Aren’t call centers supposed to resolve rather than ruffle callers’ concerns? In theory, yes. But in practice, far too many end up provoking rather than placating critical callers. All alliteration aside, let us elucidate…
A few weeks ago we published a post called, “Are your call center’s complainers really complaining?” It noted the importance of recognizing whether a caller is actually complaining or simply offering valuable input. Either can actually prove to be very valuable. But all too often, even a trained customer service or technical support call center agent can interpret such calls as criticisms that must be defended against, rather than insights that must be nurtured. The extra effort and time that it might take to nurture such a call can be a turn-off for many managers. There may be pressure to keep the call short and move on to the next. However, trying to cut someone off when they have a legitimate complaint or even if they’re just offering input, can often ramp up the level of confrontation and actually make the call longer than it needed to be. Even worse, it can turn a mildly agitated or even helpful customer into an ex-customer. No one’s happy then.
Given our recent post, it was interesting today to see a similar post today from HR Bartender, a blog dealing with workplace issues, and HR in particular. Its author, Sharlyn Lauby, is a top HR consultant as well as one exceptionally nice person. In her post, Sharlyn notes that people will typically show their displeasure over something by either walking away or talking about it. Ironically, even though talking gives us the chance to save a valuable customer or employee, we try all too often to avoid such conversations.
Sharlyn suggests some ways to respond at such times, and we recommend you take a look to see if your approach to such situations measures up. We also suggest a few techniques of our own that can help turn confrontation into cooperation:
1. Open a vent.
Don’t rush the caller. Let him or her vent. In fact, encourage them to do exactly that. Ask questions to make sure you clearly understand what their precise frustrations are. Repeat or rephrase what they tell you. This will give them a chance to ease their frustrations, and will help you be sure you’ve heard their concerns. Even more important, doing so will help them know you’ve heard their concerns. That can work wonders in reducing their frustrations and bringing the situation under control.
2. Transition to the solution rather than the problem.
Once you have identified and agreed on what the problem is, give a definite statement to make it clear that the focus of the call will now shift. “Okay, Mr. Obama. We now understand that even though you have a new TV, you’re still only seeing the same old commentators. Let’s see if we can figure out if there’s a way to get things straightened up for you.” Once you have their agreement on this, they have essentially acknowledged that the time to complain is past, and you can both focus on potential solutions. Which brings us to the third point, which will be the most surprising for many…
3. Let them suggest a solution.
This can seem like the worst idea ever to many call center agents or managers. But despite what many expect, callers will often be very reasonable in their requests, and just being asked will again let them know you’re actually trying to make things better for them. Plus, even if they do come back with an outrageous suggestion, you haven’t promised anything; you’ve simply asked what they want you to do. Should their approach be untenable, it should at least help you predict a solution that somewhat leans toward their wishes.
There are of course many details to pay attention to that can dramatically affect the outcome as you move through each of these steps. Listening well is the customer service skill set that seems to come least intuitively for many people. But your call center agents should certainly be quite capable in that area, and with this approach outlined for them, may find that more and more of their calls go from being confrontational to collaborative.
Call centers can indeed create critical — or cooperative — client calls. It often comes down to how well your agents let your callers feel understood.