A challenging phone call is like a maze, daunting from the outside and even more so when you are in the middle of one. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way through.
From creatively thinking your way out of a dispute to escalating to a manager, here are five tips on how to handle a difficult customer call.
1. Prepare…to Improvise
Training is a vital aspect of handling difficult calls. The processes and techniques that you learn as part of your call-handling training mean that when volatile situations arise, you feel prepared for them.
However, training can only cover so much. There’s no substitute for real-time, real-world calls. Training is particularly important for younger generations who are less used to using telephones in business.
A 2016 study by TollFreeForwarding.com found that 72% of graduates are sometimes scared to use the phone, compared to only 35% of over 65s. So, when looking to recruit young advisors, make sure you address this issue from day one.
While many calls will follow the same pattern (complaint – conflict – resolution), you simply can’t predict what a customer will say, so you need to expect the unexpected. Follow guidelines and scripts but be prepared to be creative and innovative with your problem solving when the situation requires it.
2. Keep Your Guard Up
It’s always good to make a connection with a customer or client. Rapport can help make phone calls run more smoothly and the person on the other end of the phone feel more comfortable.
However, there should always be a professional barrier between you and your caller. That means, primarily, that there’s a limit to the personal nature of conversations. A surface-level question about how their day’s going is acceptable, but anything deeper and you start straying into grey territory.
Getting too friendly with a customer can cause problems on both sides of the fence. As Michael Fertik puts it: “Think of how loyal customers will react if they see how easy it is for others to take advantage of your services. Your reputation will surely suffer. These problems become more difficult to solve as they pile up.”
Establish the parameters of your relationship early on so you both know what is expected and neither of you will come out of the situation with a raw deal.
3. Put It on Rewind
Sometimes, the only way to save a phone call is to take it back to the beginning. Retrace your steps – what was the original problem or query? Bring the conversation full circle and, quite literally, state the problem back to the caller.
By doing this, you are letting the customer know that you’ve been listening to their problem and this will hopefully quell any frustrations they have. It also gives you the opportunity to regroup so you can lay out a plan of action to resolve the issue.
Gene Cabalerro, CEO and founder of the business GreenPal, uses a simple three-step method when he feels like a call needs resurrecting: “I always use the C.P.R technique: comprehend (what happened that made the customer upset), purpose (give the angry customer options on how to fix the situation), react (once the actions have been agreed upon, react, and fix the problem).”
4. Stick to The Party Line
Although your main aim on a client-facing call should be to resolve an issue, you also need to maintain a clarity and consistency in your advice and decision-making.
To earn and keep the respect of a caller, especially in a challenging situation, you need convey that you know what you’re talking about. If you’re unprepared and keep flitting from one bit of advice to another, are unable to answer important questions, and seem unsure of yourself then you may come across as unprofessional and lose any chance of resurrecting a failing call.
An important part of this process is ensuring that all staff are clear on what the correct processes are. Training will help, but the only way to ensure consistency is communication between employees.
Sue Cockburn, founder of GrowingSocialBiz, believes employers need to facilitate these avenues of communication: “Create opportunities for salespeople and customer service staff to meet to share problems and possible solutions to customer-service-related issues. This can help break down silos between departments and build staff relationships and ownership, all of which impacts customer service.”
5. Know Your Limits
There is a difference between a disagreement and outright abuse, and recognising when a call has developed from one to the other is an important part of maintaining a healthy professional life.
If you sense a customer’s reaction is starting to become irrational, then take steps to handle it. Stay firm on your position, do not interrupt the customer when they’re speaking, and if you feel the time is right, escalate your problem to a more senior member of staff. If all else fails, and the abuse continues, you have every right to terminate a call.
Staying calm and keeping perspective will only make you do a better job, so don’t subject yourself to abuse.
Mental Performance Consultant at Peak Perform, Camille Charbonneau, explains why it’s simply not worth getting worked up about: “Don’t fight fire with fire. Fighting fire with fire will just get you worked up for nothing. Accept it and be non-judgemental to the correspondent. Be respectful and answer professionally, otherwise you may get stressed for a silly reason.”
No matter how challenging the maze of a customer call gets, remember that if you stay calm, remove personal feelings from the situation, and maintain a view on the wider picture you’ll always be able to find our way out to the other side.
With thanks to Laura Wrightson at TollFreeForwarding.com
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