Before I take you through a 7-step process and tactics for dealing with difficult telephone calls, let’s explore your beliefs and intentions about customer complaints.
Your belief needs to be: Complaints are good. At least if someone phones up and complains we have a chance of doing something about it or influencing the caller’s opinion in a positive way. The worst complaints are the ones we don’t hear.
Think of complaints as a gift – it’s just that sometimes the wrapping paper these gifts come in isn’t attractive or appealing. It’s only when you carefully and graciously unwrap them that you learn the true value of their contents.
Be curious rather than defensive.
Your intention is to make your customer feel good about having taking the time to phone and give you the opportunity to put things right rather than badmouthing you and taking their business elsewhere.
This intention of making the customer feel good doesn’t mean that you have to cave in to their demands but it does mean that you have to show them respect and let them know that you appreciate their call. And you can genuinely do this if you believe that customer complaints are a good thing.
7-Step process and tactics for handling the call
Once we are clear about our belief and intention we can clarify our process.
1. Recognise there is a problem
You don’t get a different ring tone when a caller is going to complain or act in an unpleasant manner. Difficult calls can catch you with your defences down. Recognise if someone is agitated. Pick up the vocal cues that alert you to potential difficulties.
If the customer’s tone is unpleasant don’t take it personally. This is easier said than done, isn’t it?
It’s easy to take it personally, become emotionally involved and handle the situation badly.
Stay calm. Believe in yourself. Ask yourself, would they be angry, sarcastic or unpleasant to anyone else? I’m sure the answer is yes. So, it can’t be personal can it?
- Acknowledge their issue or frustration
Show your appreciation and use blameless apologies e.g.
“Thanks for taking the time to call”
“I’m sorry to hear that”
“I’m sorry you’ve had such a difficult time getting in touch with us.”
Your objective is to let the customer know that you regret there is a problem but that you are glad to hear about it.
- Actively listen
Don’t start thinking about how to respond. Instead, focus on the caller. Make notes and don’t interrupt – Let them finish even if what they say doesn’t make sense to you at first.
- Clarify and confirm your understanding of their issue
Be patient with them even if they aren’t patient with you. Often people don’t explain themselves coherently and clearly when they are emotional. If necessary, ask further questions and restate your understanding of the problem. Remember your intention is to make them feel good about having contacted you.
- Find out what your customer wants
Some customers simply need to blow off steam (perhaps justifiably) but don’t really expect anything to be done. In this case, you have helped simply by listening respectfully.
If a solution is required, ask what they would like you to do. Sometimes, customers aren’t clear about their expectations and by answering your questions it helps them to clarify or analyse what they really want to happen.
This is not the open invitation to take advantage of the situation that it may seem – often the customer asks for far less than you are able or prepared to give. Most importantly it supplies you with the key to what will restore the customer’s satisfaction with your service.
- Share information and suggest alternatives
Now is not the time to dictate terms to the customer – they have just calmed down. Yet this is a mistake some people make. The danger words here are “You’ll have to… “ or “You can’t… “
There may be occasions when your organisation’s policy or procedures prevent you from doing exactly what your caller would like. It’s important at those times to share that information with them. Ask for permission by saying, “Would you like me to explain?” If they say ‘yes’ they have agreed to listen. If they so ‘no’ they weren’t going to listen anyway.
Offer alternative solutions that are acceptable to both your customer and your organisation. For example, “While I don’t have the authority to… what I can do is… “.
Don’t tell your caller too much. They only need to know what is relevant to their own situation. Don’t try to defend your position or give the caller the whole history of a particular policy. And don’t ‘rubbish’ your organisation’s policies, or get into a ‘them versus us’ discussion.
- Close the call with confidence
Take responsibility for the follow up and… follow up.
Re-thank them for bringing the problem to you attention and offer your personal service in the future. Ensure they have your name and direct contact details – that will give them confidence!