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Let’s face it: of all the situations that customer service and technical support teams face, dealing with angry customers can be the most draining. The agent — and sometimes several agents before the caller is done — can be exhausted from being verbally pummeled. The time spent on the call skyrockets beyond any goal or target ever imagined. And at the end of it all, chances are good that you have not won back the customer, but won a new vigilante voice out there who will be attacking your company at the dinner table, in the workplace, and most dreaded of all, in a blog.
That’s why, in many call centers, the angry customer has another name: the “worst nightmare,” and every agent there dreads getting that call. Quite understandable.
So why does Tom Peters (Remember Tom? Possibly the world’s top business guru, he has been mentioned before here on Talkamore) in his book, The Little BIG Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence, make this outrageous statement?
“There’s nothing, but nothing, better than an angry customer.”
Even for Tom Peters, those are pretty strong words. There is merit in what he says though. As we noted in the past post that mentioned Tom, research has shown that customers who were furious with a company but then had their problems addressed are far more loyal to that company than customers who did not have any problem at all. Or, as Tom puts it, “Our most loyal customers are ones who had a problem with us and then marvel when we went the extra 10 or 100 miles at the speed of light to fix it.”
If the role of customer service is to take care of callers, and to build customer loyalty, then logically the callers who have the greatest potential to be loyal should be our most important calls. Yet far too many call centers and agents still look on the angry customer as someone to be avoided or, at best, placated and soothed enough to end the call peacefully. It’s a “Just try to get through it” approach, with lots of sympathy being doled out by other agents for the agent taking the call. That’s kind. Supportive. And a mistake.
There is real value in not just placating, but recognizing such callers as the most important calls of all. Imagine what would happen if the Queen of England or Beyonce or Richard Branson called in with a problem. Every possible resource available would be applied to make sure they were happy, and that they came away impressed. Hopefully they’d be relatively polite in the call; you don’t want the Queen of England dissing your mama. But no matter what their mood might be, you know they would be given the utmost attention applied and offered the highest possible treatment to make sure they came away happy. That’s the approach a call center can bring to any angry customer to generate the best possible outcome.
Tom Peters recommends creating and promoting a culture and statement that clearly states:
“We respond to customer concerns with passion and rapidity and resources
in ways that stun, amaze, overwhelm most customers 100% of the time.”
It’s one thing to placate and soothe. Quite something else to stun, amaze and overwhelm. Which are your call center agents being told to do? “Make overreacting to problems a keystone in the corporate culture,” to quote Tom yet again. It may not only amaze some angry customers; it may build customer loyalty to new levels, and turn some of those high-stress “Just try to get out alive” calls into some very rewarding experiences for everyone involved.