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HomeCogito Blog‘Tis The Season: Customer Service Can Be Emotionally Taxing

‘Tis The Season: Customer Service Can Be Emotionally Taxing

Steve Kraus

Its mid-April, spring is in the air, the long cold winter is heaving a final sigh…so why is everyone so stressed? As the April 17th tax deadline looms, millions of Americans are feverishly preparing their returns. This year, over 240 million Americans will be submitting their taxes, with as many as 29 million completing them in the final 10 days before the deadline.1 2018 represents a particular concern – with new tax codes in place – over 57% of Americans claim they are not confident in their understanding of the current tax code.2 Perhaps it’s no accident that April is National Stress Awareness Month!3 You’re likely to hear some groans and engage in some tense customer conversations, as tax stress permeates the air.

What makes tax season so challenging? Is it the complicated jargon on tax forms & documents? Is it the quest to locate all our receipts and associated detritus of money spent over the last 12 months? How about the uncertainty over whether you will owe money, or better yet, the size of your refund? Uncertainty is a driver in causing tax related stress. What’s more, confusion and lack of clarity over new tax codes will add to this.

The American Psychological Association recognizes money as one of the most important causes of stress for all Americans – resulting in anxiety, frustration, and oftentimes angry customers. Indeed, tax season and the holiday season represent some of the most challenging weeks for customer service professionals as those calling in may be feeling stress for reasons that have nothing to do with the issue at hand. Service professionals can expect to navigate conversations with anxious customers – who may lash out unexpectedly.

And It’s Not Just Your Customers

In the same vein, call center agents, who are familiar with the intricacies of working with stressed out customers, may themselves be feeling the strain of tax season. It’s very common for this stress to bleed into their work and lead to less than ideal interactions with their customers.

What’s the Impact of Stress in a Customer Service Environment?

During more stressful times of the year, customer service professionals may find it more difficult to recognize anxious customers when they call in. A phenomenon known as cognitive overload may be to blame for this. A day of work in the call center involves short, repetitive interactions, sustained over a long period of time. Each time a customer calls in, they must navigate a number of screens and systems to quickly assess the customer’s problem and provide an appropriate solution. Even more importantly, the agent also has the difficult task of building a new relationship with a complete stranger. This means using cognitive effort to communicate effectively with a customer who may already be irritable because of the issue they are experiencing or because they were left on hold. The onus is always on the agent to remain kind, patient, and respectful. They must calmly assess not only the customer’s problem and potential solutions, but also recognize how the customer is feeling and communicate with that customer in an appropriate way.

Being a call center agent is a stressful job to begin with. Agents may find it even more difficult to pay attention to emotional cues from the customer during a period when their own heightened levels of stress may be impacting performance. Tax season represents a perfect ‘stress storm’ where both consumers and agents are prone to exhibit more stress and the likelihood of poor customer service experiences is heightened.

Technology To Reduce Stress at the Call Center

Technology that leverages machine learning and behavioral guidance provide an opportunity for service professionals to leverage real-time feedback and recognize emotional signals. Real-time guidance is one way to reduce cognitive load and avoid burnout.

Cogito delivers this with in-the-moment emotional intelligence helping thousands of agents detect and respond to emotional signals from their customers. The solution captures voice & conversational dynamics within phone conversations – acting as an objective third party that instantly processes voice analytics to provide live guidance and improve service. Agents who can anticipate the stress & tension in the voice of the customer- by thoroughly engaging their customer in conversation via an authentic tone, will provide a more trustworthy & rewarding customer experience.

Cogito helps agents so that customers in need of empathy, can be sure to find it – long after the tax drama has been put to rest.


1 “Last year, the International Revenue Service reported that one-fifth of all Americans who filed taxes in 2016 did so between April 8 and April 22. That’s 29 million individual returns just days before the deadline.”

2 Survey Methodology The Tax IQ survey was conducted online January 12-18, 2017 with market research data collection organization SurveyMonkey® on behalf of TaxSlayer. A national sampling of 1,045 adults above the age of 18 completed the survey, which has an estimated 3 percent margin of error at 95 percent confidence level.


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