We've all been there, on a difficult call that leaves us feeling frustrated and angry. The worst thing you can do as a call handler, however, is react. The customer always has the high ground and you have to simply accept this and adjust your tactics for dealing with him accordingly. There are ultimately no repercussions for a customer getting angry, but the same can't be said for an employee. You could lose a sale, alienate a customer, or even end up getting reprimanded from management for unprofessional behavior. So, how can you keep a clear head on challenging customer calls?
Use Your Training
For many workers who have to deal with difficult customer calls every day, training is a lifeline. When you're in a difficult situation, falling back on proven strategies and tactics can provide a safety net, especially in tense situations. Armando Alcaraz of S and E Consulting recently suggested: "Make sure you have clear guidelines and company policies. You can also ask for appropriate training and feedback on the job. Clarity of what you need to do or who you need to ask always makes the job easier and can reduce the stress that comes with it."
Whether that means keeping notes or training documents on your desk or revisiting and practicing techniques, use whatever means you can to ensure it becomes part of your regular process for dealing with customers. Unfortunately for many people, training is heavily front-loaded. So, while you might get training when initially starting a role, over time it can be easily forgotten. Encourage management to provide refresher courses to prevent staff from becoming too tense and to help ensure calls run as smoothly as possible.
Prepare Multiple Solutions
To help diffuse a situation for both participants, you need to offer your caller multiple solutions to help resolve the issue she's experiencing. You might know the best way to move forward, but by offering your caller options you can empower her and give yourself time to think. One of many reasons why callers get agitated is a feeling of helplessness, so if she has the power to choose how to proceed, she'll feel more comfortable and in control.
Prepare multiple solutions to common problems that you've encountered before and share ideas and techniques with colleagues so you can diversify even further. Treat every call as a complex problem; if the first idea doesn't work, don't give up. There will be a solution, even if it means escalating the issue to someone in a different department.
Take It Back to the Start
One of the most effective ways of taking back control of your customer call is by simply resetting. When a conversation gets in full swing, it can easily lose its way. If it starts deteriorating, then simply go back to your caller's initial query. Clearly revisit the problem and state it back to the caller, e.g. "So, your problem is_____. Let's work out how to resolve it." It will help you reassess and bring the problem back into focus.
Repeating a problem also reminds a customer that you are listening and that you understand where he is coming from. You need to offer positive reinforcement in your business and brand at every opportunity, especially if a consumer has a bad impression of you already. It can take customers up to 12 positive experiences to forget one negative one, so make sure you're adding to the positive side.
Remember It's Not Personal
When you've tried all the tactics you can to appease your caller and it's still not working, you just have to remember that it's not personal. The person on the other side of that line has called with a problem regarding a service or product, and although some callers might be looking for a fight, it's not specifically with you. Try to detach yourself from the situation, take a deep breath, and remember your role is to help.
As Tish Squarillo, author of the self-help book Mindtrash, puts it, "One of the frustrations for everyone else who deals with an angry person is that you think you did something to create the anger. But here's the secret: the anger was there from the beginning."
Customer and client-facing telephone roles are much harder than anyone gives them credit for. You have to employ any number of skills to help you fulfil a role effectively. From conflict resolution to problem-solving, to simply being clear and concise to your callers, it's hard enough without dealing with potentially difficult customers. If you use your training and give consumers the power to solve their own problems, you should remain calm and keep conflict to a minimum.
Jason O'Brien is chief operating officer of TollFreeForwarding.com, an international telecommunications provider based in Los Angeles.