We’ve all experienced stress in the workplace. Many of us have even been praised for it. A stressed out employee must really care about their job. A stressed out leader must really be grinding the pavement for his vision. On our recent panel discussing Customer Success and Stress, one of the panelists, Katharina Schmidt, defined stress in a way that made it clear it is not a good thing. She equates stress to an imbalance where stakes outweigh resources.
The brilliance of this equation is that it gives us two tangible ways to get our stress under control. We either need to bring down the stakes or increase our resources.
I put together some notes from the panel to explore exactly how CSMs can use this framework in the workplace.
1. Lower the Stakes
First, ask yourself this question: Why are the stakes so high? There are a number of valid reasons. You might have a concrete deadline coming up or a big meeting with a client that could bring in a huge sale.
Break down the stakes to fully understand them. Make sure they’re really as high as your stress reaction is making them out to be. Then, find a way to lower them.
Here are some ways to lower stakes:
- Extend the deadline
- Mitigate the risks
- Pause and step away
Ashna Patel explained, “I really try to remind myself that this issue is going to be there when I come back to it in the next hour. So I can just take it out of my mind for a little bit, and take care of this other thing. Then I'll come back to it and I'll be in my zone again.”
When stakes are immovable though, we still have another side of the equation.
2. Increase Your Resources
How can you increase your resources? As leaders, this question should always be top of mind. It’s one of the most dynamic aspects of being a manager—there will always be new workflows or softwares that can help your team be more productive.
When we talk about resources, we’re referring to:
Let’s start with giving yourself or your teammates more time to complete a task. During high stress moments, take a minute to re-evaluate all the commitments on your plate. Figure out which tasks you can put off until later and which things need your attention now.
Laura Beavin-Yates emphasized being realistic with your capacity: “How many emails can I answer in a day? How many phone calls? Can I have back to back Zoom meetings?” Understanding this will allow you to set achievable goals without overloading yourself or your team.
Maybe money is your most lacking resource right now. An increased budget could give you more tools or the ability to hire new team members. Both can help you decrease the workload per person.
Energy is a tricky one. Since it’s not as obvious, many CSMs just power through their lack of energy (which eventually leads to burnout). If you feel your own energy depleting, or you notice your teammates showing signs of stress, enlist the efforts of others and recharge. Delegate tasks, communicate your needs, or step away to give your brain a break.
Skills and knowledge provide a way for you to invest in resources that will have a long-term impact on both the company and the individual. CSMs can take courses to learn a new skill or shadow team members in other departments to resolve common customer issues or implement quick fixes without needing to wait for a colleague to step in.
Lack of power creates a lot of stress in the workplace. The people at the bottom of the organizational hierarchy tend to also be the most stressed. To increase your own power, befriend those with power. Get them on board with your mission and goals and ask them to lend their weight to your cause.
3. Use the ABCs of Stress to Manage the Symptoms
Steps one and two are meant to eliminate stress. Ideally, lowering the stakes or increasing your resources will entirely remove stress as a factor.
If those methods fall short, though, our next best resort is to simply manage the stress. Katharina brought up the ABCs of stress management during our panel:
She explained, “The first one is awareness. What are the movements inside of yourself and the thoughts? The next one is breathing. And the third is relationships. Relationships are a protector of stress. It's this natural source of psychological safety.”
If we can’t manage outside factors like stakes or resources, we can at least manage our emotional reaction. Tune in to your body and mind, focus on breathing, and—when all else fails—vent to a friend.
Stress and Customer Success: How can we help?
2020 was a high-stress year, and 2021 hasn’t exactly been peaceful. Customer Success teams often bear the weight of their entire company’s stress, in addition to their customers’ stress, on top of their own personal stress. That’s probably why burnout seems especially fierce for CSMs compared to other jobs in tech.
We see you and we want to help.
UpdateAI’s mission is to make meetings better so you can do better things. We are building out our platform (www.update.ai) for CSMs just like you. We’re collecting stories, suggestions, and pain points to help us shape the product and we’d be grateful to hear yours.
Reach out to our CEO directly at Josh@update.ai with any ideas for features that can help empower Customer Success Managers — or connect with us on LinkedIn.