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Tactics Agents Need to Know for Handling Irate Customers

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The Best ICMI Articles in 2020 - #10

In the contact center, agents and supervisors have heard it all before:

  • Customers threatening to sue the organization because a product isn’t working correctly.
  • Promises to light up social media if customers don’t get what they want.
  • Overly aggressive or pushy customers, demanding compensation for their time.
  • There is a good chance an agent, regardless of industry, may encounter an irate customer. Some of these customers can be talked down, while some simply must be managed safely and effectively. To provide the best support to agents, supervisors and trainers need to ensure that everyone knows these tactics for dealing with irate customers:

    Never take it personally

    Unfortunately, some angry customers will try to attack an agent personally. With a heightened level of frustration, some resort to aggressive language that crosses the line. While some agents might want to give it back to the customer, it’s important to remember that doing so solves nothing. In fact, yelling back will only make things worse.

    Train agents to diffuse the situation by not reacting to the fits of anger, with anything but kindness. For whatever reason that doesn’t work, agents have the right to ask the customer to contact them again once they have calmed down and are ready to respond reasonably. An agent should never be put into a situation where they need to put up with abuse.

    Lean on offering to help as the primary goal

    We all have bad days. Unfortunately, when some people have a bad day, they take it out on someone else, and that someone could be a contact center agent. Supervisors and trainers should work with agents to acknowledge that sometimes, an irate customer’s anger isn’t their fault. Capable agents will instead listen, empathize, and professionally offer to work with the customer on a resolution. All contact center agents are there to help customers. Armed with the right approach and by repeating the offer to help, agents stand more of a chance of diffusing the situation.

    Determine if the customers’ threats are valid

    Sometimes, the agent needs to assess the validity of the threat made by a customer. Instead of immediately giving in to an irrational demand, agents should partner with or escalate to the leader when a threat sounds legitimate. Before it gets to that point, ensure agents have thought through the validity of the threat made. For example, is someone really going to sue you and the organization over a $10 product, spending thousands of dollars in legal fees? Probably not.

    Be reasonable and fair, but don’t accept that the customer is always right.

    Not all customers are right. Sometimes, they are misinformed and get things wrong. Contact center agents need to know when to correct a customer making a mistake and when to leave well enough alone.

    It’s a judgment call that can sometimes be tough to make, as no one wants to insult a customer. There always should be a level of flexibility to empower contact center agents to make it right for customers, even when nothing is wrong. But, if a request is unreasonable, there’s nothing wrong in politely and professionally educating and, perhaps, nudging the customer down the correct path. In some cases, it can be a disservice to a customer when they think they are right on something that’s making their situation or experience with your company worse.

    Decide if the customer relationship is worth saving

    Contact center agents exist to help customers. Unfortunately, some customers don’t make it easy on themselves to be supported. We all know that a happy customer tells one person, whereas an angry one tells ten or more. With social media, customers are now speaking into a megaphone telling thousands of customers about their experience, too.

    As the team closest to the customer, contact center agents have a huge responsibility in helping to control word of mouth impressions. If you can salvage a customer relationship, that’s great. But sometimes, you won’t be able to offer a solution. There may be times where a customer’s business is not worth the effort or aggravation anymore. When or if it comes to that point, your agents need and expect your support to make the tough call.

    Train on Red Flags

    There is some language and some threats that are unacceptable, no matter what the situation, including racial, religious, and homophobic insults and threats of violence. Be sure that your workforce knows what lines cannot be crossed by a customer, and what is the appropriate action to take when a customer crosses that line.

    Ensure Agents Are Supported

    The ability to successfully resolve a situation with an irate customer is an art. Some agents have an innate ability to calm anyone down. Others need coaching and assistance to do so successfully without getting rattled and upset themselves. Contact center leaders need to ensure that agents are given the right support and training to effectively deescalate angry customers. With a mix of call control and guidance built into ongoing coaching and new hire training, contact center agents should be equipped to handle any type of interaction thrown their way.