Mental Health for CX Agents During the Holidays

Emily Rosato
March 22, 2024
5 min read

The holidays are coming up, and we know these are the biggest shopping months of the season.. In 2020 alone, shoppers spent $10.8 billion during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. With a looming recession in sight, the pressure is on for brands to deliver exceptional customer experience which will result in higher LifeTime Value (LTV) of their customers.

With that, Customer Experience leaders are prepping for anything that can happen. From sudden web page crashes to shipping delays, CX teams are putting the tools in place to cover all their bases.

But there’s one issue (maybe the most important issue) all teams face that can, unfortunately, get overlooked – the mental health and wellbeing of CX agents during the biggest shopping event of the year. 

That’s why Hark turned to industry experts to learn how some of the top leaders create the best employee experience during what can be a very stressful time. Because hey, customer support needs support, too. 

Here are the key themes we found:

  • Encourage PTO before the holiday season 
  • Be flexible with your team
  • Inspire healthy habits
  • Adjust agent and customer expectations
  • Celebrate achievements of all sizes

Encourage PTO

Dan Brady of Pura Vida encourages PTO to be used up before the busy season. This is a great way to reduce risk of being understaffed while also making sure your team is well-rested before and after things get crazy!

He says, “I definitely encourage people to take the time off before the holidays, go enjoy time with your friends and family, travel, and do what makes you happy. Take your breaks, take a nice long lunch…I just preach that yes, it’s a busy time of year, it’s stressful, but take it day by day and try to do the best you can.”

Managing PTO approval during the holidays is always difficult. If leadership encourages the team to take those long breaks and vacations prior to the peak season, it’s a great way to come into Black Friday with a clear and rested mind and body.

Be Flexible 

Get your team to a gymnastics center and teach them how to do a backbend! Kidding.. But being a CX agent can mean a lot of mental gymnastics when it comes to trying to appease an angry customer who wants you to price match a new sale item or give them a refund.

This is especially true when your team is losing efficiency by constantly asking for approvals before solving out tickets. Most importantly, this extra step keeps the customer waiting. Colin Crowley of Freshworks spoke about how flexibility is huge during the holiday season.

“The more that you’re able to localize the resolution of issues so things don’t have to escalate and things can be resolved faster, there’s a premium in that. This is an excellent period to experiment with more proactive and generous escalations… especially if it’s taking time away from your agents focusing on contacts that could result in sales.” 

Dan Brady of Pura Vida likes to proactively get approval from finance for a certain amount of price matching to be allowed prior to items going on sale. Making a customer return and reorder a product just for a discount is a hassle for both parties. Don’t make your agents ask for permission, but rather empower them to make the right decision. 

Inspire Healthy Habits (and maybe a Vent Room?!)

Sometimes during the busy season, it’s easy for mental health to take a back seat. Finding time within the day can be tough which is why Ben Segal, Senior Director of CX at Pair Eyewear and Dan Brady, Customer Success Manager at Pura Vida have implemented their own team exercises to relieve stress. 

Ben just implemented what he calls a “Vent Room”. Employees who are frustrated and need to vent come here to write their issue on a slip of paper, crumple it up, and throw it in a basket. 

At the end of the month, they read all the papers out as a team. The team typically ends up laughing about many of the issues when they read some funnier ones at the end of each month. Ben uses this as a way for employees to feel heard and keep negativity off the floor. 

Dan has a book club on his team where they read books that inspire healthy habits. Last month, they read “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which has prepared them mentally for the upcoming holiday season. They talk about their findings each month and think of ways to apply what they learned. 

Adjust Agent and Customer Expectations 

Response times during peak season can (and usually do) vary quite a bit. That’s why Ben Segal believes in setting expectations for SLA’s up front for both the end user and the agents. 

Ben mentioned that there needs to be a level of fairness for agents especially if things happen outside of their control such as an angry customer, or an influx of emails, chat messages, calls, etc. 

Colin agrees, he says, “Flexibility is a key thing. And if you can get alignment on some more generous policies and more agent empowerment on the ground, that’s a great way to try to speed up some of these conversations and not get too lost.”

Dan Brady talks about how he constantly adjusts SLA’s to give agents more leeway, and keep expectations realistic for customers. If your normal SLA is 4 hours, consider bumping it to 12 during the holiday season. Even if you’re confident in your teams’ ability to resolve things in only 6 hours, it’s better to overestimate the time so your customer will be pleased when they hear back earlier. A buffer gives agents peace of mind

Colin also believes SLA’s are more about setting expectations for the agent more than just the customer. SLA’s can greatly affect agent morale and he likes to be mindful always of the agent experience. KPI’s should be linked to what the team as an average is realistically achieving so agents know the expectations are not out of whack with reality.

Finally, Celebrate Achievements of All Sizes  

For some parting thoughts, Dan, Colin, and Ben spoke about celebrating the wins. 

Colin encourages CX leadership to create a system for agent recognition and incentives. Celebrate the wins to keep positive momentum going, and to foster a supportive culture. Have a system not only for publicizing agent achievements (like a newsletter), but empower agents to earn points for great work and let them redeem those points in a marketplace of items/prizes.

At Pura Vida, Dan created a #CheersforPeers Slack channel where anyone can directly shout out another employee for an accomplishment, big or small. This means no achievement goes unnoticed. 

Another suggestion from Dan was to find ways to get leadership involved in the recognition. At Pura Vida, an employee is shouted out via email describing what they achieved and overall appreciation for the great job they’re doing. The best part? The Founder of the company is CC'd!

Ben loves the idea of giving his team something to look forward to. For example, at Pair Eyewear they throw a year end party that employees get very excited about!

As we know, there are lots of things CX leaders can do to prep for the holiday season, but the mental health of their agents should be one of the most important priorities. Happier agents result in a better experience for the customers, and limits year end burnout. 

These are just some of the themes discussed. Watch the full event here for more!

Emily Rosato
March 22, 2024
5 min read

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