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.”
As you might know, one of the things I teach is how to control calls with customers. Precisely, how to deliver a warm customer experience while politely getting the long-winded customer to cut to the chase.
It just so happens I was on a call this morning with a chatty-Cathy. She was such a dear, and I honestly enjoyed talking with her. But I had another conference call scheduled to start in 7 minutes.
I teach call control. Now I needed to control a phone call. I saw this situation as a mini-test if you will. A test to help me keep my skills fresh.
So I used my favorite call control strategy:
Ask 3 closed-ended questions back-to-back.
When customers are long-winded, rambling or storytelling, they are likely stuck on the right side of the brain. The right side of the brain tends to use more of our creative, fantasy and philosophical sides, whereas the left side of the brain focuses more on facts, numbers and analytical thinking.
As long as the customer is communicating from the right side of the brain, it will be difficult for you to control the call. You need to efficiently shift your customer from the right side of the brain to the left side of the brain.
An easy and very efficient way to help your customer make this shift is for you to ask your customer 3 closed-ended questions back to back.
Closed-ended questions are questions that can be answered in one word:
“Do you like pizza?” is a closed-ended question.
“What is your favorite kind of food?” is an open-ended question.
Closed-ended questions work because customers are limited to one word (or perhaps a series of numbers.) Asking closed-ended questions will give you some immediate control over the phone call, but to maintain that power, you must ask closed-ended questions that require your customer to go to the left brain to retrieve the answer.
That is, you need to ask questions that require your customer to use analytical thinking, to recall, or to look up something.
Here’s an example.
When I worked in the car rental industry, I had my staff launch three strategic closed-ended questions the moment they felt they were dealing with a long-winded caller. These are the questions my employees asked.
- What is your rental agreement number?
- Can you read me the location code located in the top right-hand corner of your agreement?
- Can you give me the exact dates of rental?
These questions never failed to get the long-winded caller to stop talking. They never failed because the questions are all closed-ended, relevant to helping the customer, and they all require the customer to use the left-brain to retrieve the answers.
- Closed-ended questions can be answered in one word
- Closed-ended questions put you in control
- Closed-ended questions move the customer from the right brain to the left brain
- Closed-ended questions keep your customers from rambling
When you are caught on a long call with a storyteller or rambler, ask 3-closed-ended questions back to back. Make sure the questions are closed-ended (answered in one word or series of numbers), relevant to helping the customer, and require the customer to use the left-brain. When you do, you’ll instantly be back in control of your phone calls.
In this video I discuss the Ask 3 Closed-Ended Questions Back to Back Technique. Share this video with your employees for a quick training on call control.
Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.
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Word on the street is there is no stumping a Zappos Customer Service Representative. Rachael Ray decided to test that out. Rachael Ray is the infamous long-winded caller nobody likes to get. Watch how the Zappos Representative handles this “challenging” customer.
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