Beating Phone Rage with Care


According to research, centralised call centres now rate above rush-hour traffic and delayed trains as the UK’s most stressful daily experience. The average person now spends the equivalent of an entire working week on telephone administration so the need to turn this result around quickly is real.

Top of the list of frustrations is “being passed from pillar to post”, being cut-off before resolution and being kept on hold for lengthy periods – which further research from analyst group Mintel suggests can be up to around 15 minutes.

More than 8 million people – around 14 percent of the UK’s population – use call centres every day and the number of call centres has doubled in the last ten years. With such increasing competition – and need to attract and retain such high volumes of callers – there has never been a more pressing time to invest in ensuring a positive experience for each customer.

The Future Foundation said: “We are all doing as much as we can, as fast as we can, often juggling more than one thing so as to meet deadlines and not let others down. We expect our service providers to provide service with the same speed and efficiency that we give to others. When this doesn’t happen, we feel angry, frustrated and let down.”

For those who survive the journey…

In its own research, Mintel reported 33 percent of respondents admitted they had been so frustrated by call centre  systems that they had hung up before even reaching an operator. So imagine how riled those who stay on the line are going to be by the time you take their calls to deal with their requests.

You will need to diffuse this anger before anything positive can come of the call. This is where C.A.R.E. comes in – Consideration, Active listening, Responsiveness, Empathy. We have used this model extensively throughout call centres to improve call effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

CARE is all about demonstrating to the customer that you understand their situation and effectively meet their needs. Consideration and empathy demonstrate your understanding and build rapport.

Consideration is about demonstrating that you value the customer and treat them as an individual.  An organisation can show consideration through the waiting message before the customer even gets to speak to a call centre member of staff. Customers may view statements such as: “We are experiencing a high volume of calls at the moment,” as just an excuse.

Information the customer enters into their telephone keypad, used appropriately, also reduces frustration and can create rapport. For example, if a customer enters their account number, the system should display the customer’s name and account number in front of the adviser who takes the call.

The adviser can then greet the customer by name which will generate rapport – asking the customer to repeat the account number is likely to increase frustration.

Apologising for the delay is the first step but you don’t want to overdo it – too much apologising can be worse than none at all. A far better approach is to move quickly and swiftly on to dealing with the customer’s needs straightaway: “I apologise for your wait Mr Smith. How can I help you today?”

Displaying Empathy is also part of demonstrating understanding of a customer’s situation. Empathy is about showing that you recognise how the customer is feeling and can put yourself in their shoes, even if you don’t agree with the cause of
their complaint or can do nothing about it.

Try:

“I know it’s frustrating to wait in a queue; let me process your request right away,” or: “It’s disappointing when we don’t get things right first time. May I suggest that I ask the account manager to come and meet with you?” This demonstrates empathy and a willingness to take some action that will make the customer experience more pleasant in the future.

This is also part of the Responsiveness call centre staff need to show. Wherever possible, staff need to offer useful answers and solutions to problems, ask the customer for any ideas or suggestions and offer to do something for the customer that goes beyond their expectations.

Pre-empting a customer request is responsiveness at its best – for example if an upset customer is considering asking to speak to a manager, offering them that opportunity before they request it can go a long way to alleviating their negative feelings.

Responding effectively means Actively listening to pick up on what the customer is really saying. This includes reflecting the customer’s words back to them, asking questions instead of making assumptions and using an alert and enthusiastic tone of voice.

These four simple steps of CARE can go a long way to alleviating the frustration of working in the call centre industry and result in a more pleasant experience for your customer. Which, in turn, means a more positive experience for you.

The UK’s call centre industry now employs more than 800,000 people. It’s time to make a concerted effort to improve the customers’ experience, the industry’s reputation and own enjoyment of our careers.


This article was written by Annalize Cuthill, commercial director of Skill4. Skill4 is a dynamic company providing skill development solutions for call/contact centres and the retail sector.

Published On: 9th Nov 2005 - Last modified: 13th Dec 2016
Read more about - Call Centre Life,


2 Comments
  1. Excellent article on “Handling Angry Customers” I am planning to use some of your suggestions with my classes. It was short and right to the point.
    Thanak you

    Chandra 11 Jan at 3:33 pm
  2. these are the greatest suggestions I’ve ever had heard, thank you very much for this.

    khris 24 Aug at 3:20 pm
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