10 Tips for a Resilient Customer Service Attitude

Keeping a good attitude working in customer service isn’t easy. A few years back, I was working as a waitress in a restaurant. While it was often fun getting to meet all different kinds of people, at times it would get challenging.

When things went wrong, I was the one to complain to. Maybe the food took a long time, the customer didn’t like what she ordered, maybe she came in already angry for some unknown reason. Like most issues that service reps get to deal with, these things were mostly out of my control. Yet it was on me to fix the situation.

The challenge of customer service

There are three aspects of customer service that make it an especially challenging field for upholding a positive attitude.

  • Customer service is about dealing with people, and people can be difficult. How others treat us has an impact on our moods. It's called emotional contagion . And many people that reach out to customer service do so because they have a problem that puts them in a negative mood.
  • Customer service is reactive. As a service agent, you never know how the next customer interaction will be. It could be all laughs; it could be all shouts. Uncertainty fuels anxiety .
  • You cannot always give the customer what they want. The fact that you will sometimes have to disappoint customers can cause stress. Especially when you actually agree with the customer, but your policies tie your hands .

These points also explain why it's so common to encounter service reps with a bad attitude. These aren't bad people. These are people who have developed a bad attitude as an emotional shield to protect them from all the negativity.

My restaurant experience described above was still mostly fun. People go out to have a good time. If you're working in a call center, however, you are only dealing with people who would probably all rather be doing something else.

So how do you maintain a positive customer service attitude? We've collected some tips to guide you along the way. There are things that management can do to help and there are also things agents can do on a personal level, so we've split them into two categories.

Management tips

As management, you can create an environment that fosters positive attitudes. Here are five tips.

Show the importance of customer service

Customers are the lifeblood of any business. So those who are in contact with them on a daily basis should be important for every department. Often time though, companies don’t give customer service teams the recognition they deserve . For a company to be truly successful, it needs to look at the customer service department and rely on them to be the face of the company.

One of the ways we do this at Userlike is through departmental updates during our quarterly company reflections. These allow everyone in the company to get an understanding of what the different departments are dealing with and how the pieces fit together.

A member of our Customer Success team at our quarterly standup.
Anton, from our Customer Success department

When we hear from our customer success department, we look to them to serve as the voice of the customer for those of us who don’t talk to customers directly. They know how much the rest of the company values their input.

This can help transform the attitude of customer service reps from a crucial level of validation. When the work we do is valued and appreciated, we’re more likely to take pride in our work and not let the small things affect us as easily.

Implement interdepartmental process flows

In customer-obsessed companies , the customer is always at the center. Their input guides the direction of the company. That’s why it makes sense to let the customer service department serve as the main input point for the company and product development.

To use Userlike as an example again, the feedback we receive from our frontline support reps helps guide our product development. We have ongoing collaboration processes that make sure this communication is happening.

A screenshot of our feedback project on asana.
A look at our feedback project on Asana.

Not only does this improve our product, it also provides customer service agents with a sense of importance in their work. It helps them approach their everyday work with a more positive attitude, knowing that whatever customer feedback they get – positive or negative – it can serve as a basis for improvement.

Switch to more “distant” tools

Answering phone calls all day is tiresome. When a customer is waiting on the line for a response, you feel pressure to respond as fast as possible. When you’re unsure of a situation or the issue takes longer to resolve, customers might get upset.

A communication channel like live chat helps create some space between the agent and the customer, making it easier for the agent to not take things personally. It also gives you the chance to calm down and recollect when dealing with an angry customer . In this kind of situation, being on a call is like having a harsh spotlight shined on you.

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What’s more, customers tend to be less agitated when they don't have to wait in a queue to get in touch. With live chat, they can send their message and have the freedom to do other things while the chat agent responds.

Give agents leeway to bend policies

Customer service policies don’t fit all situations. Sometimes, special circumstances require alternative solutions that aren’t spelled out already in your company’s guidelines.

cartoon of a bent spoon

By giving agents the freedom to bend the rules when it’s needed, they’ll have more autonomy and be able to save more troublesome cases that really require exceptions.

Being empowered to make important decisions can lead to higher self-confidence for service employees. When you feel more confident in your abilities to handle difficult situations, it can be a huge force in encouraging and strengthening a positive attitude.

Create an upbeat environment

A bad attitude breeds in a negative office environment. It’s hard to imagine having a good time in the kind of office from the picture below.

Now, take a look at this office.

A photo from one of google's offices.
Google is famous for their amazing offices

Having a space that fosters positive attitudes shouldn’t require a ton of resources. Laying the groundwork for team building can be a good place to get started so that colleagues feel a sense of closeness with others in their team and can express their frustrations and concerns.

As long as this is done in a constructive way instead of as a way just to complain, it can be a helpful and bonding experience for customer service employees.

If you have the space for it, it’s even better if dedicated areas in your office can be used for collective team building. At our office, we have a foosball table in the basement that we love to use during lunchtime or after work hours.

A photo of Userlike employees playing kicker.
Anyone up for a round?

If making a space in the office isn’t possible, consider changing up your scenery. Try doing some team yoga outside, hosting team events or rounding up the team for beer o’clock at the office on a Friday afternoon.

Personal tips

Even though the environment can work with or against you, the final responsibility for a positive customer service attitude lies within the individual. Here are five tips for the resilient service rep.

Practice Stoicism

Dealing with rude customers is a skill. Ultimately, it all comes down to how prepared ​you​ are because how other people act is out of your control. As the Greek stoic, Epictetus, once said, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Practicing stoicism can help you keep your cool and avoid a bad mood. This involves recognizing things that trigger a bad mood and learning beforehand how you can best deal with them. Here are some helpful techniques:

  • Circles of control​ . Visualize one smaller circle within a larger circle. The smaller is what is in your control– your own actions and responses– the other is out of your control– how others behave.
  • Negative visualization . There will be negative people crossing your path today. Especially in customer service, where it’s part of the game. How would you like to see yourself handling the situation?
  • Body-mind mirroring​ . Act like a calm person would to help your emotions follow the lead of your body. Speak slowly and in a slightly lower tone and slow down your body movements.

Acceptance allows you to acknowledge the reality of unpleasant situations which frees your mind to develop plans to address them, or seek help when needed. Rather than being consumed by frustration, it allows you to focus on what you and your customer can gain, rather than the things you can’t change.

Raul Galera, Partner Manager at CandyBar

Scenario planning

This is an approach that was promoted by the legendary coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Bill Walsh . While he used it for coaching his team, you can also apply it on a personal level to combat the anxiety that arises from going into uncertain situations.

First, think of various scenarios that may occur in your typical customer service day. And then think of solutions that you could employ when facing each scenario.

  • If a customer is angry, then...
  • If a customer is rude, then...
  • If I don’t know the answer, then...

This helps take the anxiety out of support because the next steps you can take are always clear. It’s also easily adaptable for every kind of support team because it’s highly customizable.

It helps to be as prepared as possible for different kinds of scenarios I might have with a customer. That way, I already have a plan ready which takes a lot of the pressure out of giving support.

Tim, Customer Success at Userlike

If you need some help getting started, check out our post on the 7 hardest customer service scenarios .

Emotional distancing

Unfortunately, upset customers can sometimes take out their frustration on you and it can be easy to burn out if you let it affect you.

In order to achieve the right customer service mindset , learn to not take things personally. This was often a challenge for me when I was working as a waitress. But I figured out a few techniques along the way that helped me emotionally distance myself from rude customers.

  • Look at the situation, not the words. The situation is what I have control over, not what anyone says to me.
  • Focus on the concrete steps I can take to resolve the situation. Busy yourself with taking these actions instead of crowding the mind with doubts and fears.

Learning to emotionally distance yourself from situations that are out of your control allows space for a more calm, logical reaction. It can also be applied in all different kinds of interactions you might have outside of work, too.

Practice laughing about the situation

Whether you just tripped in public or you’re feeling caught up in a customer interaction, it helps to not take things too seriously.

Try taking a step back and looking at the situation from another perspective. This can help take the tension out of stressful situations by removing yourself from the picture.

If you’re in the mood for a laugh, we’ve compiled some customer service gifs that we’re sure any service agent can relate to.

Motivate yourself

A strong mindset will lay a rock solid foundation for a good attitude and help you bounce back quicker when you start feeling down. There are many ways you can do this, but mustering up internal motivation ultimately depends on what works best for you.

cartoon of a dumbbell

Getting physical is a proven way to ignite motivation. Exercise helps relax our minds and promote neurotransmitters that encourage good moods and reduces stress and anxiety. Even finding small ways to get moving at the office can help, like taking a quick stretch break or standing up while calling . If you have some extra time during a lunch break, try taking a walk around the block with a coworker.

It’s sometimes challenging to maintain a positive attitude, especially when you’ve had a long day or a tough client. I like to remind myself of the importance of my job and simply think of a small reward that I would give myself after the end of the workday. It might be ordering a pizza instead of cooking, or thinking of an episode I’ll watch on Netflix at home.

Nikola Baldikov, Brosix

If you aren’t able to get moving, read our truisms for customer support motivation to get some instant inspiration. If music is your thing, listen to positive, upbeat music. You can’t go wrong with our chat support playlist !

A customer service attitude isn't about a fake smile

It’s not easy to always keep a positive attitude and no one should feel pressured to keep a plastered smile on their face 24/7. Keep in mind that a strong attitude only shows up in difficult times.

Ultimately, discovering a way to maintain a positive attitude in customer service is highly personal and everyone needs to use the techniques that are best for them; there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

But we hope that with these tips, we’ve helped shed a light on a few new techniques you can bring to the office or use right from the comfort of your desk.