How to Guide Your Employees
Through Difficult Customer Interactions

See also: Building Rapport

Business to consumer (B2C) companies pride themselves on the customer experience. Unfortunately, working with the public isn’t always pleasant. Even if the customer is angry for good reason, the language and attitude some use toward workers is like a ticking bomb.

A well-trained staff can navigate the minefields and walk away intact, though.

In a report by PWC, researchers found 80% of customers believe service agents have the most significant impact on their customer experience (CX). Spending time training your employees results in a more positive buyer journey.

Spend time teaching your workers about your policies, giving them role playing scenarios and setting a customer-centric tone. However, there will come a time when they will deal with an irate customer. Here is how you can guide them through those difficult interactions and satisfy the customer while keeping your highly trained, professional agents from quitting.

1. Stress Professionalism

Humans can be emotional creatures. When a customer starts cussing the employee or screaming personal insults, instinct wants to take over as the fight or flight response kicks in. Train your employees to remove emotion from the interaction. They must take a step back and realize the person doesn’t know them, so any insults aren’t accurate.

2. Obsess Over Customers

In a recent study, Forrester discovered companies that were customer-obsessed increased revenue growth substantially. If a customer walks away unhappy, you should think through different things you can do to improve the situation.

Your goal in life should be to ensure every single client you serve is thrilled with your product or service. If they aren’t, find a solution to the problem. Give your employees the freedom to come up with creative solutions.

We’ve all heard about the bride who ordered the wrong size shoes for her wedding and the online shoe company that overnighted the correct ones to make sure she had them. Even though the initial error wasn’t their fault, they wanted the bride to be thrilled, and she was.

3. Institute Protective Measures

If your employees encounter a situation they can’t handle, they should know the chain of command and immediately send the customer to the next person up the chain. It’s far better for a manager to diffuse the situation than the service agent to lose their cool and shout back at a customer.

If your agents work in a call center, appoint someone to watch for distress and step in immediately. If you deal with customers in person, a manager should be aware if a customer begins shouting or ramping up an argument and step in to handle things.

You can only offer so much training to your staff. They have to know you’re there if they can’t handle something. They will also learn by watching a more experienced representative and how they handle an irate person.

4. Train Staff to Speak Softer

When someone starts shouting or speaking dramatically, train your reps to speak more softly. Tone of voice can sometimes diffuse a situation when used appropriately. It also helps calm the nerves of everyone around and makes you seem calmer than you might feel on the inside.

Politeness and a soft tone will often jar the other person into listening to what you have to say. You can’t fix a problem for the customer until they listen to your proposed solutions.

5. Time Your Interactions

Cisco surveyed contact centers and found a one-second delay in online transactions decreases customer satisfaction by 16% or more. People are busy. They don’t have time for a bunch of nonsense. They want a solution and they want it fast.

Have you ever called a customer service center only to be asked a bunch of unnecessary questions? Perhaps you needed tech support and even though you told them you already tried a hard reset on your modem, they insisted you do another.

Train your agents so they don’t have to walk through a script. A conversation that goes through a series of checkpoints is impersonal and probably doesn’t apply to your customer’s issue. Instead, strive for efficiency. Listen to the customer and get straight to problem-solving.

6. Never Interrupt

Put your agents in the shoes of the average disgruntled customer. The person is already unhappy with the product or service. Let the customer vent and explain what’s wrong. Train your staff to actively listen and repeat back the issue.

Have you ever called for help and the agent keeps interrupting? It’s clear the customer service representative isn’t listening and thus can’t understand the problem. Your service staff can frustrate the customer more and harm the CX. Listen and don’t talk is a good first step to any interaction with a difficult customer.

7. Let the Customer Propose a Solution

The customer probably has thought through how things should be. They may already have a solution in mind and will only be satisfied if you meet those expectations. Ask the customer what they’d like to see happen to make things better.

If their proposed solution is a reasonable one, give your agents the power to try to provide relief. For example, the person may simply want to return the item for a refund. What is your return policy?

A truly customer-centric business will take things one step further such as offering a full refund and sending a free sample of a different product that meets the person’s needs.

8. Offer Recovery Time

At some point in their career, every employee will deal with an angry customer. Give them some time to recover after particularly nasty interactions. Send them on break. Remind them they’re doing excellent work. Filter easier calls or customers to them for the rest of the day.

You don’t want to lose your well-trained, top service reps. Understand that even if they don’t take the situation personally, it is high stress and they need time to decompress from the angry customer’s attitude.

Further Reading from Skills You Need

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills eBooks.

The Skills You Need Guide to Interpersonal Skills

Develop your interpersonal skills with our series of eBooks. Learn about and improve your communication skills, tackle conflict resolution, mediate in difficult situations, and develop your emotional intelligence.

Improve Your Reputation

Excellent CX helps your brand develop a positive reputation. Your customers will sing your praises and tell others how you fixed a problem for them.

You should also use complaints as an opportunity to improve your business. What can you fix so future customers aren’t upset in the first place? Ongoing training, consistent policies and a customer-first approach all work to improve your customer service and help employees through difficult interactions.

About the Author

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.