Helping Agents Cope with Angry or Abusive Callers
High turnover in contact centers is caused by many things: low pay, erratic hours and repetitive work are three of them. But there’s another cause: dealing with angry customers.
Often, contact center agents are speaking with people who are not in the best mood. Perhaps they’ve been overbilled. Perhaps the product or service they purchased didn’t work out for them. There may have been a shipping delay, or the customer was surprised by extra costs he or she didn’t anticipate. Whatever the reason, many people are already aggravated before they pick up the phone, according to a recent blog post by Monet Software (News - Alert) CEO Chuck Ciarlo. In these cases, the agent didn’t have to make a mistake to draw an irate caller.
“They’ve saved up a lot of complaining and are eager to let it rip,” he wrote.
So while it’s understandable that customers are angry, nobody wants a relatively low-paying job that requires them to talk to angry people all day long. Agents should be trained and armed with tried-and-true methodology for calming angry callers, and the responsibility to do so lies with call center management.
“The best alternative for agents in these situations is to counter aggression with calm, steady responses,” wrote Ciarlo. “Convey empathy even if you don’t actually feel it – “I understand your frustration. I’m sure that was difficult. Let me try to take care of that for you.” Return negative words with positive words, and hope the caller calms down or responds accordingly.”
It doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes a calm demeaner infuriates people who are already angry even further. These are the callers who are simply itching for a fight, according to Ciarlo. It’s a fact of life in the contact center that some callers will become abusive no matter how well handled the call is. The difference between an angry customer and an abusive customer is that in the latter scenario, the attack often becomes personal. While agents should continue to act calm to reduce the caller’s hostility level, the tactic may be insufficient.
Agents should be well versed by call center management in “next steps” they are allowed to take if the call does become abusive.
“A reminder that the call is being recorded may change their attitude, but if it doesn’t it should be permissible for the agent to tell the abusive caller that their call will be terminated if he or she does not calm down,” wrote Ciarlo. “The agent should then inform that manager of what has happened.”
Your quality monitoring solution can help you build a library of angry or abusive calls. Find the calls that were handled successfully – the agent managed to calm the caller down – and those that escalated to a hang-up. Contrast the methodologies used by the agents and emphasize the language (positive versus negative language) in those calls.
Help agents understand what they shouldn’t do: go on the defense with personal attacks or interrupt the angry caller too often. (Ciarlo notes that many callers calm down once they’ve had a chance to vent, and constant interruptions by the agent will not help the situation.)
Calming angry customers is a skill that some contact center agents have. Identify your agents who do the best in these scenarios and use their calls to help other agents keep calm, take positive steps and understand when to ask for a manager’s help.