CX Took Me To A Really Dark Place
I’m writing this newsie while over the Atlantic heading back to Newark airport.
The last few weeks were hectic, and I’m thrilled to be back home and on my regular schedule. With the extra long weekend, the back half of this week is BUSY, so I’ll keep this newsie a bit lighter.
This week, I want to talk about the emotional rollercoaster of working in Customer Experience and some practical and tactical things that have kept me sane over the last 8+ years in this industry.
Working in CX is not for the faint of heart. You’ve got targets to hit, irate customers to pacify, systems to wrangle, and the constant hum of incoming messages that sounds suspiciously like a swarm of angry bees.
Oh, and did I mention the need to stay perpetually upbeat and cheery, no matter what gets thrown at you?
When the going gets tough, the tough get... mentally fatigued. That's not surprising, is it?
Today, we're going to have an honest chat about the effects of CX on mental health. And no, I’m not (yet) recommending hot yoga or a smoothie detox.
More Than a Number: The Emotional Tightrope of CX
Keeping Your CX Cool: Tactical Strategies to Ward Off Burnout
Ready? Let’s dive right in.
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More Than a Number: The Emotional Tightrope of CX
It felt easy and natural when I hopped into Customer Experience in 2016. As a customer, I knew what I wanted to hear. How much more difficult could it be sitting on the other side?
I’ve spoken about this in the past, but my first CX job was at a company that was 2+ years delayed on a Kickstarter project, and my hypothesis was simple: Folks just wanted to be validated and heard.
They certainly wanted the product, but backing a Kickstarter campaign is more akin to supporting a mission than buying a product at your local shop.
What sounded easy and straightforward was emotionally consuming and quickly took me to a dark place.
Here’s what I learned:
To excel in CX, you must be emotionally present and have a larger-than-average dose of empathy.
You must listen, understand, and genuinely care about each customer's concerns. This emotional investment often leads to rewarding moments of connection, joy, and pride when you can help customers navigate their challenges.
The flip is that the same emotional investment can lead to significant disappointment and frustration.
When you deeply care, each unresolved issue or unhappy customer can feel like a personal failure. And when you meet these moments day in and day out, the emotional toll adds up.
For me, it went from deep emotional overwhelm to disengagement. After being repeatedly hit by waves of frustration and disappointment, I checked out emotionally.
But that was not a solution. It led to more stress and less satisfaction – for me and the customers I was trying to serve.
This emotional juggling act is a reality for many of us in the CX profession. We're not just voices on the phone or names in an email. We're people who carry our emotional baggage. We bring our human hearts to work; sometimes, they get bruised there.
In the next section, we'll discuss some practical strategies to help you handle CX work's mental and emotional challenges.
We'll talk about managing stress, avoiding burnout, and staying emotionally balanced – all while continuing to deliver the top-notch service your customers expect.
And we'll explore how to do this without losing yourself in the process.
Keeping Your CX Cool: Strategies to Ward Off Burnout
The emotional demands of customer experience roles can often feel like an intense, never-ending tug of war.
One moment you're the champion, resolving issues and winning hearts; the next, you're the villain, accused of ruining someone’s day, week, or even life (cue the dramatic music).
This emotional whiplash is part and parcel of CX work, but managing it doesn't have to feel like walking on a tightrope above a pit of hungry alligators.
Let's dive into the strategies that can help manage these emotional ups and downs more effectively.
First, practice mindfulness: And no, this isn’t just a suggestion to "be present" or "live in the moment."
In the context of CX work, mindfulness means being aware of your emotional responses as they happen, understanding the triggers, and developing strategies to mitigate the negative impact.
This could look like recognizing when a customer’s harsh words are starting to get under your skin, taking a moment to acknowledge that feeling, then deliberately choosing to respond calmly and patiently instead of reacting impulsively.
Being mindful is a skill that takes time to develop but is immensely rewarding, allowing you to manage your reactions and maintain composure during stressful situations.
Second, create and respect boundaries: Easier said than done, right? It can be tough to disconnect, especially in an age of hyper-connection. But it's crucial to designate "work-free" zones in your life, whether certain hours of the day, specific locations, or even mental spaces.
Remember, being constantly "switched on" doesn't make you a dedicated employee—it makes you a ticking time bomb of stress and burnout.
It's not about being less committed to your job but about protecting your mental health and ensuring you have the energy to give your best at work.
Third, understand what you can control and communicate it effectively: You can't always fix everything, and that's okay. What's important is showing the customer that you're doing everything in your power to help.
When I worked at my first brand, we could not expedite product deliveries because they were still in production.
But we did everything else we could—we shared detailed factory reports, videos of product QA testing, and so on with our Kickstarter backers.
This level of transparency made it clear that we were genuinely invested in resolving their issues and not just giving them a runaround.
This approach not only helps manage customer expectations but also gives you a sense of accomplishment and control in situations where the solution isn't straightforward.
Fourth, don't underestimate the power of peer support: Share your experiences, both good and bad, with your colleagues. You'd be surprised how comforting it can be to know that others are grappling with the same challenges.
This can also open opportunities to learn new coping strategies and problem-solving approaches.
If you are a one-person or simply don’t have a support network at work, consider setting one up with industry folks.
It can be as simple as a group chat or regular catch-up meetings where team members can share their experiences and provide mutual support.
P.s. I started a discord community a while back for CX’ers and CX-adjacent folks to vent and share wins + losses. We’ve got 800+ CX’ers and would be thrilled to have you.
Fifth, celebrate every win, no matter how small: It’s easy to get lost in a sea of complaints and forget about the positive interactions you’ve had. Make a habit of acknowledging your successes.
A customer’s issue resolved, a thank-you email received, a crisis averted—these are all causes for celebration.
Regularly reminding yourself of these small victories can boost your morale and motivation, helping you maintain a positive outlook even when things get tough.
Finally, invest in self-care: This isn’t just about bubble baths and scented candles (although, who can resist a good sage candle?). Self-care is about caring for your physical, mental, and emotional health.
This could mean regular exercise, a balanced diet, ample sleep, or engaging in activities that help you relax and rejuvenate.
It might seem obvious, but it's surprising how often we neglect these basic needs, especially when busy or stressed.
Remember, you can't pour from an empty cup—taking care of yourself is beneficial for you and crucial for your ability to support your customers effectively.
The emotional gauntlet of CX work can be brutal to navigate. But with conscious effort, the right strategies, and a supportive work environment, it's possible to survive and thrive in this space.
And remember: it’s okay to have bad days. They're just as much a part of the journey as the good ones.
That’s it for this week!
Any topics you'd like to see me cover in the future?
Just shoot me a DM or an email!
See you next week,