Excellent Customer Service on the Phone – PART III-A

I know that a lot of readers have been waiting on this part – the third part of my three-part blog series about Excellent Customer Service on the Phone, which should have been published early last week.  Due to a training invitation for Yours truly and some preparations related to it, I was not able to work on this one. Do not fret though as here it is now.  I will talk about the remaining stages of any typical call flow that an agent must master and provide excellent customer care in.  They are Handling Customer Complaints, Providing a Helluva Customer Care Experience, Call Control with Results, and Closing a Call with Impact.  However, this time around, I would have to divide this third blog into four segments since we have four more remaining topics to cover.  We will just further divide this into III-A, III-B, III-C, and III-D that will be posted today, tomorrow, on June 5th and on June 6th. 

For today, we will cover Handling Customer Complaints.  Read on please.

STAGE VI:  HANDLING CUSTOMER COMPLAINTS

One of the most difficult aspects of call handling or assisting customers over the phone is handling their complaints.  The reason it is difficult is that different people have diverse tendencies, perceptions, and personalities that make them tougher to understand and deal with.  This is an art and a skill at the same time because of that.  It involves a lot of considerations and some other factors that help an agent know, understand, accept and appreciate not only for who their customers are but for how they react and behave at the same time.  Thus, it is very substantial that any agent perfectly knows how to handle complaints.

Why do Customers Complain to Begin With?

To be able to handle customers and their complaints well, it all starts with acknowledging and comprehending why they complain.  Below are the different reasons why customers grumble about various concerns when they call customer service or technical support.

  1. The company did not do what it promised.  Who would not be pissed when the company said it was going to provide something only to find out that it is not giving it all along?  We have all been customers ourselves and we know that it feels bad when we have been promised something we are not getting.
  2. The product did not work that way it is supposed to.  People buy usually because of the benefits that they get from a product and/or the features that it says it has so when it does not work accordingly, they lash out real bad.
  3. The customer cannot get help when he most needs it.  When a problem arises with a product or service and customers do not have any idea how to solve it, they do not think of anything else but calling customer service or technical support.  Do they?  Therefore, it is such a big headache when they must talk to someone on the phone but finds out there is no phone support being offered or there is but they end up thinking they should not have called in the first place.
  4. The customer has been waiting in the queue for a long time.  Most of us have experienced calling customer service ourselves and waiting on the line for several minutes or even hours (seriously) just to get a hold of a live person who will help us.  Even if there is background music to keep us cool or entertained, we still end up feeling we have been made to wait too long.  Worse, when the background song sucks or there is none, it is like waiting forever on top of having to put up with the discomfort that comes with holding the phone, etc.
  5. The conversation always gets cut off in the middle of everything and the customer has to go through several minutes of hold time or gets bounced around different departments again.  There is nothing else more enraging than a customer’s conversation with the representative being cut off in the middle of everything due to line problems or whatnot.  This means going thru the long hold again or worse, getting transferred from one department to another.
  6. The customer has had a bad day and the product/service dissatisfaction even made it worse.  We always remind ourselves not to talk to customer service or technical support when our emotions are still high or when we are not in a good mood over and above the displeasure we have over the service or the product.  We know the outcome will be having the representatives suffer from our wrath.  However, there are customers who waste no time and call right away when something about their subscription comes up on their end.  The problem is, they happen to do it when they are already upset with something else.  The consequence is they pour it all on the hapless agent.
  7. The customer gets an inconsiderate; slave-of-the-policy rep who does not get out of his way to provide a reasonable consideration.  Agents should always keep in their mind that they have to be understanding, flexible and compassionate when they deal with their customers.  Nobody likes a representative who is selfish, who does not go the extra mile, and who does not offer an alternative to compensate for not giving the main thing the customer is asking for because of personal limitations or policy restrictions.  It only makes situations worse when customers get a rude agent.
  8. The customer has been misinformed or given wrong expectations.  It is really very annoying to be misled or misinformed when one expects to be educated properly and completely or to be set the right expectations.  It is like feeling stupefied or duped and nobody wants to be treated that way.
  9. The customer encounters a boastful rep who thinks he knows it all.  Some customers are egotistic so when they confront an agent who is as conceited as they are, if not more, they tend to compete with that person by imposing their will on him or by debating.  This is often the reason why some customers hate smart alecks.
  10. The customer thinks the company and its employees couldn’t care less about his concern. Some customers are naturally sensitive and emotional.  The moment they feel that the company they have a subscription with does not value them or could not care less about their situation, they behave negatively to the point of filing a complaint.

I hope that by knowing more about customers, the way they think, and what makes them mad, agents who get to read this article would identify with them more and assist them with their concerns the way they deserve to be.  Once again, knowing customers inside and out will make anyone a better customer service provider.

At this point, how do we deal with different unsatisfied customers then?

Dealing with Unsatisfied Customers

  1. Stop and Listen.  The moment an agent gets a customer who does not sound the normal way, he should listen right off the bat because for sure, there is a problem.  This only conveys that he is either mad, sad, or confused.  Therefore, the best first thing to do is to pay attention and to listen actively.  Listening actively helps one understand the gist of the problem to be able to assist the customer better.
  2. Empathize or apologize.  Empathizing or apologizing is not always done unless the customer’s current situation necessitates it.  When a customer sounds like he needs somebody to understand him, empathizing or apologizing is always the first requisite.  Empathizing, as everyone should define it, is putting oneself in his customer’s shoes so he gets to feel what the latter feels, experiences what he experienced, and pictures what transpired prior to the call.  Apologizing, on the other hand, is simply saying sorry because the customer wants to hear it and that hearing it alone snatches the negative emotions away.
  3. Give way.  Interrupting a customer or competing with the him over the phone always leads to worst-case scenarios.  Therefore, agents should always give way and offer their customer the chance to explain himself in detail and to articulate what he expects to get out of the call (the expectations).
  4. Do not take it personally.  Agents who answer their customers back or mistreat them on the phone are those who get affected by what they say or their behavior.  So as not to be carried away by emotions, agents should never take everything personally.  Unless verbal attacks are hurled directly at them, they should always think that such profanities or behavior is for the company.  It just so happened that they are the ones caught in the middle so they have to receive everything on the company’s behalf.  In fact, even when they are already being personally attacked,  it still does not give them the right to retaliate.  Like what we said on the previous blogs, “CUSTOMERS ARE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT BUT THEY ALWAYS HAVE THE RIGHT TO BE TREATED RIGHT”.
  5. Be assertive.  Treating customers in a special way and giving way even when they are mad do not always require an agent to stop doing a part of his job, which is to educate his customers correctly or to stand up for the policies and procedures or the product/service on the company’s behalf.  It only takes positive scripting, the right intonation, and confidence that does not border to the dangerous zone of cockiness or disrespect.  Agents can still be confident without sounding boastful and they can still defend the company or the products without rubbing customers the wrong way. 
  6. Own it.  Representatives are given a certain extent of decision-making power and authority when they represent the company on their calls.  It is up to them to maximize such power and authority without violating the rules that even the highest-ranking officials and even the owner of the company they are working for are not allowed to break. Hence, they should always own their calls and responsibly act as well-guided point persons for the calls that they get.  That is being professional and having integrity at the same time.
  7. Get the good out of the bad.  As part of not taking anything personally or controlling one’s temperament, it helps a lot when agents always get the positives out of the negative situations.  Not only that they do not get stressed by their customers or their concerns, they are also able to think better and do their jobs with a peace of mind.
  8. Last but not least, always focus on the solution.  Arguing with customers does not help.  Instead of purposefully wanting to clash with customers, representatives can just focus on solving their problems, fixing their issues, addressing their concerns, resolving their reason for calling, and answering their questions.

Now that you know how to deal with unsatisfied customers well after determining the different reasons why they get mad to begin with, it is also important that agents know how to deal with their own different-to-control tendency to get irate themselves.  An agent’s worst enemy when they assist over the phone is not their annoying customers but themselves.  When agents do not know how to control and manage their own human nature to be on combat mode, they end up getting mad at their customers first.  So,  below are different tips that I can share about controlling and eliminating one’s anger.

Tips to Control and Eliminate One’s Anger (Anger Management for Agents)

  1. Find out what caused one’s anger to begin with.  Agents should ask themselves these questions:
    1. Why am I acting like this?
    2. What led me to this feeling?
    3. Should I behave this way?
    4. Will I resolve things with this manner?

Getting to the root will help agents know what to avoid next time or how to veer away from negative feelings that will not help them assist their customer.  Once again, it is all about not taking the customer’s negative feelings and emotions seriously and personally and keeping one’s composure and professionalism all throughout the conversation.

     2.  Avoid anger-triggering situations or encounters.  The best way to deal with controlling one’s emotions is by avoiding feeling them in the first place.  Just like “Prevention is better than Cure”. 

     3.  Control it when it happens.  If avoiding is impossible and the agent is already irate, the best way to deal with it is by controlling it.  Breathing and making an effort to clear one’s mind help a lot.  Just like what the ever-famous Marvel Comics character, The Incredible Hulk does to keep his temper in check; agents are also expected to make an honest effort to not let their fury get in the way of doing their jobs as customer service specialists.

These are the steps that an agent who wants to finally solve his anger management issues need or should take in order to provide excellent customer care.  Remember, agents do not have the right to be mad.  Basic mandates of their job are to be extra-patient, understanding, and compassionate in addition to maintaining grace under pressure and carrying out their tasks with passion and intelligence.  So, I hope that these three basic guidelines do the trick and save the day, any day, for a concerned customer service representative or technical support.

Being Assertive on the Phone

As previously mentioned on this article, there are instances when agents are expected to be assertive about something towards their customers.  These are in cases like:

  • Explaining to the customers that they cannot grant their wishes or requests due to biding policies, terms, and conditions that are in effect on their products or services;
  • Not being able to disclose a company-confidential information that the customer is forcing one to divulge;
  • Not being able to support them at all for failure to confirm their identity or verify their ownership of the account in question;
  • Explaining matters concerning the product that the customer is not expected to appreciate or feel good about.

I understand that it is very problematic and tough to stay assertive or to be on the company’s defense when the customer is being inconvenienced, is more reasonable, or is already irate; but there are still several ways by which remaining assertive can still be accomplished.

But before we talk about those “Assertiveness Tips”, let us first define what being assertive means.

To assert yourself means that:

  1. The agent stands up for his or the company’s own rights while respecting others’;
  2. He defends his or the company’s own boundaries while respecting others’;
  3. He expresses his own opinions, needs, and feelings without hurting others;
  4. He disagrees without being disagreeable.

Now that we are fully aware of what the word means, let us now talk about several tips on how to stay assertive in the midst of the customer’s aggression:

  1. Be an Active Listener.  An agent listening to the customer’s concern not only helps him understand all details surrounding what the customer called in about, but helps him formulate the best solution to resort to or the best things to say.
  2. Be humble and modest.   An agent being humble and modest can carry the same professionalism and calmness even when he starts talking about policies and all that.  Remember, it is not what one says but how he says it.  Customers may not be sold to the agent’s explanations but hearing how professional and gentlemanly (ladylike) the representative is makes him just settle for what he hears and understands where the agent is coming from.
  3. Possess an assertive voice sound.  Being assertive, once again, is explaining anything with confidence in the absence of sounding arrogant and imposing to a fault.  For as long as an agent speaks calmly with no tense at all, any customer would remain sane to understand no matter what.

Pacifying an Irate Customer

One of the most important aspects of customer service that all company representatives must learn and specialize in is how to appease customers with heightened disappointment and animosity.  As they say, it is easier to please customers than to pacify those who started the call mad already.

To pacify an exasperated customer, the following must be put to practice:

  • Defuse the situation.  Defusing the enraged state of a customer’s mind is similar to defusing a bomb.  Like what we see on action flicks, cops or soldiers usually do it by cutting the red wire or so that’s how the theory goes. Correlating it to comforting customers, we are also ought to find that ‘red wire’ in them and cut it off.  This red wire pertains to the root cause, by the way.  By knowing it, we know what pissed them off to begin with.  Knowing what made them angry helps us know where to concentrate our best efforts on.
  • When they are through, agents should indicate they heard them and apologize.   Customers, no matter how furious they are, yield to representatives who are humble yet positive, confident, and assertive.  They cooperate with those who truly understand where they are coming from and empathize with them and their dilemmas the sincerest manner they can.  This is why agents should always let their customers know that they are acknowledged by saying lines like “I perfectly understand that…”, “I definitely know where you are coming from…”, or “Absolutely, if I were you, I would be feeling the same way you are now…”. These magic words, so long as they are delivered genuinely and positively, almost always work.
  • Agents should give an assurance that the issue is as important to them as it is to the customer.  What pacifies customers faster is when they are guaranteed that the issue they are reporting is as important to the agent as it is to the them or even more.  When this is verbalized, the customer is assured that the agent knows what to do next and that their issue will surely be taken care of.
  • It is either give the customer what he wants or offer alternatives.  Some agents think that it is already the end of the road for some customers when their wish is not being fulfilled, when their request could not be granted, or when their wants are not given.  Most of the time, offering the next best thing that the customer might want to consider settling for does the trick.  The representative just has to explain why his original request could not be granted and how alternatives work just the same or just as good as what they want.  Therefore, agents should always offer alternatives especially when there is really one or when the company permits it.
  • Agents should not get emotionally involved.  Agents should always be focused on the solution rather than on their customers’ behavior or statements.  It does not contribute anything significant to the resolution of the customer’s concern when an agent ends up arguing, crying, or hanging up on the customer.  It only aggravates everything.  Thus, agents should remain professional and dismiss any cussing, discriminating, or bullying on the phone.  Unless the customer is already being overly-abusive, the agent should control or manage his temper and just do his job like a pro.
  • Fend off profanities politely.  In relation to the previous item, there is a policy or a procedure in any call center for dealing with abusive customers and their choice words on the phone.  Just resort to that.  It is that simple.  Nonetheless, agents should just see to it that they say their respective scripts very politely and sincerely and that they do not talk down on their customers.  Remember, These customers can call back anytime and agents should not wait until they ask for a supervisor to protest them and ask them to be kicked out from their jobs.
  • Agents should make sure they have identified the correct problem.  Customers flare up when they sense that the person they are speaking with do not know what is going on or do not understand them.  Ergo, agents should always listen actively to make sure they identify the correct problem.  Pinning down the correct problem leads them to the right and appropriate resolution rather than assuming or misunderstanding the customer’s problem and ending up barking up the wrong tree.
  • Agents should not be negative.  Agents should perpetually look at the bright side and keep their statements, reactions, behavior, and tone positive.  When customers talk to an amicable representative, they enjoy every bit of the experience and suddenly forget that they were mad at the onset of the call.
  • Agents should hold fast to the principle that “There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers”.  Agents will always encounter customers who would call the hotline just to ask even the easiest or the simplest question that they can answer or which answer they can find by themselves.  Regardless, they should always be treated the right way and their questions should always be accommodated.  Remember, unless they are just doing a prank call, they would not call if they had already known the answer/s to their questions, right?  Nobody (or only a few) goes through the hassle of waiting in the queue for minutes or even hours just so he could mess with an agent.  So, always treat each question from calling customers as important and valid.

Okay, let us say that despite doing those above and they still do not pacify the customers, what can agents do to deescalate supervisor requests?

Below are some recommended scripts for dealing with insistent customers who demand speaking with a supervisor despite the agent’s best efforts to help them.

“This, I assure you. Leave your query/request with me and if I am not able to take care of your concern, then I will get the supervisor on the line right away.”

 

“If you will just give me the chance to see what I can do for you, I’ll be glad to assist you with your concern.  After which, if you still need to speak with my supervisor, I will transfer the call at once.”

 

“Sir/Ma’am, I will be glad to assist you with your request.  After which, if you still need further information or assistance, I will transfer you to my supervisor.“

 

“Sir/Ma’am, I am specifically trained to help you with this case. Just please be patient for a little while because my supervisor would just tell you the same things.”

 

These are just four of the several ways by which an agent can assure his customer that he is already the best person to speak with and that it makes no difference if he talks to the supervisor because he/she will tell him the same things.  Also, these are different ways of educating the customer that he is just wasting his time trying to get a hold of the supervisor in a nice way.

Building Rapport: Retaining Customers and Attracting New Ones

Different agents have numerous ways or styles of building rapport with their customers or giving them a memorable customer service experience on the phone.  Below are just some of them that will surely make customers stay and never switch to a different provider.

  1. It all starts with being sensitive and knowing when the customer is already angry.  The key to being a great customer service representative is being selfless, sensitive, and empathetic.  When the customer is already angry, upset, disappointed, or down; it is the agent’s responsibility to pacify him, cheer him up, or assure him.
  2. Try to retain cancelling customers by knowing why they are cancelling, if there is any way that they will not do that anymore, or if there is anything else an agent can do to keep them from cancelling.   Doing, saying, or asking about these things makes customers feel that the company treats them as special and valuable.  When they do feel they are, they give second chances on the condition that the company does something about their needs or wants or provide the next best option.
  3. Agents should think of their customers as their company’s greatest assets that must be protected and maximized.  If there are no customers, there will be no call centers and if there are no call centers, there would be no jobs for call center agents.  It makes sense, right?  Agents should always hold on to that.  Thus, they should not be thankful when only a few customers are calling.  They should actually be alarmed when the number of callers is decreasing or worse, nobody is calling anymore because they might lose their jobs.  It only means that the service or product is perfect (which is unlikely and impossible though) that they do not have any reason to dial that customer service number and speak with an agent.  If this happens, companies would be forced to close their centers down and agents would be forced to find a job somewhere else.  Therefore, agents should hold their customers in high regard the similar way they expect to be treated if they are on the other side of the fence.
  4. Agents should go above and beyond the call of duty.  What separates a good agent from a great one is the initiative to go the extra mile when providing customer service over the phone.  Those who actually do this know the benefits that they enjoy from going above and beyond the call of duty.  From being commended by their customers and getting high customer satisfaction scores to enjoying short call handling times and being considered for promotions, there is a lot at stake when an agent exceeds expectations.
  5. Provide excellent customer service.  This is what the job requires of any call center agent, which is why their job description or title clearly says “CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE”.  Doesn’t it?  It is both a fundamental expectation and a personal obligation for all call center agents to provide for one.
  6. Offer alternatives as an initiative.  As previously mentioned, when an alternative is possible, authorized and available,  there is nothing wrong with resorting to it.  Customers will truly appreciate it.

Hopefully, agents who read this learned a lot about handling customers’ complaint.  However, be reminded that learning is just the first step.  Application is a different story all together.  Thus, I tell them now to give these essential components a go and be better and more “HUMAN” customer service representatives.

Tomorrow, our next article about “EXCELLENT CUSTOMER SERVICE ON THE PHONE” is Providing a Helluva Customer Care Experience.

Until then, Be Equipped for now. 🙂

 

 

 

 

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