‘How can I help you today?’ An innocuous, welcoming line that invites you to tell the customer service person what you need or want. But what happens when the exchange goes wrong, and the response is unexpected, hostile, demeaning or inflammatory?
What about when you have to give a customer news they don’t want to hear – they aren’t eligible for that finance extension; they can’t have that refund; or you don’t have that particular item in stock? What do you do when you can sense the customer is stressed and emotional or they break into tears in front of you…?
Right now your staff are working with customers who are living with heightened levels of stress, concern and anxiety. Health, mental health and financial worries are top of mind for many people so we need to be equipping our staff with the skills and understandings to approach tricky interactions. This will allow them to maintain positive customer relationships, and look after their own wellbeing too.
What can we do to reduce the chances of conflict, manage distress and avoid blaming ourselves for things that are outside of our control?
Trauma Informed Practice can help us to approach, navigate and evaluate these potentially challenging interactions with care, dignity and professionalism.
What is Trauma and What is Trauma Informed Practice?
Traumas are inescapably stressful events that overwhelm a person’s coping mechanisms (Bessel van der Kolk, MD). Trauma’s can be environmental (eg floods, fires, pandemic), interpersonal (eg violence, abuse, neglect), political (eg war, dispossession), relational (eg rejection, shaming) and lifespan experiences (eg severe illness, loss of a loved one, relationship breakdown). Traumas threaten our sense of physical, psychological, and social safety in the world.
Trauma Informed Practice recognises the emotional and psychological wounds we sustain during our lives, how we think about them, and how they can impact our emotional, physical and social development. It acknowledges both the macro health system consequences and the micro daily life consequences from how we interact with others to how we respond in times of stress.
Trauma Informed Practice emphasises physical, emotional and psychological safety, in environments, interactions and service structures. It is a strengths-based framework that acknowledges the impacts of trauma while providing a roadmap to improved service design and delivery.
Trauma Informed Practice & Customer Service
Within a customer service context, Trauma Informed Practice acknowledges the impact of our past experiences on our coping strategies, our problem-solving abilities, our stress tolerance, our emotional regulation and our relationship management skills (to name just a few.) This applies to our staff, and to our customers.
While it is generally seen as the domain of health, human and social services, Trauma Informed Practice has lessons that can be applied in the customer service context. This includes:
- Reducing job-related stress
- Building competency and enhancing job satisfaction
- Improving customer service
- Creating a safe and welcoming environment
These outcomes are largely achieved due to a trauma informed approach. Giving us a new lens to view our own and others behaviours, actions, and choices through.
Reframing challenging customer interactions
In practice, the Trauma Informed lens allows us to see someone who is getting demanding, not as troublesome or difficult, but instead, as someone who has a need that they are trying really hard to meet. We switch our thinking from ‘you are such a jerk’ to ‘what is your need here?’, ‘what has happened to make you think this behaviour is acceptable?’. These two questions allow us to listen more fully to the messages (not necessarily the words) of the person, and then, to begin to add an element of rational compassion into our thinking about them.
While the first layer of benefits here are centred around the customer experience and the approach avoiding potential escalation, the second layer of benefits to note are the consequences for the worker and their wellbeing.
Supporting worker wellbeing and conflict response
Thinking ‘what a jerk, that messed up my whole morning’ has very different consequences to thinking ‘wow that was challenging, I wonder what was going on for them, I did the best I could in a tricky interaction’. The second response helps us remember the boundaries of what we control and what we can’t, and reminds us that other peoples’ emotions and concerns are theirs, not ours – we don’t have to pick them up when they are handed to us. The Trauma Informed approach helps us to draw on effective self-regulation resources during the event, let go of the event when it is over, avoid ruminating, reduce our stress response, and engage in positive self-care practices.
Applied in a business setting, Trauma Informed Customer Service supports the development and maintenance of trusting relationships and helps to protect staff against burnout.
In these unusual times Trauma Informed Customer Service might be just what your staff, your customers and your business needs.
Interested in learning more about Trauma Informed Practice to support more informed customer service and organisational outcomes?
We’ve developed training videos and online workshops that can be tailored to your industry and team requirements.
Visit our Trauma Informed Training service page to learn more or send us an enquiry on the form below.