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Customer Support Etiquette: Keep Calm and Don't Interrupt a Customer

August 19, 2014

By Tracey E. Schelmetic,
TMCnet Contributor

“This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.” It’s a reminder to customers that the company you’re speaking with is listening. In some cases, it inspires customers to be more civil, and less inclined to open “he said/she said” types of confrontations. After all, recordings with tamper-proofing technologies don’t lie.

But the reminder that someone is listening should also apply to the companies. The customer is listening, and may even be recording the call. (Comcast (News - Alert) learned this recently the hard way now that millions of Americans have already listened to this excruciating call.) At the very least, the customer is going to be relaying a poor experience to tens, hundreds or even thousands of friends on social media.  In other words, what a customer and a company agent say on the telephone to one another is no longer their business alone.

Nobody doubts that being a contact center agent is a hard job. Customers are people, and people are unpredictable, and often downright mean.

“It is…difficult to hold onto the notion that the customer is always right when a customer is verbally abusive towards you, about something you have no control over,” blogged Five9’s David Van Everen recently. “Still, customer service is about helping people, and there are some rules of etiquette that every customer service professional should follow to keep things running smoothly.”

For starters, Van Everen reminds agents that no matter what else is going on in the background, it’s the agent’s first priority to pay attention to what the customer is saying. Cutting off or putting on hold a customer to talk to a co-worker is simply rude, and the customer is unlikely to be happy about it, which will set the tone for the rest of the call. This also goes for interrupting a customer. With few exceptions, it’s always best to let the customer finish speaking.

In addition, it’s absolutely critical to take a deep breath and remain calm and polite, even if the customer isn’t following this advice.

“If a customer blows his top, then you must remain calm,” wrote Van Everen. “If the customer refuses to calm down, the best things you can do is acknowledge their anger and try to get them to talk about possible solutions by asking questions. But never cut a customer off and never hang up on a customer until you have done everything you can to turn their sentiment around while remaining as professional as possible.”

It’s beholden to managers to hire agents who are capable of remaining calm and letting rudeness or even abuse break over their heads like a wave without becoming riled. But since there are a shortage of saints in the world to hire, it’s also beholden to agents to remember these rules of etiquette and build them into their daily workdays. 

Edited by Stefania Viscusi