Our panel of experts discuss how contact centres can better cope with the pressure of handling calls from demanding customers.
1. Shut Up and Listen
One of the most valuable skills for any advisor is knowing when to shut up and listen. All too often, we try and offer solutions before taking the time to understand the problem. These solutions are often wrong, but even if they are correct, the customer is unlikely to trust them.
Being listened to is our first demand in any interaction. When an advisor fails to do so, we become frustrated, making us more demanding.
If the customer feels they have not had a chance to explain their problem, they will think: how do I know that the solution offered will resolve this? As such, they are likely to reject this solution and propose their own.
In any conversation, attentive listening is rare. We spend too big a chunk of the interaction ignoring the other person while considering what to say next. When somebody genuinely listens to what we have to say without judgement, it makes us feel valued.
Starting each conversation by making a customer feel valued creates an excellent platform for the rest of the conversation, where a customer is more likely to accept the right solution.
Of course, targeting handle times may pressure advisors to rush the listening phase in the mistaken belief that it aids call control. Yet, investing the time to listen early in a call can save time later. Advisors will spend less time debating, and customers are less likely to call back to try and speak to somebody who will listen to them.
Thanks to Ian Robertson at The Forum
2. Create an Escalation Policy
Putting together a comprehensive escalation policy for when customers might ask to speak to a manager is vital. It helps advisors deal with demanding or unhappy customers properly.
Coaching advisors to deal with these situations goes a long way, ensuring preparedness to deal with complex demands.
Such coaching may include training advisors to acknowledge that the customer is upset and show empathy. If open and honest conversations do not work, the call may still require an escalation. If so, advisors should offer the customer two options:
- A callback with a manager where they stay on the line to have their query answered immediately.
- A callback at a later time, so they do not have to remain on the line.
Having a clear policy for escalating complaints ensures that advisors are ready to take charge of calls from demanding customers.
Thanks to Alex Stenton-Hibbert at Business Systems
3. Break the Acceptance of Broken Processes
Sometimes customers make perfectly reasonable demands that companies cannot meet due to broken processes. Advisors must then mediate with customers as they become frustrated.
Yet, before teaching advisors how to handle these awkward situations, consider how to avoid them altogether. An excellent place to start is by investigating crunch points, where processes break down.
Using social listening, advisor feedback, and speech analytics, contact centres can isolate occasions where they fail to meet customer demands.
For those common issues that prove particularly problematic, consider grouping them into three buckets:
- Inside – Those that the contact centre can fix themselves
- Outside – Those where the assistance of another department is required to fix the issue
- Policy – Those requiring board intervention as they are fundamental to how the business operates.
By doing so, contact centres can consider each broken process more clearly. They can often fix “inside” issues immediately. Yet, for “outside” and “policy” problems, leaders outside of the contact centre may need convincing.
If this is indeed the case, uncover the failure demand that each broken process drives. Then, estimate how much the problem costs the business. An eye-watering figure may encourage positive action at every level.
Finally, rename each broken process using the customer’s words to ensure that everyone from frontline advisors to business stakeholders understands the issue.
4. Use the USA Technique (Understand, Situation, Action)
It is tricky to handle conversations with demanding customers. In these situations, it is difficult for advisors to know which course of action to take.
Fortunately, there are acronyms designed to help advisors deal with challenging customers. They stick in the advisor’s mind and offer a framework for finding an appropriate call resolution.
Consider the USA acronym put forward by customer service expert Myra Golden:
- Understanding statement – Such a statement allows the advisor to acknowledge the impact of the customer’s problem.
- Situation – Breaking down the “situation” precisely, advisors may explain why they cannot give the customer what they want (politely!).
- Action – Finishing with an expression of positivity, coach advisors to highlight what options they can offer the customer instead.
The USA model is ideal for handling calls from demanding customers. It allows advisors to acknowledge and empathize with the customer before focusing on realistic outcomes.
To successfully embed such a model within the contact centre, begin by coaching it to a select few advisors and monitor its impact. If it proves successful, collect great call recordings and share them in group coaching sessions. Doing so will help advisors understand what good looks like.
5. Reinforce Coaching With Quality Management
To help advisors handle contacts from challenging customers, the training team will often develop a specialized training programme.
Once the programme concludes, advisors will say that they now feel more confident in dealing with demanding customers. The training team then celebrates – their hard work is complete.
Yet is it really? Aside from forced feedback, often little evidence suggests that customer experience has improved. There is also the risk of advisors reverting to old habits, which contradict best practice.
The training and quality assurance (QA) functions must join forces to safeguard customer experience and sustain performance improvement. With the support of QA, coaches can develop a post-training plan for structured reinforcement.
Post-induction training, coaches may track the progress of advisors and use QA insights to tailor more personalized follow-up training. Using a quality management platform makes this possible. It also allows the departments to collaborate further, setting mutual performance standards, aligning training materials and closing performance gaps.
Thanks to David Evans at Calabrio
6. Coach Empathy and Roleplay
By encouraging advisors to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and show genuine empathy, there is the potential to turn demanding customers into returning customers.
To help coach such behaviour amongst the advisor population, consider roleplay exercises based on historic customer calls.
Also evaluate how advisors handle demanding customers and deliver feedback on where they can improve. For well-handled calls, share them with the team as examples of best practice.
In doing so, advisors will instantly understand what they must do and handle the situation with a clearer mind.
Thanks to Frank Sherlock at CallMiner
7. Harness Customer Feedback
With customers getting ever more demanding, there is much that businesses can do to capture their feedback and use it to enhance customer service.
Structured data and its analysis is often the starting point. Over the past five years, it has become easier to extract data from the contact centre – such as net promoter score (NPS) data – and share it across the company.
But businesses also need to go beyond that to find out why customers chose that score. That is where voice of the customer (VoC) tools play a role. They assess language and context to help the company understand why the customer was cynical regarding a particular situation.
Getting access to such precision enables the business to address the problem that’s causing customer frustration.
Thanks to Gary Bennett at Enghouse Interactive
8. Encourage Advisors to Build Rapport Naturally
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of shackling our teams with processes, scripts, and workflows to ensure quality and compliance. Yet this often leaves the experience feeling forced and unnatural.
Giving teams freedom to react to the progress of the interaction allows them to flex their approach.
Consider a manager who tells advisors to ask the customer how their day was. If the customer is short and passive during small talk, perhaps this is not the best approach.
Instances like this highlight how a little bit of freedom often alleviates difficult situations with demanding customers.
Thanks to Ben Booth at MaxContact
9. Say What You Do and Do What You Say
Businesses will benefit from clearly communicating their intent. Say what you do and do what you say is excellent advice.
Of course, managing customer promises is often a tricky task, particularly within a business that operates in silos. Nevertheless, where the company declares itself competitive, demanding customers will expect it to deliver.
Where expectations are different from the business’s messaging, however, customers can assess the gap themselves. They will consider whether the gap exists with competitive offerings. It is, therefore, a fine balance.
Ultimately, excellent service which meets the expectations of modern customers will provide a competitive advantage, and businesses that innovate will get ahead.
Thanks to Mike Palmer at Spearline
10. Upskill and Empower
One approach to managing the challenge posed by demanding customers involves a mix of skill, value analysis, categorization, planning and empowerment.
- Skill – Dealing with demanding customers is a real art. Whether their claim is legitimate or not, step one is to de-escalate what is typically an emotional and sometimes irrational conversation into a set of facts. There is no real substitute for coaching and learning from experts at handling these queries.
- Value Analysis – Index the estimated lifetime value of clients and let that figure guide advisors when resolving their problems.
- Categorize – Is the demand deriving from a consequence of a policy, process, knowledge or product failure? Perhaps there is an external factor at play?
- Empowerment – One of the best tools to defuse contentious issues is to pre-authorize approvals with certain conditions. For example, if the lifetime value is high and the problem stems from a fault within the company’s control, then authorize X.
Thanks to Andy White at Contexta360
11. Keep Customer Effort Low
Think back to a time when you received faultless service. What made the experience so memorable?
Harvard Business Review research suggests that the ability to remove journey frictions keeps customers happy. So, the reason you remember that experience so well is likely because you got the answer you needed without any effort.
By far the most prominent cause of excessive customer effort is the need to get back in touch. What is the answer to handling demanding customers, then? It is all about making the contact centre process easy and smooth, allowing customers to get the correct answer during their first interaction.
Skills-based routing helps by matching customers with advisors who are best at dealing with their problems. Another option is enabling customers to help themselves through self-service.
Thanks to Severine Hierso at RingCentral
12. Manage Expectations
The disconnection between the company and customer expectations is often the biggest driver of demanding customers.
Listening to the voice of the customer (VoC) enables a business to understand what operational improvements they can make. It also helps to fine-tune communication strategies. These may have an immediate impact on dealing with demanding customers.
For starters, it helps to manage expectations while understanding and improving the customer journey. Customers may then feel less entitled and obligated to complain.
13. Invest in Frontline Specialists
Thanks to the rise of self-service and automation, the future of human customer service interactions is empathetic. All advisors must have these skills.
Advisors who are specialists in certain areas will also come to the fore. Routing demanding customers to specialist advisors puts the contact centre in the best position to satisfy their demands.
To achieve this, turn to remote learning capabilities to ensure that everyone has the knowledge and resources they need – when they need them. Doing so supports the continuous delivery of a consistent, exceptional customer experience.
Thanks to Julian Evans at Alvaria
14. Stop Sticky-Plaster Solutions
Customers have experienced excellent, effortless service. They understand what is possible, have a point of reference and often will not settle for less.
Technology is an enabler, and disruptive companies are raising the bar. As remote and hybrid work continues, companies can no longer afford the luxury of sticky-plaster solutions that leave customers wanting more.
Luckily, cloud migration enables companies to meet customers where they are, whether that is on the voice channel, chat or messaging. Simple integrations connect these channels with each other and more cloud applications, further enhancing contact centre capabilities.
Thanks to Janice Rapp at 8×8
15. Equip Advisors With the Tools They Need
Provide demanding customers with the information they need, allow them to self-serve and keep wait times low.
When the IVR transfers the customer to a representative, ensure that the context of that journey follows them. After all, everybody hates repeating themselves.
With the right technologies, companies may meet rising demands and engage in conversations that improve customer experience.
For example, providing advisors with information at their fingertips will likely increase first contact resolution (FCR). Customers are then more likely to feel like they are part of the team.
Thanks to Jason Griffin at Five9
16. Avoid Frustrations From the Get-Go
Consider the IVR messaging that greets customers. Is it frustrating customers from the beginning of the call with confusing options, jargon and sales messages? If so, that will negatively impact customer behaviour, pushing some to become more irritable and demanding.
Another example is identification and verification (ID&V) processes. Methods such as security questions are cumbersome, not to mention archaic. Customers know this, and it is not the best look.
Instead, through combining biometric technologies with conversational AI, individual users are immediately identified by how they sound.
During the opening seconds of any call with an advisor, voice biometrics checks the client’s voice against a voiceprint they have previously enrolled to verify their identity. By authenticating customers quickly, the contact centre saves the customer time and removes frustration.
Thanks to Brett Beranek at Nuance
17. Fulfil Basic Customer Needs
COVID-19 has changed how we interact. Digital channels and flexible working are here to stay, impacting customer experience – and customer demands.
To meet the growing digital demands of customers, many contact centres are building a cohesive, consistent approach that reaches all audiences.
Across a variety of channels, such a strategy should cater for the changing preferences of consumers. Customer research is critical here, and the results may well highlight an inclination for messaging channels, such as WhatsApp and Messenger.
If so, virtual assistants may prove a helpful addition to the digital proposition. They can respond to simple queries while eliminating the more fundamental tasks for advisors, for which customers usually have high expectations.
Thanks to Eric Leboeuf at Infobip
18. Ensure Customers Are Aware That They’re Being Heard
We live in a world where expectations of exceptional customer service are innate. And as contact centre professionals, we must rise to these high demands on services and staff wherever we can.
One of the most important things when dealing with irate customers is to make sure they know they are being heard and understand that what they are saying is important to you. Acknowledgement is key to someone feeling heard.
If you are ultimately not able to meet their demands, then the ‘why’ is far more important than the ‘what’. In other words, customers don’t want to know ‘what you can’t do’ they want to know ‘what you can do’.
Thanks to Claire Benbow at Sensee
Learn how to help advisors deal with contacts from other types of challenging customers by reading our articles: