It’s no secret that encountering angry, hysterical, upset, and confused customers is an occupational hazard of working at a call center. Experienced agents often develop a diplomatic approach that honors the customer’s perspective while simultaneously protecting themselves from verbal abuse. Though, as the title of this article suggests, there are some magic words and tactful expressions, it’s also important to acknowledge that equally important are a call center agent’s overall attitude, respectfulness, and sincerity.
Call on Genuine Care:
When you’re on the phone with a distressed customer, begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt and being genuinely curious about their predicament. This will help establish a working partnership and a sense of being “on the same team.” Try out phrases that show the customer you’re listening, like, “If I understand you correctly….” or “You’re saying….”. It can also be as simple as repeating or reflecting back what they have said to you. This “reflective listening” will not only affirm that they are being heard but will also give them a chance to get some perspective on their own complaint.
Listen with Empathy and Discernment:
As you listen, also look for markers to get a sense of what the emotional impetus is. For example, the customer may be calling to troubleshoot a broken camera, but the frustration may be the bad timing of it breaking down during a momentous occasion. By identifying and empathizing with the pain of losing special memories before speaking to the technical issue, you will establish a human connection. You can put it in your own words, or say, “Wow, I’m really sorry” or “Oh, that’s the worst!” Once you’ve empathized, don’t dwell on the disappointment or loss. Instead, shift to a positive, helpful tone and follow up with phrases like, “Now let’s see what we can do to turn things around” or “O.k. let’s get you in better shape!”
One of the worst mistakes a call center agent can make is to meet an upset customer with a statement that “passes the buck.” It may be tempting to blame another department or the customer, themselves, or assert that it’s not your fault; however, whatever the facts are, a prompt resolution will be aided more by full ownership than deferred responsibility. Let the customer know that you’re there for them and will treat “their problem” as your own. To convey this sentiment, say, “I’m more than happy to help you,” or “I assure you I’ll try my best,” or the honest “If I can’t take care of this for you, I’ll find out who can.”
Affirm, affirm, and affirm:
When a customer begins to calm down or shows signs of being more available to help, affirm this turn. You can say, “I so appreciate your patience,” or “I know there’s something else you might rather be doing, so thanks so much for bearing with me.”
Maintain Good Boundaries:
It’s not always easy to be polite and positive when you’re faced with someone’s annoyance. In fact, it can often trigger your own annoyance, if only in a passive aggressive way. Remind yourself that though you may not be able to control your customer’s mood or chagrin, you can discipline yourself to practice equanimity and kindness. Remember, too, that it isn’t just what you say, but how you say it. Speak softly, use the customer’s name, and don’t make assumptions.
Finally, all the tact and grace in the world sometimes can’t help with someone who just wants to vent. As the old expression goes, you can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves. Most call centers teach their employees through call center recording software that agents warn an abusive customer three times before ending the call. These warnings, as well as the cessation of the call, don’t have to be mean spirited or ruin your day. It is also possible that as time passes, the caller may feel apologetic or remorseful. It may be an out of character outburst on a particularly stressful day. Or, they may be volatile and volcanic in all areas of their life and in serious need of therapy. Whatever the case, you can mind your responsibilities and commitments without taking on an excess of someone else’s distemper, and sometimes your centeredness and courtesy may even convert someone calling from hot head to grateful (and loyal) client.
This Article was contributed by Emily Hunter. Emily Hunter crafts content on behalf of the call center software experts at Kova Corp. In her spare time, she cheers for Spirit of Atlanta, Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment, creates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen