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De-escalation: Types of Difficult Customers and How to Manage Interactions

If you work for any length of time in a call center, it is inevitable that you will encounter difficult customers. Some are annoyed, others are unhappy, and there can even be those that are irate due to an issue with a product or service. Or, they became cranky because they had to wait too long on hold. Perhaps they just weren’t having a good day. Regardless of the reason, it is up to those of us in the customer care industry to give each person a positive experience.

Customer Service Comes First

De-escalation is the first step toward resolving the customer’s problem. Unfortunately, there is no cookie cutter way to do this. We need to adjust our tactics depending on each situation. With that in mind, here are some common types of difficult customers and tips on how to approach them.

  • Blabbering Babs

Babs is the nicest person you have served all day, but good grief, can she talk! The more she wanders off on tangents, the longer other customers have to wait on hold. To keep things moving, try to manage the conversation. This may involve asking questions that require shorter answers. You cannot be too conversational either, because given an inch, Babs will take a mile.  Politely steer her through the conversation. She will never be your shortest call of the day, but you can still get through it without blowing away your daily metrics.

  • Expressive Elaine

Folks with “expressive” personalities tend to be dramatic. Elaine did not intentionally insult you or your company, she simply spoke without thinking. Let her negative comments roll off and focus on her actual problem and how you can fix it. The minute you show empathy and concern, Elaine will be appreciative and eating out of your hand.

  • Impatient Ivan

Ivan is not actually unhappy, he is a “driver” personality – one of those people who wants to skip the chit chat and get on with it. You can almost feel him tapping his foot as he talks. The best way to please Ivan is to follow his lead – be businesslike and resolve his issue as quickly as possible. No extra chit-chat for Ivan!

  • Mistaken Martin

Martin has his facts wrong, but he is adamant anyway. Frustrating as this is, arguing will only make him mad and reflect poorly on the company. Instead, explain what you can do to help him and how this solution will benefit him. If you can offer options, even better.

  • Nit-picky Nancy

Nancy’s problem seems so insignificant, you cannot imagine why she called. But Nancy lives for detail, so her tiny problem looms large in her mind. Just go with the flow here. Become her partner in finding an agreeable solution.

  • Screaming Sam

Sam is that guy who is beyond irate, and he finally has a live person on the line: You. As much as you may want to fight back, remain calm and remember that Sam wants someone to listen to him. Empathize, and be positive. Say you are “sorry that happened,” then reassure him that you are the person who can make things right. Enlist his help in finding a solution by asking him what would make him happy.  When you take care of Sam, you will feel like you earned your pay. Kudos to you for taking the toughest call of the day and turning it into a happy and dedicated customer!

  • Special Steve

Steve is sure that, as a mere “first tier” employee, you do not have what it takes to resolve his issue. It is so complicated, or he is so important, that only a supervisor will do. Be polite, but be assertive. Explain that you do have the knowledge – and the authority – to fix his problem, then do that.

Creating Positive Experiences

When you know how to approach different types of difficult customers, you will feel more confident in dealing with them. You will be able to de-escalate appropriately, then work with them to not only resolve their problem but make them feel positive about their experience. With these techniques, everyone can end their call feeling respected and satisfied.

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