What are your best resources for a customer support job?
May 26, 2016 4:01 PM   Subscribe

A friend is having a very rough time working from home doing phone (tech) support for a big company. They want to stick with this job for various reasons but are finding it soul crushing from day to day. What are the best resources that you know of that teach skills to deal with a high-paced, stressful customer service/call center type job?

Before you say "quit", assume for the purposes of this question that sticking with this job would be a smart move (lots of previous job-hopping, on track to train for a management position in a few months, amazing benefits, genuine interest in explaining tech to people). Quitting is under consideration if no other coping skills help.

Some details: they work four 10 hour days for a three day weekend (considering switching to five 8 hour days) with a mandatory hour lunch, so days are very long; working from home; they're a very high performer and recognized for that, but bored or frustrated as they wait for training to start for them to move up in the company.

Specifically I'm hoping there are resources made not just for general career (Ask A Manager has already been scoured!) but more towards people in jobs like retail/call centers/customer service. Not looking for general advice such as "enrich your life outside work" or "meditate", would prefer recommendations for books/websites/forums/podcasts or life skills.

My friend is currently in between therapists but will be starting back up soon, are there skills you've learned in therapy that have helped in these kinds of situation?
posted by the thorn bushes have roses to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't exactly what you're looking for, as it's more of a best practices thing than a getting by thing, but there's a blog and a podcast called Support Ops that I like.

My go-to suggestion for getting by is a book called The Artist in the Office by Summer Pierre.

There used to be a blog about call center stories. I forget the name, but it was similar what Jezebel's Behind Closed Ovens was for food service. Laughing along with people in a similar predicament is helpful.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:44 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

If your friend is doing tech support, and training isn't forthcoming, I would suggest they take it upon themselves to go for a certificate program (like A+, N+, S+, learning to code, etc) and see if that helps to speed up the process of advancement, or leads to them being able to apply for higher-level jobs elsewhere.

As far as coping skills, can you go into more detail about the issues your friend is having? It's a very different thing to cope with constant repetitive phone calls versus sitting around for long periods while tied to your desk. Is the work itself not challenging enough? Is there any possibility of a lateral move within the company? Have they spoken with their manager about taking on more responsibility like helping to train new recruits or something like that?
posted by ananci at 4:51 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

Can you clarify what aspect of the job your friend finds soul crushing?

For me, I worked phone support for a large tech company and, like your friend, genuinely enjoyed explaining tech things. What I really hated was being the target of misplaced anger and frustration.

What helped me was to stop seeing myself as a victim of rude clients and to start seeing difficult calls as an opportunity to practice people skills. Convincing a distraught person that you are on their side, calming them down, and ending the conversation with both parties satisfied is an incredibly invaluable skill. Once I shifted the focus of my workday from wearily solving the same technical problem over and over to honing my interpersonal skills, I started to feel like I was really getting something out of my job again. It also helped me to reframe difficult calls -- like I said, they're opportunities, and calls that didn't end in satisfaction were also important for helping me to figure out what I was doing wrong and what I could do better.

I honestly believe that doing this job in this way really changed my life and the way that I interact with people all the time. It turned out for me that becoming great at tech support and enjoying it meant learning to empathize with my clients, and that spilled over into my personal life and into what became my real career (now I'm a medical student).
posted by telegraph at 4:54 PM on May 26, 2016 [10 favorites]

There's a Tales from Tech Support subreddit for commiseration, and there's a lot of archival "best of" stories to explore. They don't allow questions, but the moderators there might know of good "coping with being in a call center" resources.

Working from home gives a lot of options for drawing/knitting/etc. between calls.
posted by itesser at 4:56 PM on May 26, 2016

I'd also be curious to know more about what specifically your friend is finding challenging. I do tech support both in person and by phone and e-mail and I like to think I'm pretty good at it, but without knowing more about the specific issues that are making this so soul-crushing, I'm not sure I have much to offer.

Is it just that it's repetitive? Is there sufficient downtime between calls that they could take some training matters into their own hands rather than waiting for their superiors to provide it?
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:02 PM on May 26, 2016

When I was in the same situation, what I found the most soul-crushing were the four day work weeks. Ten solid hours of pissed off or clueless customers interrupted by a lunch that I generally ate at my desk while I worked on someone's "emergency" (usually self-inflicted) were almost enough to drive me out of IT. It wasn't so much the customers that I minded, it was just the fact that I had to deal with them for hours and hours and hours on end. Finally I managed convince my bosses to let me work a standard five day work week with eight hour days and a half-hour for lunch, and that made a huge difference in my quality of life.

Having the extra day off was nice at first, but eventually all I did on that day was stress about how much I was going to hate the coming four days, which eventually made all seven days miserable.
posted by ralan at 6:19 PM on May 26, 2016

It's been hard to pin them down about what exactly is bothering them, which is why I told them I'd see if maybe there were some resources out there that could help define and unpack why they feel so frustrated and perhaps work on them during therapy.

However, Ralan, I think you nailed it the main issue. There's no downtime. The training is company specific, so they can't take that on themselves (they've been pushing for it, but it doesn't work that way.) They need to be actively assisting customers and they have seconds between calls, so using their hands is out in terms of knitting and stuff for the most part. They have taken on as much responsibility as possible in terms of mentoring others, leading meetings, answering questions in team chat. They're definitely a rising star, but since the training they need to advance only happens at specific times there's not much more than can do to move forward until then — but they're worried they just won't make it that long being truly miserable day in and day out. The lateral move open to them wouldn't help them advance and would actually be more stressful with the same amount of downtime, and without moving across the country, there aren't other opportunities for them. Having a history of job-hopping makes them want to try to stay with the company through this job if possible. Hope that helps explain a bit more!

I know it's a bit hard to troubleshoot something vague, but they'd really like to have a book/blog/podcast that teaches them the skills to help cope if possible. Some great answers so far that I'm looking forward to sharing.

(And no one mentioned this, but they are on antidepressants and take good care of themselves.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 7:43 PM on May 26, 2016

One thing that's important and could be overlooked working at home is making sure they've got a good setup that isn't ergonomically awful. Comfortable headset with easy adjustments, chair and monitor at the right heights, etc. These might not be something the employer would provide, but at least working at home there's probably nobody to say no to any changes.

It's easier to cope with the emotional stress of doing phone support if you're not under physical stress as well.
posted by asperity at 8:39 PM on May 26, 2016

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