Call centers are not just for confirming deliveries or orders; they are where people call when they have a problem. I work in a call center for a furniture retailer, and some of these customers can be a little challenging to satisfy. Believe it or not, there are people who intentionally break character to become the most demanding, unreasonable and sometimes obnoxious person you have ever dealt with. They do this on purpose at times so that they can become the “squeaky wheel” that gets the grease. And it usually works. There are many articles to be found on the internet illustrating how effective it is to scream your way to the man in charge. I work in a call center where I often hear, “I need a supervisor to take this customer off my hands!” That is the best way to ensure that no supervisor will make themselves available quickly; instead hoping someone else will become available first and have to get the call… but I actually am one of the few who jump to take these calls. I feel it is important to accept the bad calls with the same enthusiasm as the good ones to set a good example, and to teach others that you do not have to be intimidated by someone who may be about to act like an idiot. There is a secret to handling all customers, even the worst ones:
“Let your words be gracious, … so that you will know how you should answer each person”
It’s important to put any fear of conflict behind you. You will become more confident if you do not hesitate to take the call from a person who is upset and wants to take it out on someone. Don’t even think about it. Accept the fact that right now, you are that someone. You are going to assist them and they will appreciate you in the end due to your professionalism.
1- In a strong and confident tone, introduce yourself and immediately acknowledge their last transaction so that they feel you are already familiar with them and their history. This will set the tone for the entire conversation.
2- Be genuine. Instead of apologizing again and again, establish a common ground and empathize with the person. Above all, be yourself. People have a natural ability to detect a fake. Use your real voice and have a conversation.
3- Ask tactful, well chosen questions to draw people out. Why? Questions are how we learn. If you don’t ask the right question it doesn’t matter what your answer is.
4- Don’t interrupt. Ask your question, then listen. Why is this important? There is an old saying, “When anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating.” Spend the time listening to what the upset person has to say about their situation; otherwise, you will spend the entire time arguing with someone who only wants to communicate their level of frustration. Let them vent for a bit.
5- Don’t take it personal. Keep your psychic distance. If you treat them fair, firm, and friendly they will respect that and treat you accordingly. Remember you are taking a mess and cleaning it up. Your goal will be leading it to a positive conclusion for both parties in the end.
6- Reason with them. You always must maintain your calm in order to reason with someone. Yes, I said reason with them. Reasoning will enable you to keep control, and cooler heads always prevail. Use simple illustrations when necessary to help clarify your solution.You will only win someone over when your reasoning is more sound than their lack of reasoning is. Remember that you are going to use facts in a competent manner. This will allow you to explain something when necessary, and they will listen.
7- Maintain a balanced view. Do what you can to resolve the situation without getting defensive yourself. You will gain their trust if you remain objective. Trust goes a long way when someone feels they have been taken advantage of.
I have used this approach for many years. If these points are followed, then it will help your customer realize that you are going to really assist them. This is a huge accomplishment! Remember that every time a call is escalated to the “next higher manager”, the customer will get practice with becoming belligerent. When you become someone who can successfully nip things in the bud, then you will have become a truly valuable asset.
Addendum: Here is a comment from a gentleman that I think should be included in the article.
Relationship Builder – Customer Service, Government and Public Relations
This article contains some great suggestions and methods for dealing with difficult customers. I would add beyond number seven to “own your company’s mistakes”. If you can clearly see an error was made in handling the customer’s account, acknowledge that fact and make it right if that’s within your power. If not, escalate it on behalf of the customer. Become their advocate.