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Don’t Take a Negative Customer Interaction Personally

talkingBest of ICMI in 2022 - #9: 

Years ago, when I first joined the contact center world, my favorite part of my job was turning around a frustrating customer experience and helping that caller end their interaction with me better off than when they started. I was intrinsically motivated to wow the customer, but when the call didn’t end as well as I hoped, I was devastated. I took personally the failure to wow the customer, and it would ruin my entire day.

I distinctly recall one instance where a caller angrily disconnected on me, but I was certain I had the answer to all their problems, so I called them right back pretending that our line must have been accidently disconnected just so I could get a do-over to save the day.

I am aware that not everyone may share my motivations, but I also believe that each person on my team shows up to work every day eager to help our customers and to do right by them.

Here are three small tricks I’ve learned that helped me not take things as personally when they don’t as well as I’d like:

Take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Did I do the best I could?”

Since you can only control your actions and your behaviors, it doesn’t make sense to dwell on how another person responds to your efforts. Sometimes our customers won’t be in a place to hear the solutions we’re offering and they aren’t ready to accept our offer of help. This is okay. It may take time for them to digest the information they’ve just heard, and perhaps they’ll be ready to accept it after a little time.

Keep a picture, quote, meme, figurine (or maybe all of those things) in your work area.

Sometimes you just need something in your proximity to help remind you of the importance of what you do, to help re-center you after a particularly challenging interaction, or to laugh it off. I have a meme printout sitting on my desk of that dog sitting in the middle of a flaming room with a thought bubble above its head saying, “This is fine.” Meanwhile, on my computer monitor, I taped a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that says, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” I also have a figurine of April O’Neil from the 1990 film, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, sitting beneath my monitor. Depending on the need (reassurance, a laugh, a reminder), I look to my items to provide me a momentary reprieve.

Take a quick break.

If an employee on my team has had a particularly difficult call, or has just experienced another stressful situation, it may be helpful for them to take a quick moment to step away from their work area - refreshing their water, taking a short walk around the building - whatever gives them a chance to physically distance themselves from the emotions that arose during the interaction. After they’ve had that cleansing moment to themselves, they can come back and do their jobs with renewed energy.

A teammate once shared with me a perspective of an escalated interaction that has really stuck with me. Imagine that you are smoothly floating down a river on a raft. This is where our interaction with a customer begins. Sometimes the water stays smooth and navigating the river is easy; these are the interactions we strive to produce. However, there are other interactions that do not stay smooth like the water in the river, and instead, they become uncomfortable and rough. This is where we, the rafter, are no longer peacefully navigating smooth waters. Our focus heightens as we recognize a potential danger. For us, the danger is our customer leaving the interaction dissatisfied, or perhaps even losing our customer.

It’s also important to note that just as the water in the river shapes its surroundings, we, too, are shaped by the experiences we undergo. When we bring our whole selves to work, it also often means we bring with us our emotions from situations outside work. This means a particular customer interaction may impact an employee who is experiencing stress outside work differently when compared to a teammate who isn’t experiencing that same stressful life event. This means that it’s incredibly important that we be open with our managers during those times we need a bit more support and understanding.

It takes daily focus and intention to let go of the things that wound our spirit, but this is one of the most critical skills a contact center employee can learn. Don’t match the caller’s tone — help them to stay calm by keeping your own tone as smooth as a lazy river.