We investigate how to deal with talkative customers in the contact centre, while still providing excellent customer service.
Why Can’t the Customer Stop Talking?!
It can be frustrating. Advisors see that lots of new customers are waiting to be served, but this customer just won’t stop talking.
So how can the advisor best navigate these tricky situations?
First things first, the advisor needs to consider why the customer is being so talkative and, generally, it will come down to one of two reasons:
Once the advisor identifies which scenario is at play, they can follow the advice in the corresponding section below.
Scenario No. 1 – The Customer Doesn’t Feel Like They Are Being Listened To
Customers can talk a lot when they are frustrated. They also tend to repeat themselves.
Maybe their functional needs have been met, but their emotional needs have been cast to one side, or maybe they feel as though their problem has been completely misinterpreted.
Either way, the problem comes down to a lack of rapport between the customer and advisor. Here’s how to put that right.
Reset the Conversation
Honesty is the best policy. When a frustrated customer goes on and on, it’s important that advisors don’t become defensive over the job that they have done up until that point. Accept that something has gone wrong. It happens!
A good advisor will recognize this and look to start afresh and take charge of the call. Perhaps they might say something like:
From what I’m hearing, I realize that I haven’t been able to give you the support that you are looking for. Let’s start again and work together to come up with a solution.
This is a nice phrase, as it signals to the customer that the advisor is on their side. Said in an upbeat tone, it can also add a vital bit of positivity to the conversation.
While both of these benefits are great, this phrase should also act as a trigger for the advisor to really focus on effective listening…
Get to the Seventh Stage of Listening
“Most of the time, when a customer won’t stop talking, it is because they believe that nobody is listening to them,” says Nerys Corfield of Injection Consulting.
With this in mind, it is important for advisors to show the customer that they have been listening.
So, when a customer just won’t stop talking, the advisor should use that as a trigger to jump to the “seventh stage of listening” and really focus on what the customer is saying (and what they are not saying too).
Here are the seven stages of listening, if this is a new concept to you.
The seventh stage of listening involves listening for the intersection where someone else’s experience meets the listener’s experience, which they can use to build trust.
Yet it’s easy to stop actively listening to customers, when taking call after call. But if an advisor simply listens and clarifies their understanding with the customer – by repeating back what has been said – that can be extremely effective in dealing with a customer who talks to much.
Pair Active Listening With Acknowledgement
The technique above becomes even more effective if the advisor pairs active listening with acknowledgement.
For lots of great advice on improving active listening in the call centre, read our article: How to Train Active Listening in the Contact Centre – With Four Exercises
Acknowledge the Customer’s Emotions
As well as listening to the customer, the advisor should be taking mental notes of the emotions that the customer expresses when they are in “rant mode”.
Does the customer say that they are feeling “upset”, “disappointed” or maybe even “angry”?
The Acknowledge and Respond Technique
Use these expressed emotions to show the customer that you do understand how they feel.
For example, if the customer says that they are “upset”, it’s good for an advisor to use an acknowledgement statement like:
- “I can see why you feel upset, this is a difficult situation. But it’s one that we can work through together.”
- “If I were in your place, I’d feel upset too. But we can sort this out.”
- “I know this is an upsetting situation for you. Let’s see how I can help.”
We acknowledge how the customer is feeling… each statement also finishes with a response.
In each of these example phrases above, we acknowledge how the customer is feeling, which helps to build rapport and makes the customer feel heard. Each statement also finishes with a response. This creates a sense of immediacy, to help move the conversation along.
Only by using techniques like this can we meet the customer’s emotional needs as well as their functional needs.
Ask Yourself: “What Is the Emotional Driver for This Call?”
Sometimes, it’s good to think about why exactly the customer has called you to help speed up the call-handling process. They will either be:
- Looking to move away from a position of anxiety or frustration
- Looking to move towards a position of comfort or contentment
If the advisor can recognize which the customer is looking for, they can change their approach to best meet their needs and form an emotional connection with them.
This “emotional driver” technique originates from contact centre author and coach Nick Drake-Knight’s book: FAST COACHING The Complete Guide to NEW CODE Continue & Begin
In his book, Nick states: “A key skill for contact centre professionals is to understand the thoughts and feelings a caller has as they makes their call. There must be a reason for their call, and it’s not just transactional, process activity. There is emotion involved, even if it is unconscious emotion.”
“Customers will make a call if the emotional pay-off is sufficient to stimulate then to do so. They will if there is a strong enough Emotional Driver. What is it?”
To hear more from Nick on how to improve your call centre coaching, check out the following episode of The Contact Centre Podcast.
Scenario No. 2 – The Customer Is Just a Very Talkative Person
While scenario 1 is the more common, advisors do also have to deal with customers who are generally very friendly but just won’t stop talking about their life, hobbies, pets etc.
When managed incorrectly, these customers can keep advisors on the phone for much longer than they want or need to be.
To better control these calls, advisors can try using the following tricks.
Ask Closed Questions
Closed questions are questions to which the customer can only respond “yes” or “no”. These are ideal to use when advisors are looking to move the conversations forward at pace.
On this point, closed questions are also good when dealing with impatient customers.
Examples of closed questions include:
- Can I help you with anything else?
- Would you like to buy something?
- Are you happy with the service provided?
To use closed questions, advisors should aim to start their questions with: “can”, “do”, “are” or “would”. This is instead of “how”, “which” and “what”.
Doing so, while keeping flow of the conversation, is difficult and does take some practice. So role-playing this scenario with your team can be a great training activity.
Try Out the Following Techniques
As well as asking closed questions, there are a number of other techniques that you can use to speed up your contact centre conversations with talkative customers. These include:
- Asking Leading Questions – Leading questions are questions that imply a certain answer. These can be useful when the customer is taking a long time to deliberate their decision, in order to persuade them to choose a certain option.
- Ask “Quick Questions” – If the advisor subtly suggests that they will ask the customer a set of “quick questions” – in a friendly manner – they can set the tone for the rest of the conversation.
- Signposting – Signposting is a technique that allows the advisor to give the customer some warning about what they are going to need to complete the call. It then helps the advisor to direct the conversation, as if they are “in charge”.
To find more great questioning techniques, read our article: 10 Effective Questioning and Probing Techniques for Customer Service
“To interrupt the customer effectively, you need to appear as if you’re on the customer’s side. You need to listen to what they are saying and interrupt only when you can add something meaningful to what they have said,” says Nerys.
This technique can be very effective. For example, if the customer starts rambling on about their dog, the advisor can say: “That’s very interesting, my dog can be exactly the same.”
If the customer starts rambling on about their dog, the advisor can say: “That’s very interesting, my dog can be exactly the same.”
Then the advisor can ramble on about their dog for a few moments, before apologizing to the customer for side-tracking the conversation. The advisor can then take back control of the call.
The customer is happy because the advisor has agreed with them and has backed up their thoughts, while the advisor is also happy because the call is back on track. Genius!
The key thing is that you are appearing to agree with the customer – don’t just interrupt them with a completely unrelated point. Again, effective listening skills can make the difference here.
The Last Resort – Pattern Interrupt
By following the advice in this article, you can certainly trim time off your longest, most frustrating calls. But there may still be exceptions. There may still be customers who just go on and on.
In these extreme cases, when the customer talks over you, simply stop giving verbal nods or minimal encouragers, the “uh-huh”, “aha”, “yes” etc. that we are socially conditioned to deliver, suggests Steve Shellabear, an experienced call centre coach and the Managing Director of dancing lion.
“The customer is likely to notice the expected responses are not there and say: “Are you still there/listening?” At which time you can acknowledge them and lead the conversation,” says Steve.
This approach is backed up by scientific research – see Simon Baum’s study on short-term memory and cognitive neuropsychology. It is often referred to as “Pattern Interrupt”.
However, as Steve would stress, this is very much the last resort!
For more articles on handling difficult contact centre conversations, read our articles: