Eating Your Feelings in Customer Service

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.

PS: I’m your customer service health coach over at Jenny Dempsey Wellness.

If you’d like to create a healthy culture of self-care in your contact center, connect with me via email jenny@jennydempseywellness.com or via one of my social channels linked below.

Jenny Dempsey is currently the the Social Media and Customer Experience Manager for NumberBarn.com. She has worked at tech startups since 2005. She's the co-founder and regular contributor over at CustomerServiceLife.com. She's a certified health coach, but not the kind that forces you to only eat cardboard and deprive yourself of ice cream. JennyDempseyWellness.com, the company she started, was designed to bring a new type of wellness into the workplace, one that gives you permission to look deeper into yourself, rather than just on the healthy snacks in the break room. She is the mother to a toothless rescue cat named Chompers. Avocados and veggie tacos are the way to her heart. She's also a Hanson fan for life.

2 comments

  • Jeremy Watkin

    Wait, did you know my story about clocking my headset up with peanut butter so the customer couldn’t hear me when I talked?

    Regardless, great topic, Jenny! I’m most certainly guilty of this myself but agree that we need to think more about the root cause.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *