Do You Have Trouble De-escalating Angry Customers? If So, Try This.

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Four minutes into the call and I could see I was heading for trouble. The customer was a storyteller and a rambler. Plus, she was mad. She’d already spoken to an employee in the field and to one of my employees at the corporate office. Now the call had come to me. I got the call literally just as I was picking up my book to head to the park to enjoy a quick lunch and hopefully a couple of chapters of my novel.

The problem was easy enough. The customer’s rental car had broken down. That happens every day in the world of car rentals. Our solution to this problem is always swift: we get a replacement car out to the customer, reimburse any expenses and tow back the original rental.

But with this customer, the conversation was anything but easy. She kept rambling on, rehashing her frustration, making sure I knew how difficult it was to be stranded on the side of the interstate with 3 small children. If I was going to help the customer and have any shot at enjoying my lunch and a little reading, I had to resolve the problem and wrap up the call quickly.

So, here’s what I did. I used what Robert Bacal, a brilliant consultant, calls the topic-grab approach. The topic-grab approach involves listening carefully to your upset customer and then taking something they’ve said (grabbing a topic) and commenting on it or asking a question about it. This is especially effective if you can express empathy on the topic you “grab.” Continue reading “Do You Have Trouble De-escalating Angry Customers? If So, Try This.”

4 Things Your Agents Can Do To Preempt an Escalation

Your escalations have gotten out of hand. Agents are frustrated and are sometimes happy to give calls over to supervisors. Customers feel that the only way to get the answers they seek is to speak to a supervisor. Meanwhile, supervisors are frustrated, backlogged and overwhelmed because all they do is handle escalated calls.

Sound familiar? Yeah, I know it does. Well, I have help for you.

Customers escalate to supervisors for 4 reasons:

  • They think they’ll get help faster/better if they speak with a supervisor.
  • The customer does not feel the agent is knowledgeable or capable of helping them.
  • Customers feel the agent isn’t listening or doesn’t understand the problem.
  • Agents lack the confidence to assertively control the call by being direct.

If the goal is to reduce escalations, and certainly it is, we have to position agents as confident, attentive listeners who are knowledgeable and capable of serving customers. In this article I have 4 ways your agents can do just that.

1. Reflect the Brand Promise

I was working with a client recently where agents are put in the position to have to occasionally deny claims. Customers don’t want to hear that their claim shall be rejected and denials are one of the key reasons calls escalate in this call center. I encouraged the agents in a recent training session to start the denial discussion off by explaining what the protection plan does cover and to convey to the customer just how valuable their security plan is.

Instructing the agents to start off by discussing what the plan does cover and reiterating the plan value ensures agents reflect the brand promise. In order to de-escalate calls, agents have to establish trust with the customer. Reflecting the brand promise helps agents build trust.

2. Don’t Push

Last week at a Leadership Retreat I asked all participants to choose a partner. I had one person be Partner A and one was designated as Partner B. I instructed partner A to push their palm against the palm of partner B. I did not give partner B instruction to push their palm.

After a few seconds, I asked, “How many of you who were Partner B pushed against Partner A’s palm?” Nearly 100% of the people who had the role of Partner B said they “pushed against Partner B.” Then I said, “I asked A to push, not B. Why did you push?” The unanimous answer was, “Because A Pushed.”

Here’s the thing. When we are pushed, the natural response is to push back. As customer service professionals, we have to make sure we don’t push in any way, because if we do, customers will push back. Customers often push back by escalating to a supervisor. That, or they yell, cuss, etc.

How might you be perceived as pushing?

  • Saying “There’s nothing else I can do for you.” This builds resistance, and the customer feels they have to push to speak to anyone who can help them.
  • Speaking with a tone that comes across as defensive, irritated or unhelpful is a push for customers. They’ll push right around you to talk to someone they think will be more helpful and pleasant to deal with.
  • A statement like “Look, a supervisor will just tell you the same thing.” This sounds defensive and it is another form of pushing. Not only that, but you’ve planted the seed in the customer’s mind that a supervisor is standing by. The customer will often push back and just request to speak to a supervisor because the agent has mentioned the word “supervisor.”

3. Be Regretful and Direct

People respect confident people. If a customer respects an agent, the agent is perceived as believable and credible and the call is less likely to escalate. When you have to refuse a customer’s request, do so confidently. Denying a request directly and with an expression of regret helps you come across as both confident and credible.

Don’t waste time or words, get right to the point, and yet be gentle in your communication. Here’s how I encouraged my client to deny claims directly and with regret:

“I know this is upsetting for you. [pause] I wish there was something we could do. We have to honor the terms of your protection plan. There’s simply no way around this.”

4. Demonstrate That You Are Listening

When customers feel misunderstood or that the agent is simply not listening, they will nearly always attempt to escalate. Be careful not to cut the customer off mid-sentence to tell them what you can’t do or to ask questions. Interrupting customers shows you are not listening. Customers need to be heard and to feel understood. Allow customers to explain their situation to you. When it’s your turn to speak, demonstrate that you are listening.

Here’s an example of not demonstrating that you are listening.

Customer: “I sent in documentation and evidence to prove my case in the dispute, but then today I got a letter in the mail saying you are moving forward with the charge in favor of the merchant!”

Employee: “What’s the claim number associated with this charge on your debit card?”

In this example the employee fails to acknowledge the customer’s emotion, gives no evidence that she’s listening and she jumps right to questioning. The statement is rote and robotic. This pattern of response makes it very difficult for the agent to establish rapport, build trust and to control the call. If customers don’t feel a sense of rapport and confidence with agents, they are more likely to escalate. Listening helps agents create rapport and trust.

Here’s a perfect example of demonstrating that you are listening.

Customer: “I sent in documentation and evidence to prove my case in the dispute, but then today I got a letter in the mail saying you are moving forward with the charge in favor of the merchant!”

Employee: “I realize that must be frustrating for you. Let me take a look to see what’s going on here. Do you happen to know the claim number associated with this charge?”

Here the agent uses a statement to acknowledge the customer’s frustration. It’s quick and straightforward. This acknowledgment allows the agent to begin establishing rapport and it positions the agent as confident and empowered. The customer is more likely to trust the agent and in turn, the agent will have much more control over the call, reducing the risk of escalation.

The Bottom Line

Position your agents to reflect your brand promise, ensure they don’t inadvertently push customers, coach them to speak directly and with regret and get them on their A-Game when it comes to listening. When you do, you will find that they are preempting escalations and your supervisors will love you for this.

Escalations are time-consuming and frustrating for everybody, even for customers. I know you don’t want your customers to escalate. Join me for my “How to De-escalate”  on-demand video training, and your people will walk away knowing exactly how to pre-empt an escalation.