It’s inevitable that at some point, your agents are going to have some difficult conversations with customers. Instead of dreading these conversations or experiencing unnecessary anxiety about them, your agents can prepare themselves to be equipped to handle them. There are plenty of tools out there (like agent scripting tools) to help agents guide a call, but they will be even more effective at defusing tricky conversations if they can connect with your customers on a personal level. Customers are often treated robotically and handed from one agent or department to another if their issue is outside a rep’s repertoire. You can understand the frustration of a customer having to give their story over and over, or waiting on hold for lengths of time trying to get an answer.
Using the following steps and suggestions will help to alleviate the pain for your agents, and your customers. These are guidelines that can help your agents to communicate better with your customers. Practicing and personalizing these steps will make it easier to implement them on a regular basis.
Two-thirds of customers say it’s frustrating when they are on hold for periods of time or are forced to repeat themselves. That’s why it’s really important for your agents to start by listening to what the customer is really saying. Their inclination might be to rush in and console them, but in reality this might only agitate them more.
Active listening creates trust. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes as they deliver their story to your agents. Think through the following questions:
- How would you feel if the same thing had happened to you?
- How would you want the situation to be handled?
- How would you want to be treated by a representative?
Many times, a customer just wants to be heard. They want empathy, and they want to know that your agents understand their position.
Encourage your agents to repeat things back in summary if they are unsure of what the customer is really saying. Agents should begin this sentence with: ‘What I’m hearing you say is…’ and actually summarize what they said. You’d be surprised how often our own assumptions can get in the way of communication. Clarifying what the customer really means by their words will put both customer and agent on the same page.
Keep an open mind, and remind your agents that they shouldn’t take it personally. When they hear an angry or frustrated voice on the other end of the phone, their defenses will naturally go up. Learning how to control and manage this stress will help them to relax.
The first thing to remember is that this anger is aimed at the customer’s frustrating experience, it is not personal. Responding in kind will only escalate the situation. Maintaining a calm and relaxed tone without being patronizing will help put the person on the other end of the line at ease.
Acknowledge and Apologize
After providing space for the customer to tell their story and reaching a common understanding, it will be important for the agent to acknowledge their pain and apologize. This might be more than just an apology for their original frustration. By this point there’s a chance they’ve been passed around to several agents and/or managers and their agitation has grown. Therefore, it’s important to take several things into consideration.
First of all, your agents should maintain a calm voice while listening and then offer an apology, before explaining how to fix the situation. Saying ‘I’m sorry’ is often the beginning of the turnaround. Saying I’m sorry doesn’t necessarily mean that the agent or the company is at fault. It’s okay to be sorry for their frustration and that they had to make the call in the first place. However, if the issue is because of an error on the company’s part, agents should take responsibility and apologize specifically. As they actively listen to the customer and understand what caused their frustration, offering an apology that lets them know you get it. Some examples for apologizing specifically:
- ‘I’m sorry that the wrong item shipped to you, that must have been disappointing’
- ‘I’m sorry nobody has gotten in touch with you, even though you contacted our support department’
Make a connection to the customer. Let your agents show that they are human.
- What is the real underlying issue here?
- Why is the customer frustrated (it’s usually beyond product malfunction)? Is this their second attempt to contact customer service? Was the issue not resolved the first time?
- Are there extenuating circumstances? Maybe the customer has just had a really bad day and now, on top of that, they have to deal with this issue. The expectations people can have when calling customer service is that they will be put on hold or that the person on the other end of the line will treat them robotically.
Show empathy and understanding. Customers can sense whether the person on the other end of the phone actually cares and understands their situation. Customers want to get a glimpse of human connection because this is what helps them to feel understood.
Provide Options and Communicate the Solution
There is an art to providing options for your customer. Providing too many options can leave the customer confused and unsure, while not giving them options to choose from can make them feel like they are not in control of the situation. Research shows that if people feel powerless in a situation, then they need options to choose from.
Giving the customer two or three options of how you can right the situation gives them some control of how it is handled. If they get to choose the solution, there’s less of a chance that they will be disappointed with the outcome. Don’t stop at ‘I’m sorry’, get creative and help to solve the issue. An example of this could be:
- ‘I’m sorry that the wrong item shipped to you, that must have been disappointing. I would be happy to personally make sure the item is rushed to you now, or if you prefer, I can credit your account for the purchase and offer you 10% off your next order.’
Don’t make the customer wait on hold. Obviously, this is not always possible but if your agents can continue the conversation with the customer while researching their information, they can keep the human connection alive. If they do have to place the customer on hold, the customer should not be left on hold for long periods of time. Agents should either check back in with them to let them know what is going on or offer to call them back when it is convenient for them once you have a solution.
Communicate timeframes. If the agent is unable to solve the problem right then on the phone, be sure to communicate timeframes to them. Failure to communicate timeframes accurately to the customer will result in further dissatisfaction and could escalate the situation even more.
Go Above and Beyond
Even if you know the situation was resolved to the customer’s satisfaction, ensure that the agent follows up with them to show that you care. It can be as easy as a quick phone call or email. If you’ve already established a relational connection with the customer, this added level of care will be especially appreciated. The agent could also use this opportunity to encourage them to contact them directly in the future should they need anything.
Send a note or discount code. Send a handwritten note to the customer to apologize once again for their inconvenience and to thank them for their loyalty. If appropriate, offer them a discount code for their next purchase with the company.
Follow other company’s examples such as Ritz-Carlton, who understands that offering a relatively small gift — all employees are empowered to spend up to $2,000 per day per guest — helps to reset the internal clock with a customer by establishing a new ‘last point of contact’. Or the story of Elder Glenn, an Ace Hardware chain owner who solved an issue of an agitated customer with just $5. He called this the ‘five dollar lifeboat’ and this small gesture helped to create a loyal lifelong customer.
Using these processes will help your agents not only at work but also in every interaction in life. Simply listening and letting someone know they are heard and understood will quickly deescalate most of the conflicts we encounter in our lives. If your agents are able to control their emotions and remain calm during these customer encounters, the person on the other end of the channel will be more likely to relax as they share their frustrations.
The next time you or your agents are faced with a frustrated customer, take a deep breath and really tune into what they are saying, and listen well. Acknowledge their frustration and apologize if necessary. Offer ways that you can rectify the situation for them and then follow up to make sure the air is clear and to show that you care. Empathy and kindness go a long way in building a relational connection and showing that you and your company care.
by Sarah Chambers, Editor-in-chief, Chatra.
Chatra helps you connect with your website visitors in real-time to answer questions and alleviate concerns more easily, building relationships to help them become customers. You can check out their “free forever” plan to see if Chatra is right for you.
To help support agents during difficult conversations, Zingtree’s agent scripting solution standardizes processes and gives team leads the peace of mind in knowing that every single customer interaction follows standard operating procedures, each and every time. It includes:
- Fully digital solution — no more outdated paper scripts
- Agent scripts that are easy to build, maintain and analyze
- Simple interface that keeps agents focused and on-message
- Performance reports keep managers informed and help guide internal improvements