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How to Deal with Difficult Customers in Your Contact Center



Difficult customers are usually angry. The term in call center jargon is "irate customer" and that's a pretty accurate description. These callers usually had a bad experience for one reason or another, usually having to do with a payment, a problem with the product or service they purchased. The reason behind it is not that important, what's important is knowing how to resolve the interaction with the customer feeling happy or satisfied and not angry. This is known as "de-escalating" the concern.


De-Escalation is Key


De-escalation is important because it promotes first call resolution and stops further calls from the customer. First Call Resolution adds up to manpower and hours saved on your end. And even if the concern isn't resolved, if the customer calls again later after a successful de-escalation, they will usually not be irate and the next agent taking the call will have an easier time.


Further, failing to de-escalate means a supervisor or manager needs to get on the call to talk to the customer and that is even more costly in terms of time, as your managers are now doing front line agent work rather than their own tasks of leading, coaching and helping your agents get better at their jobs.


So what is the secret to de-escalating a call? There are many things every agent should keep in mind in order to de-escalate a call. Managers and coaches need to ensure every agent is trained in these techniques as it will save time and money in the long run for everyone on top of keeping customers happy and satisfied.


1. Be sure to listen to the concern - remember that customers are contacting you because something went wrong and they are looking for a solution. More importantly, they want the peace of mind to know that the company is aware they have a problem and are taking steps to resolve it.

The very first thing a contact center agent needs to learn is to be a good listener. Let the customer air out their frustrations. Irate customers will usually have a lot to talk about as they are venting.


2. Repeat information and ask reflective questions - this is known as the "Mirroring Technique." It is a technique used by call center agents around the world to lower a customer's stress level and understand the question better. Start with the concern, after the customer has vented and described the concern. Repeat the information back to the customer by paraphrasing and summarizing what they said, and then confirm that this is indeed the issue.


For example, if a customer calls and says:


"I received my bill from your company today and I got charged twice for this transaction!"


The agent can repeat this and reflect it by saying:


"So, you are saying that we sent you an invoice that doubled the amount you owe us? Is that correct?"


It works because it has the dual purpose of letting the customer vent and gives the agent the opportunity to assert his authority and take control of the call by asking the customer questions and getting them to answer. Then it checks for understanding on your part, and in addition gives time for the agent to think of their next move and avoid dead air. It also assures the customer that you are listening to their concerns and trying to understand them.


3. Keep calm and never raise your voice - one of the biggest challenges the agent will face is the temptation to raise their voice. Irate customers tend to be very emotional and if the agent isn't careful, they can get caught up in the caller's emotions and raise their voice as well. This will never de-escalate the call and will serve to escalate it.


While it is difficult, the best thing to do is to remind agents that raising their voice means they will instantly lose control over the call or interaction. Most contact centers also disqualify calls that are monitored when the agent gets angry, so if it is picked out for quality assessment, it will be a sure fail on the agent’s record. Do not raise your voice, ever. It is the cardinal rule of customer service.


4. Show concern and professionalism - agents are taking dozens or even hundreds of calls per day and that can get repetitive. Agents need to have a tone of voice that means they are not apathetic and use the mirroring technique to show that they are genuinely concerned with their problem.


They also need to empathize while keeping the discussion professional. Agents need to use empathic statements like, "I am sorry to hear that.” Agents need to strike the right balance and listen to each caller, each one is unique and with experience agents will learn what they can and can't say to each caller.


4. Provide a solution - perhaps the most important point in de-escalating a concern is to provide a solution.


After ascertaining the issue, the most important thing your agent can do in the call is to give a solution or set of solutions to help with the problem. If the one clear solution can't be done, giving a set of possible things customers can try is a good compromise and empowers them with a choice of what to do after the call.


5. Don't be afraid of a negative outcome - we all want to solve a customer's problems but sometimes there is no real solution that the customer wants to hear. Sometimes there are policies that are in place that can't be circumvented. Usually, these are things that have legal repercussions, like HIPAA requirements for the medical industry or FCRA regulations for the banking industry.


While policies are in place to help customers, it's also important to recognize that policies often are in place to protect the company and the agent. Agents need to be comfortable with giving bad news to a customer and delivering it in a professional but understanding way.


In contact centers, dealing with difficult customers and difficult concerns comes with the territory. If you are looking to build a truly world-class customer experience, it is vital to develop and train all your agents on how to de-escalate difficult concerns. It takes a lot of work from both management and leadership and the frontline agents, but the result is a great experience and a strong brand. It's a company any customer would be happy to do business with.

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