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8 Steps to Deal with Tricky Customer Calls


Reprinted with permission of Matt Jones of Search Laboratory on behalf on

If you’ve ever worked in a customer facing role, you’ll know it’s not all plain sailing. No matter how much you want or try to help a customer there are still other obstacles preventing you from doing so. Whether the obstacles are because of company policy, individual circumstance or even the stubbornness of a customer there are ways you can deal with these situations. With the help of select business, HR, and anger management experts, the experts at to to have put together their eight top tips for dealing with tricky customer calls:

1. Look after yourself first
Before you start worrying about anything to do with your job, you have to make sure you’re looking after yourself. A call center, in particular, can be a very stressful work environment and it pays to make sure you can detach yourself from it in your home life. Anger Management Specialist at Mind and Power, Eileen Lichtenstein, believes plenty of rest and a healthy dose of mindfulness can help:
“Sleep is important – you should have 7 hours at least. It can be helpful to relax before sleep without devices. Focus on deep breathing and clearing mind and/or positive visualizations. If you’re too agitated to do this, doing a progressive muscle relaxation is helpful to release muscle tension and prepare the body to relax.”

2. Be prepared

As much as you have a responsibility to make sure you’re ready for the job, your employer also has certain responsibilities to make sure you’re prepared for any potentially difficult situations. Business Consultant at S and E Consulting, Armando Alcaraz, explains what you should expect from your company:
“Make sure you have clear guidelines and company policies. You can also ask for appropriate training and feedback on the job. Clarity of what you need to do or who you need to ask always makes the job easier and can reduce the stress that comes with it.”


3. Don’t take it personally

Never lose sight of the context of the situation you’re in. This is not a personal phone call, and if you do have to deal with a difficult customer, the first thing to remember is that none of this is personal. Remember the customer isn’t annoyed specifically at you, but rather at an experience they’ve had individually. Tish Squillaro, the author of the self-help book Mindtrash, explains how she rationalizes customer anger:
“One of the frustrations for everyone else who deals with an angry person is that you think you did something to create the anger. But here’s the secret. The anger was there from the beginning, and it keeps festering. In addition, sometimes angry people may have had their feelings pent up just waiting for something to set them off, and a simple thing that the call center worker said may have been the cause.”

4. Let them vent
Some customers just need to let it out. They will already have prepared an idea of what they want to say to get it off their chest no matter how you respond, so often it’s just best to let them get if off their chest. There’s no need to interrupt and antagonize them, just make sure you’re noting what their frustrations are so you can address them all after. Customer Experience Expert, Shep Hyken, agrees that you should simply listen:
“If a customer is complaining and angry, let them vent. Most likely they aren’t mad at you personally. Ask them questions to show that you care. Don’t add to their aggravation. You might ask them to repeat the problem just to make sure you understand. Be a good listener.”

5. Bring your call back to life with C.P.R

Sometimes when you’re in the midst of a tough situation all your training can get lost. So, keep it simple. If your phone call is in cardiac arrest, Gene Caballero, co-founder of GreenPal says just remember these three simple letters:
“I always use the C.P.R technique:
– Comprehend-what happened that made the customer upset
– Purpose-give the angry customer options on how to fix the situation
– React-once the actions have been agreed upon, react, and fix the problem. “

6. Be honest and assertive

Although you need to make sure you’re open and helpful, you also need to be assertive, especially with difficult customers. That doesn’t mean getting argumentative, but rather being clear on company policies and what you can do to help from the outset. If you start changing your mind or being unsure of yourself then the customer will sense your uncertainty. Eileen Lichtenstein expands on the importance of honesty:

“If you make a mistake on a call with a customer, it is important to admit the mistake and apologize to restore faith and confidence in you. Throughout a difficult conversation (in person or on the phone) it is important to stay in the assertive, friendly mode without being aggressive or defensive.”

7. Escalate it

If you don’t feel you can resolve the issue, then you may need to escalate the issue. Your manager is trained to deal with volatile customers and will probably have more experience. Use their experience to help both you and the customer if a situation has become too volatile. Director of Human Resources at Dupray, Pierre Tremblay, give his advice on escalation:
“It’s actually better to end the call as soon as possible to avoid escalation. The ramifications for failing to assist the customer will never outweigh the avoidance of inappropriate behavior. Escalate any information from the call to your supervisor and to HR, immediately and without hesitation. Keeping them aware of the situation will keep you out of trouble.”

8. Don’t put up with abuse

Some customers are just too difficult to handle and you don’t need to put up with abuse. If a customer starts getting verbally abusive then tackle them and let them know you will not continue the call if they continue acting in such a manner. Camille Charbonneau, Mental Performance Consultant at Peak Perform, believes the key in such situations is staying calm and professional:
“Don’t fight fire with fire. Fighting fire with fire will just get you worked up for nothing. Accept it and be non-judgmental to the correspondence. Be respectful and answer professionally otherwise you may get stressed for a silly reason.”


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