Call center software improves the overall customer experience and makes agent workloads more manageable.
But one problem even the best contact center solution can’t make disappear?
Upset customers that seem impossible to please, are rude to even the most patient representatives, and whose attitudes are among the main reasons for the 30-45% call center employee turnover rate.
Over 85% of call center agents have experience in dealing with infuriated, aggressive, and sometimes downright abusive customers. In fact, contact center employees are subject to at least 10 hostile conversations every day.
Understanding the best way to manage angry customers will help you to keep more of your existing customers and improve your overall employee retention rates.
Whether you’re a call center manager, small business owner, or even an agent yourself, our actionable strategies on how to deal with difficult customers will diffuse any situation.
As a call center manager or small business owner, you may have noticed that your customer satisfaction levels dramatically decreased between 2020 and 2021, even though your inbound call rates have gone through the roof.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a dramatic increase in remote work rates, forced retailers and other companies to lay off huge percentages of their workforces, and has led to serious frustrations when it comes to customer support.
Recent studies show that about 75% of consumers feel the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on the overall quality of customer service.
This may be due in large part to the drastic increase in the number of customer support calls since the start of the pandemic. Companies like Verizon say that each day, their agents handle double the number of daily inbound calls than on their busiest day of the year before the pandemic.
More inbound calls — especially when you factor in the stress that the pandemic has caused consumers personally and financially — means more difficult and more demanding customers.
Take the proactive steps below to improve your customer support process, increase client satisfaction level, and prevent your agents from having to deal with a constant influx of unhappy customers.
Prioritize Higher First Call Resolution Rates
Over 80% of consumers expect an immediate response to their initial customer service inquiries.
Given that the average customer response time is over 12 hours, it makes sense that customers want to get their issue resolved on their first support phone call as often as possible.
Your first call resolution rate – the percentage of your service calls that don’t require a follow-up — is an excellent indicator of the quality of your support. The higher your rate, the more satisfied callers will be.
Higher first call resolution rates also help to prevent customers from having to repeat themselves, which over 30% of consumers say is the most irritating part of the support experience.
Effective ways to increase your FCR rates include integrating CRM software with your business phone system to provide agents with relevant caller information, having agents ask for resolution confirmation while on the phone, and creating effective IVR and call routing strategies (more on that later.)
Study Analytics and Call Recordings
Especially if you’ve noticed a significant drop in overall customer satisfaction levels or an uptick in the number of inbound calls to client support teams, the best place to find a solution is in your KPIs and analytics.
Many call center managers think they know what the customer’s problem is, when in reality the real reason for client dissatisfaction is entirely different. Tracking both historical and real-time analytics allows you to zero in on the biggest factors behind a poor customer experience — in addition to getting employee and customer feedback.
Actionable call center analytics to track include:
- Average call duration
- First call resolution rate
- Call volume of daily/weekly/monthly inbound/outbound calls (per agent/as a whole)
- Missed call rate
- First time vs. repeat callers
- Average number of calls it takes to resolve an issue
- Call transfer rate
- CSAT score
- Customer retention rates/customer churn rates
- Average speed of answer (number of rings before an agent picks up, etc.)
- Average hold time
- Peak call center times
- Communication channel preferences
- Agent utilization rate
Our guide on how to use call center insights provides additional tips on how to make the most of your data.
Call recordings and recording transcripts provide even deeper insight into your current customer resolution process.
Listening to them can teach you:
- The most common customer service issues
- Their level of satisfaction with proposed solutions
- The quality of the help provided
- Common customer questions
- The specific skill sets or areas of expertise specific agents offer
- Overall customer sentiment
- Effective dispute resolution
- Overall customer satisfaction with the quality of your products/services
Improve Call Routing and IVR Strategies
Over 50% of consumers say that speaking to a knowledgeable agent is the most important factor when it comes to a positive support experience.
There are few things more frustrating to customers than being kept on hold, only to be connected to an uninformed agent who can’t provide the proper assistance.
Effective IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and proper call routing strategies increase your FCR and customer satisfaction rates by connecting callers to the agent that is trained and available to help them with their specific issue.
IVR also allows for a high level of customer self-service, meaning you eliminate the need for customers to contact an agent at all. Ensure that prompts collect information like the caller’s contact details, brief description of the issue, order numbers, or any other relevant data. Your business phone system should be able to show an agent that data before they take the call, meaning they can be as prepared as possible to assist the client.
Re-Evaluate Employee Training
About 15% of call center agents say the training they’ve received doesn’t properly prepare them to handle the customer service queries they receive, and only 34% say they’re satisfied with their current level of training.
As a call center manager or small business owner, make it a priority to update your training materials at least once a month, especially when it comes to customer service policies and how to use current business communication software. (Note that many business communication platforms provide training to employees as a part of the onboarding process.)
It’s also essential to update employee knowledge bases, call center scripts, and even to take employee surveys to better understand where your team is going wrong.
This also creates a more consistent support experience, which is essential given that about ¾ of consumers say they get conflicting advice from different service representatives.
Encourage feedback and routinely meet with agents one-on-one or in small groups to get a sense of common misunderstandings, gaps in training, and to get their ideas on how to improve the customer service process as a whole.
Ineffectively dealing with difficult people is one of the main reasons why more than 70% of contact center representatives are at a high risk of burnout.
As an agent, you’re often caught between trying to please the customer and trying to please your boss — and you’re concerned that a failure to come to a resolution with a caller could cost you your job.
Just as managers need to take proactive steps to limit the number of unsatisfactory experiences, as a call center agent, you need to study and implement the below techniques for how to deal with difficult conversations in real-time.
However, since these calls take place over the phone, you can’t rely on standard solutions like eye contact or body language to help with conflict resolution.
Instead, focus on putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, ask clarifying questions, be empathetic and try to understand how the customer feels, and above all, take a deep breath before you respond.
Don’t Take It Personally
Close to 70% of Americans say they’ve been rude to or yelled at a call center agent at least once — meaning there’s a good chance you’re guilty of having been a “bad customer,” too.
Think back to those moments of rudeness in your own life, and consider how much of your frustration really had to do with the representative you were speaking to. Chances are, it had more to do with the bad day you were already having in the first place. Maybe you were frustrated because you paid a lot for a product that didn’t do what it promised. Maybe you were under pressure from your boss, had a fight with your partner, didn’t sleep well, had been kept on hold for way too long…the possibilities are endless.
The reality is that, even if the caller is deeply dissatisfied with your company, they are very rarely satisfied with you as an individual. Sometimes, the issue they’re calling about is just the latest hiccup in a day that’s already full of problems. In many cases, (as agents know all too well) the problem may very well be the fault of the caller themselves.
In short, a caller’s tirade often isn’t about you at all — it’s about the caller and whatever personal circumstances or feelings they’re going through.
The best thing you can do to keep calm is to remember that the customer is not speaking to you directly, but rather is angry at the situation as a whole.
Remember that as the agent or manager, you always have the upper hand in any conversation: the potential solution the caller is looking for.
Refocus the customer on the specific task at hand, gently remind them that you’re here to help them, and then go on to provide the great customer service you always do.
Below, see an example script of how to avoid escalating a situation with an ego-driven caller.
Caller: I can’t believe how stupid you are! You people are a bunch of morons! How can you expect to run a successful business if you can’t even figure out where my order is? It’s already three days late…you are wasting my time.
Representative: I agree, late orders are frustrating, and it’s definitely something that I want to be able to fix for you. Can you please give me your order number so I can get started on tracking it down? Usually, we’re able to resolve issues like these in about 5 minutes.
Practice Active Listening
Whenever you have an issue, we’re willing to bet that one of the first things you want to do is tell someone else about it.
When you do so, you don’t necessarily want the other person to give you advice. Instead, you just need them to listen to you talk it out, and, ultimately, agree with you that the situation is indeed as frustrating or annoying as you think it is.
After you’ve gotten your feelings out of the way, you’ll be much more likely to talk about what to do next.
Your customers want an opportunity to vent, too. And as the agent, your job is to engage in active listening while they do.
Active listening, one of the most important customer service skills, means withholding advice and opinions when another person is speaking, avoiding interrupting them, and asking clarification questions or making statements that show you’ve understood what they’re saying.
Instead of trying to come up with how to respond to what the caller is saying while they’re speaking, simply let them talk.
Effective active listening strategies to mitigate tense situations include:
- Show empathy to the caller (“I hate when my packages get lost, too,” “I know this situation is frustrating,” “That does sound like a problem,” etc.)
- Repeating the caller’s problems back to them (“It sounds like you need help locating a missing package,” “I understand, the package is three days late,” “The missing order number you gave me is 1502KJA,” etc.)
- Asking questions to ensure you’ve understood the customer, (“Am I understanding correctly that you placed the original order on April 10?” “Can I please repeat your order number back to you to be sure I’ve got it right?”)
- Indicating that you’re listening when they’re speaking (“I’m sorry to hear the order was three days late,” “That’s frustrating,” “I’m listening, please go ahead”)
The example conversation below outlines how to use active listening to resolve issues with rude customers.
Caller: Hello, is this Bill’s custom signs? Because if it is, you better put me on the phone with Bill himself right now. He overcharged me by $100 on my order!”
Agent: I’m so sorry that you were overcharged. That’s happened to me before and it’s incredibly frustrating.
Caller: You guys cheated me! I can’t believe this! I thought I was supposed to get better service from a small business, I would have just ordered from a chain if I knew there would be this much trouble.
Agent: I hear that you’re dissatisfied with our customer service, especially when it comes to getting overcharged for a purchase. That does sound like a problem.
Repeat The Caller’s Name
Another way to prove to the caller that you’re listening and care about their issue is to call them by their name as often as is natural.
However, recent statistics show that only 21% of representatives ever even bother to ask the caller for their name — a huge mistake.
There’s a reason why personalized marketing calls to action outperform general CTAs by over 200%.
The psychology of personalization shows that when people hear their own names repeated, they feel more in control of a situation and believe that what they’re being told — even it’s the same advice you give to every customer in their situation — has been specifically tailored to their unique needs.
Saying someone’s name makes them more likely to listen to you, makes them feel important, and even makes them feel more respected.
Offer Customer Callback Options
Putting a tough customer on hold for an undetermined amount of time is a great way to make them even angrier. Not only do customers feel like their time is being wasted, but they also feel as though they aren’t a priority.
However, the reality is that sometimes, you can’t provide the customer with the solution they need immediately. You may need to clarify something with a manager, review company materials, or wait for a more qualified agent to become available.
Instead of keeping them on hold, provide the caller with a customer callback option.
This means they can choose the date and time to receive a callback from you or another customer service agent, as opposed to having to wait on hold or continue to call into the support center.
Again, it’s all about providing the customer with as much control as is possible — and letting them dictate when to be contacted is a way to do that.
Provide Several Potential Solutions Or Next Steps
Earlier in this post, we talked about the importance of making the caller feel like they have even a little control over the situation.
One way to do that is to provide them with choices as often as possible, and to guide them through these potential options step-by-step. Instead of providing just one solution, offer them at least two and let them decide for themselves the next step to take.
When you provide these solutions, never exaggerate, make false promises, or guarantee the caller something like a special offer without having it approved first. If you can’t follow through, you’ll only compound the seriousness of the issue.
If the issue requires a follow-up, be sure to provide them with the same callback and scheduling options as above.
Finally, consider sending the caller an email after the conversation is over, recapping their problems, the proposed solutions/follow-up time, and your contact information.
Top solutions could include:
- Refunding/canceling the order or contract
- Offering them a percentage off of their bill
- Providing them with a voucher for free services/products
- Connecting them to another representative following your department’s escalation matrix
- Scheduling a follow-up call
- Moving their account to another representative
- Directing them to the company’s online support forum or another piece of content or walking them through more detailed instructions
- Providing avenues for customer feedback
Know When To End The Interaction
Before you end the interaction for good, give the customer a warning sign and a chance to change their behavior by saying something like, “I want to be able to continue to help you, but if you continue to use that kind of language I will have to hang up.”
There’s a difference between supporting and advocating for a customer and allowing them to abuse you. If the customer ignores warnings, continues to verbally harass you, threatens you, or if it’s clear that they are unwilling to allow any kind of solution to move forward, politely but swiftly end the call.
Afterward, follow-up with a manager to go over the details of the call or have them listen to the recording.
If the caller is a current client or loyal customer, a manager should decide whether or not to terminate the account and reach out to the caller with that decision. Managers should familiarize themselves with the main causes of stress for call center employees, and do what they can to mitigate them — including firing clients when needed.
Choosing the right call center makes a huge difference when it comes to customer satisfaction, team members’ productivity and morale, and customer loyalty.
Look for platforms with features like CRM integrations for quick access to customer data, IVR call menus for improved caller self-service, and omnichannel communication capabilities that allow customers to connect with support on the communication channel of their choice.
Additional features to look for to assist in difficult customer situations include:
- Advanced call routing strategies
- Call forwarding
- Social media messaging integration
- Customizable data reports
- Call recording
- Call monitoring
- Ring groups
For an overview and comparison of top contact center solutions, check out our reviews of the best call center software.