Anger happens. But it’s what we in the call center do in response to customer anger that matters. Handled incorrectly, the anger only worsens and the customer may be lost forever. Handled right, customer loyalty can be preserved and strengthened.
A product delivery is late, a refund is not credited to a credit card, a product is defective, an online business service malfunctions, a customer is treated rudely. The customer grabs the telephone and, in the mindset of one who has been victimized and mistreated, calls customer service.
Most angry customers realize, rationally, that the person at the other end of the telephone is not responsible for the problem. But they also may think that if they create a big enough stir that word will get to those who are responsible. Either way, there definitely is a right way and wrong way for the call center customer service representative to handle the situation.
The first thing the call center services provider should do with an angry customer happens long before the angry phone call happens. It starts with training, including both classroom instruction and role playing. Call center customer support workers need to embrace the concept that the angry customer is not making a personal attack on them. They need to distance themselves from the anger. To do this, the customer service representative must understand the psychology of the angry customer and understanding how to defuse the anger.
This begins with the basic, empathetic act of listening. The customer service specialist should be trained to allow the angry customer to blow off steam, to make his or her case without interruption. Once that’s completed, the first words from the customer service agent’s should be, “I’m sorry to hear about this and I understand how frustrated you must be. I’m going to do everything I can to fix this problem for you.” Or words to that effect.
The next thing: Repeat back to the customer what s/he just said (“So let me state my understanding of the problem here…”). This proves to the customer that the customer service representative has done a good job of listening and truly understands the problem at hand. It also is a very effective way to reduce the customer’s level of anger. It is only after the customer says that the problem is correctly understood that the agent should begin to take action to remedy the situation.
Then comes problem resolution. Smart companies continually build knowledge and expertise about the problems their customers tend to run into – and put in place solutions to those problems. If it’s a technical issue, they train call center customer service personnel to recognize the problem and, if possible, help the customer fix it. If fixing the problem requires greater technical expertise, the call center customer service representative is trained to escalate the call to the technical service desk, which has protocols in place to fix the customer’s problem efficiently. This, in turn, allows the representative to tell the customer that the problem can be expected to be resolved within a given number of days or hours.
If the customer complaint has to do with product delivery then the smart company gives call center agents – both in-house and outsourced – access to live shipping information. This enables the agent to give fresh updates on the status of their delivery.
If the complaint has to do with poor or rude service from someone else at the company then the smart company has policies that the customer service call center can follow: gathering data about the employee in question, incident details, date, time of day and other details. And the call center representative can explain to the angry customer the procedure that will be followed to address the complaint. It’s also a good idea for a manager to follow-up within three days to inform the customer of the steps the company has taken.
Put another way, it takes both empathy and information to pacify an angry customer. Call center services employees need to be trained on exhibiting empathy, and they need to be given the access and the tools to delivery high quality information. Together, the angry customer can be converted into one who is willing to give their vendor another chance.
Mark Fichera, CEO
Call Center Services