Difficult Conversations and How to Navigate Challenging Customer Service Situations

Navigating challenging conversations is a fundamental piece of any customer or support-related role. While these conversations can be challenging, it’s important to understand proper de-escalation tools to ease tensions. Most importantly, understanding that you have full support from your team and organization is paramount when it comes to steering these difficult conversations with confidence. 

We’ll explore effective strategies for handling difficult conversations, ensuring you can maintain professionalism, poise and get to the root of the issue, no matter the situation. 

Tips For Managing Unpleasant Interactions

Any job that involves speaking to patrons—especially in customer service—includes coming into contact with unknown and unforeseen issues. It can often be uncomfortable, but understanding how to react and that you have support from your team can help alleviate some stress from these situations! When a customer calls for assistance, regardless of their understanding of the issue, they may be irritable or become agitated if there is not an immediate solution. These situations could catch you off guard and leave you feeling anxious, but we’ve developed a few tips on how to navigate these challenges with a people first perspective.

1. Stay Calm

This might seem like the most obvious answer, but it’s important to remember that the way a customer service representative reacts can have a huge impact on the call. By leading with a clear, concise, and respectful tone it is human nature to respond in kind. Leading by example, and maintaining your composure will always be important to maintain.

2. Deescalating: Make Them Feel Heard and Understood

Express Empathy

Simply stating, “I’m sorry to hear that, it does sound frustrating. I’m going to do my best to assist you.” lets the individual know that you are taking them seriously. Setting the tone that you are there to assist and help in every way possible, while actively listening to their concern will help you create rapport with the individual and establish clearer expectations of potential solutions.

Repeat the Issue and Ask Any Necessary Follow-up Questions

While you maintain control of your composure and of the call itself, be mindful that you must understand clearly the root cause of any issue.  This step is very important! It expresses three things: I understand your issue, I’m actively listening and interested in helping you, and I want to make sure I have all the details so we can get this resolved.

Actively listening from the start of the call will ultimately set you up for success when probing for additional information that allows you to understand and resolve the issue.

Share Clear Next Steps

If the issue cannot be resolved immediately, it is imperative for the caller to understand what the next steps will be. 

“Unfortunately this is not something that I have the ability to resolve, but I’m going to get you in touch with the team that can.” 

Proceed to explain who you’re escalating their question to and how they will be communicating with that person or team. At times, this may not appease the caller and if you are able to escalate to a manager, explain to the caller that you can have a manager or supervisor speak with them. If there is not a supervisor available, ensure you work with the caller to set up a specific time for the team to reach back out to the caller.

Make Sure They Know Ho to Remain in Touch

We’ve all been on the opposite end of a customer service interaction where we’re not sure if we will ever hear from anyone again. Providing this information will help to reassure the caller that you’re committed to helping them and that they have continued support. Oftentimes, you can reference a specific support ticket number for the caller to refer to, otherwise ensure they have the appropriate email address and phone number.

“I’m going to send you an email so you can remain in touch with me while we work on this for you. If you ever need an update or have questions this will be the easiest way to get in touch with me directly.” 

3. When To Set and Enforce Boundaries

Unfortunately, there may be certain situations that lead to potential mistreatment of the customer service representative. Some organizations may have various protocols and policies to support staff and it is important to understand when to set and enforce boundaries for these situations. This often is displayed in the form of:

  • Use inappropriate language or cursing
  • Labeling or calling the employee an inappropriate name
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Other unprofessional remarks/actions
  • etc.
How to Communicate Boundaries

It may be necessary to communicate respectfully and professionally that mistreatment will make the situation more difficult to resolve. In these cases, there are a few examples below that may give some guidance on how to handle these situations:

“[address them by name] I understand that this is frustrating, but please communicate in a professional manner so that I can help you resolve this issue as best as possible.”

“I understand and I would really like to help you. Can you please refrain from swearing/name calling/raising your voice?”

“If this behavior continues, I will unfortunately have to end our discussion and escalate to a supervisor.”

Ending a Call When Boundaries are not Respected

Unfortunately, there may be a necessity to refrain from communicating with an individual, and escalate to your manager or supervisor. While it may be uncomfortable, it is important to end the call while avoiding hanging up on the caller abruptly then escalate to a manager. It is recommended that your company establishes a policy on how to handle these escalations that allows for a quick resolution while supporting both your clientele and employees.

Support From Cooperate And Our Clients

At Cooperate, we believe the workplace is somewhere that everyone should feel safe and respected. While we do hold a high standard for professionalism and customer support, we put the mental health and well being of our employees first! Our hope is that with the right tools and best practices, you and your employees will feel empowered to navigate difficult customer situations in a calm, disarming and professional way.

Sadie Burt is an Account Executive at Cooperate Marketing with 5 years of Marketing and Advertising experience. She earned a BS in Advertising with a focus in art direction from The University of Texas at Austin and started her career in event advertising where she learned to love helping others. When she’s not thinking of ways to improve the experiences of Cooperate’s clients, vendors, and employees’ day-to-day she enjoys crocheting and playing roller derby.

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