bad nor are they good – they are simply choices.

If a team leader is concerned that one of their employees may be stuffing their feelings with food, how do they even (legally) approach it?

More often than not, they’ll stock the snack cabinet with “healthy” foods. They’ll set up team challenges to “lose weight in a month” with the hope of inspiring people to watch what they eat.

And if that’s what gets your team going, there is nothing wrong with that.

But, it’s very rare that that a team talks about their feelings together. And it’s even more rare for a team to talk about the feelings they are stuffing together.

In many office environments, this isn’t even encouraged whatsoever. You talk about your job – not how you feel about your job.

Listen, I don’t have the answers on how to fix it. But, I believe that something should shift. Emotional eating (or not eating) is something we all do at some point or another. Stuffing our feelings is often encouraged at work. Is this right or wrong? Again, I don’t know.

But I ask you – what could the workplace be like if we talked about this stuff from a place of compassion instead judgement?

Maybe you’re already doing something like this at your company. Maybe you’re thinking about it. Maybe you don’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole.

But, those customer service agents sitting at their cubicles dealing with cranky customers on the front lines sometimes need more than hearing about the recently improved CSAT score.

How can you tune in and offer guidance?

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