Confessions of a Support Agent: How to Handle Negative Feedback

Human interaction. We all know that people can be awesome, good, sympathetic, cheerful or helpful. The world is not black and white, though. Neither is human personality. The very same bunch can feel depressed, angry, nervous or bitchy next day.

You would expect that ladies and lads providing support to customer would always show empathy and the highest level of professionality. The thing is, they don’t. Of course they should, but let’s be honest with each other. Chasing perfection is the ultimate goal of every customer experience manager, although no one will ever reach this holy grail when every single interaction goes according to “plan”. All that’s left is to do our best to get as close as possible, but how?

Negative feedback from customers is here to stay, no matter how well trained and helpful your agents are. The problem with rebukes is that stingy comments just stick. “Hateful” notes grow on your staff, even more, when they are not aimed at a product or a company, but are rather personal instead. Add some frustration into the mix and let’s assume that the support agent did their best and still did not succeed. It’s raining outside and the train to work was late. Agent missed their breakfast. The next chat is ringing, but the consequences from last negative encounter are naturally passing to the very next interaction. “No one appreciates my job, so why am I even trying?” Thinking something like that is perfectly understandable, but simply wrong on so many levels.

Everything comes down to one phrase “the right mindset”. Now you might expect some general guidelines on how to handle stressful situations and rant about “customer experience is most important thing in the universe, so die for it”. No. Just no. That is simply not my style. I am writing about how negative feedback affects the personality and emotions of support agents, so I would rather talk about myself and what I do to get by. I’ll take a leap of faith and hope that you find some inspiration in my words.

Presenting free thoughts on dealing with negativity in customer support space

1. Finding your inner strength

Once I get negative feedback, my brain commands me to analyze every piece of it. This process can be very hurtful, but it’s necessary for a final conclusion – Did I deserve it? If the answer is yes, there is no way around it. I do a humble follow up with the customer, explain myself truthfully and offer a personal and sincere apology. I can only hope that the customer accepts it. On the other hand, sometimes I cannot help myself and I feel that I have done everything properly and I just don’t deserve negative feedback. Instead of getting even more angry or depressed I think about the last time this happened. I got passed it back then, I am still here, I’ll get over it again and 2 weeks from now, it won’t matter anymore.

2. Finding your inner motivation

The best negativity cure is positive feedback. I chose this career path for a reason. I actually like my job (most of the time) and I love helping people. This attitude has resulted into some really nice things customers say about me. I go back, reread our conversations, check the feedback on specific tickets and experience the joy of being rewarded all over again. This workflow serves as the best reminder that I am actually able to do my job properly and that I am able to deliver excellence again and again and again.

3. Finding people with the same experience

Next step is rather crucial. I’m not working in an isolated space where only I exist and only my action matter. To get back on track and to find inner peace I talk to my colleagues or my manager. I mention what I’ve been through and how I feel about it. Suddenly, I realize I am not alone in this machine and every now and then, everyone gets an unpleasant shot of negativity. It’s not just me! This is the human nature we are dealing with.

4. Finding acceptance

The sooner you realize that perfection is just a wild dream, the better. No matter what you do and no matter how good you do it, you’ll always come around some people who are not going to appreciate your work. This is just a simple fact. Day by day, I am training myself to accept it and don’t get personally and emotionally involved in pointless rants. However, let me remind you that there is a thin line between apathy and indifference to other people opinions and filtering negative emotions. Be sure to never end up on the wrong side of the barricade.

5. Finding a way to not take myself so seriously

Last but not least, I strongly believe that we have to love ourselves to a certain point to be successful in today’s world. However, thinking about yourself in terms of being convinced about how great, skillful and extraordinary you are is not always the best thing you can do. It’s good to be confident, but not under no circumstances arrogant. How you are going to learn to live with yourself is the most personal matter there is. Every time I end up stepping over the line of “good” self-confidence, I read one of my personal mantras. It’s not the latest motivational picture I’ve seen on Facebook. Quite the opposite. It’s the closing of legendary Bill Hicks’s act from 1992. Please see below and feel free to get inspired. Or not. As I mentioned, it’s as personal as it’s gets.

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. The ride goes up and down, around and around, it has thrills and chills, and it’s very brightly colored, and it’s very loud, and it’s fun for a while. Many people have been on the ride a long time, and they begin to wonder, “Hey, is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.” And we … kill those people. “Shut him up! I’ve got a lot invested in this ride, shut him up! Look at my furrows of worry, look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.” It’s just a ride. But we always kill the good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok … But it doesn’t matter, because it’s just a ride. And we can change it any time we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. Just a simple choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one. Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money we spend on weapons and defenses each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would pay for many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”

Bill Hicks, Recorded at the Dominion Theatre in London, 1992

Andrej Csizmadia

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