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5 Things Your Agents Can Say to Dissolve Customer Frustration Immediately

By 2020, the customer experience your agents deliver will become your company’s key brand differentiator – overtaking price and product.

Are your agents ready to provide globally differentiating customer service?

Definitive service starts with eliminating even the possibility of poor service. Common sense, but no easy task, right? When customers get irritated and angry, they can often push your agents past their capacity to respond professionally. Moreover, one contentious call can automatically key your agent up for the next call. It’s a crippling ripple effect.

Here is where you can help your agents the most. Teach them how to dissolve callers’ irritation and anger immediately. You can do this through equipping them with just a few key phrases. Why do “these” phrases work best? Because they are laden words that reflect and affirm your callers’ core values about how people should interact with one another when facing a challenge together.

Ease customer irritation

The phrases are simple. And yet, they work. When people hear these words, they perceive that they are engaging in meaningful human interaction. They feel an actual connection with the person on the other end of the phone. When this happens, they shift. They instantly become more agreeable. They move from being on the defense to being willing to work with your agent to solve the problem.

Here is what your agents can say to help callers feel valued and willing to dial down their irritation:

1. Walk me through what you’ve experienced so far.

Notice the camaraderie extended in this phrase – the conversation becomes a partnership. We all know that walking with someone is a very different experience than running to catch up with them or having to drag them along behind. When customers call your center, they want your agent to match their pacing in the customer journey -- not the other way around.

You may feel anxious about permitting your agents to walk with callers through the entirety of what they’ve experienced. Will it take up too much time?

Consider this: you can’t know what each caller actually needs from your company until you understand their story, as told by each customer. What they think they need your agent to do for them may not be what they actually need to be satisfied.

And until they are satisfied, they’ll keep calling. Or worse, they won’t. You’ll lose their business to a competitor who’s already figured out exactly how you don't satisfy that customer, and why.

2. Your experience sounds like it was extremely irritating.

Honesty and empathy will never detract from your company’s reputation and brand. Did the caller experience a truly annoying issue with your product/service/solution? Instruct your agents to say so, straight out. When you stop sugar coating callers’ problems, you immediately build rapport with them, and they become more amenable to the options you provide to them.

And -- EVERY issue your agents hear about is a highly irritating issue to the person calling in about it. Even if it seems relatively insignificant to your agent. Guide your people to empathetically respond according to the customers’ level of irritation at an issue, not the level of irritation they themselves would feel if they were in the customers’ shoes. Your customers value empathetic responses from your agents, even though they are complete strangers; maybe even because they are complete strangers!

3. Let me make sure I understand what happened.

We’ve all had the experience of being half-understood. Human communication is imperfect. When people feel misunderstood, they don’t feel valued. When they don’t feel valued, they revert to behavior that is defensive and irritable.

The only way for your agents to ensure that they understand a customer’s problem is to practice reflective listening, and repeat back what they thought they heard the customer say. Even though reflective listening takes more time up front, it saves time overall, through minimizing workflow stemming from incorrect assumptions.

Guide your agents to preface their reflective listening communication with the phrase, “let me make sure I understand what happened.” Emphasizing “make sure” signals to the value they are placing on accuracy and not wasting the customer’s time.  

4. Would you prefer to be put you on hold while I investigate how to help you best, or would you rather I call you back when I have a solution?

A recent survey by Accenture found that 89% of customers get frustrated because they have to repeat their issues to several agents before getting their problems solved.

Organize your policies to reflect what your customers most value: an impactful conversation with one person (or, at most, one additional “expert”) who can fix their problems. Give customers options about whether to be placed on hold or called back. Doing this one thing – offering this one choice, and making it a policy to do so – will position you in your customers’ minds as a company that not only cares but has common sense about the boots-on-the-ground process of troubleshooting.

5. Has this conversation been satisfying for you?

It’s a simple question, inviting a “yes” or “no” answer – the ultimate litmus test for the effectiveness of each conversation in building up your company’s brand.

Note the question is, “Is there anything else I can help you with?” And it’s not, “can you rate this call?” Those questions are canned at best and disorienting at worst. Take it down to a human level. Encourage your agents to find out if people are satisfied with the words and emotions exchanged during the call, or not. For every “yes” they get, your people’s morale will deepen. They’ll come to value the “yes” as much as your customers and strive for it.

You can take concrete steps to embed what your customers most value into the day-to-day operations of your organization. You can erase every single disconnect between what your customers need from your agents and what they actually deliver. Through capturing your values and valued behaviors in an organizational constitution, you will create alignment within and weave a thread of genuine human connection through every conversation that unfolds in your center.

When you do this, you will build a culture that is purposeful, positive, and productive. In so doing, you’ll ready your agents to deliver customer service that truly differentiates.