Manage stress to manage service 

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Stress is harming your brain, and it’s also harming your customer service. 

If you’ve recently witnessed service staff being uptight and more concerned about themselves than you, the customer, it’s because the oldest part of their brain – the reptilian brain – has taken over. 

Nationwide right now, we are seeing a spike in disappointed, grumpy and angry customers… So why would the staff who are serving customers be any different? 

We’ve all experienced some level of trauma these past few years, and that stuff catches up with us. I’m certainly not making excuses for grumpy customers or grumpy staff, but I am making a case for the importance of managing your stress response, particularly when you’re dealing with humans as part of your working day. 

So, back to the reptilian brain. Stress encourages this part of the brain to rule the show and take control – and it uses ‘fight, flight or freeze’ for self-preservation. Quite literally, stress impairs the prefrontal cortex of the brain, which leads to less empathy, antisocial behaviour, reduced creativity and less flexibility. 

Think of the impact this has in a customer-service exchange. It’s no wonder we are seeing pockets of service with no empathy, service given with little to no social skills, and service approaches with little creative thinking and/or problem-solving and even less flexibility… ouch! When stress is present, it tends to make people more protective of themselves. If a workplace environment is seeing an increase in grumpy, reactive customers, this will be feeding staff stress and encouraging the oldest part of their brain to take over. 

I have always believed that customer service is not a question of capability or whether people care or not, but rather, is about how well they manage themselves when faced with pressure and different scenarios – how they self-regulate.  

The solution to improved service for businesses, right now, is linked to people improving their management of stress. Managing the oldest part of the brain when it’s running the show, and knowing how to bring it back into line, is a critical customer-service skill for this era. Never has the connection between employee wellbeing and customer service been stronger. 

“Take care of your people, so that they’ll take care of your customers.”

jaquie scammell


How well are you managing your own stress? In other words, how do you shift from a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response to a calmer, ‘rest and digest’ type response when you’re at work? 


Consider the ways that you self-regulate. Is it through micro-breaks, conscious breathing, meditation? Create a menu of all the activities you can do to support yourself in a stressful work environment. Write them down and keep the list near your workstation as a visual cue to get you thinking more intentionally about managing stress during the day. 

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