Public Speaking & Customer Service – Maintaining Your Cool in the Heat
You may have seen our piece on communication tips for that customer service scenario and how to manage those pesky situations (if not, hop on over to the post!). With all that said, one of the toughest customer service scenarios we encounter (and from our students) are those that tend to get heated. When the temperature rises and you feel like shouting at that unreasonable customer, how can you maintain your cool and still close that sale?
Unreasonable customers form a broad group – they may range from those who are curt to others who are outrightly rude or aggressive. We always start with the caveat that managing heated situations effectively does not mean ‘giving up’ because the “customer is always right”. In the modern emphasis and attention on respect and mental health, the mantra is now a general call for everyone (customer service/customers included) to be kind. With that starting point, customer service representatives can explore how best to manage those challenging situations while remaining cool under pressure.
To help you along, we have set out three techniques you can try the next time you encounter a difficult customer situation!
Technique #1: Wait for It …
The heated, high-energy setting may make it difficult to take a second to breathe and respond to the setting. As a result, you may be tempted to launch straight into an argument with the customer or just feel compelled to maintain a strong ground to defend yourself. This is likely to escalate the situation further. We are not stating that one needs to ‘give up’ or let the customer ‘win’. Instead, one needs to accept that a heated customer is unlikely to accept any counter-argument you raise, no matter the persuasive value.
Instead, what can help during such a setting is to take the strong (and more difficult!) approach of waiting and biding your time. Allow the customer the space to proceed with their response and await your turn. For example, if a customer is venting profusely, acknowledge the grievances and await your turn to enter the conversation. The common mistake is to reply immediately with a ‘self’ position (e.g., “That’s not want I meant – you are not listening to me”). Try starting with an ‘other’ position first and wait for the opportune time before sharing your own position (e.g., “I understand that you have issues with our terms & conditions”).
Technique #2: Precision is Key
Once you have mastered the art of patience above, your next step is to maximise your little pockets of intervention. You will not have plenty of opportunities to say something to the other party in a heated situation – you won’t want to spend that limited time trapped in an argument trap. Your next challenge is thus to plan your next line to ensure that the other party starts listening to you. This cannot be achieved if they find something new to retort or argue against!
Generally, the customer you are speaking to will have less to say, the more they vent, especially if you adopt an open, patient attitude. Make your customer’s concerns the main priority, as a starting point, to bring them to a better place for discussion. For example, pick out an emotion, a repetitive phrase, or even a principle that the customer continually refers to in the call. When you can extract, acknowledge, and reflect this understanding back to the customer, you stand a better chance of defusing the situation.
This may be easier said than done, but adopting that patient starting point (in our first point above) will help you get there!
Technique #3: Bring them Forward
Achieving the two outcomes above will already place your customer in a kinder, calmer, and more open communication environment. It is no longer about arguing or defending but about how their concern can be resolved. Here, to seal the deal, your final challenge involves having to move your customer’s focus to the future instead. The key question is – what is the solution that can help satisfy the customer’s interest? It may not be the exact demand, but it can satisfy the customer even if presented in a different form.
One method of shifting the customer’s perspective forward is to be clear in the plan ahead. Remember to share how you intend to bring the matter forward with conviction and clarity (e.g., “We understand the issue – we can help you out by …”). If the request cannot be met, share that as an upfront point but create a fallback plan to cushion the rejection. An example of a script would be: “We apologise as we are unable to provide a 50% discount due to our promotion policy for all customers. However, we have checked and can provide you with ….”
Cool Down & Move On!
Dealing with difficult customers can be challenging and exhausting – often, a good and calm response is unlikely to give you a vindicating outcome (you may end up with a rude/abrupt hanging up even!). As a customer service staff and your company’s front-facing role, you may carry the heavier burden of responding calmly and nudging the customer to a calm and constructive place for discussion. The next time you feel that anger well up at a customer, try out the three steps above to help you cool down and move on!
(Note: remember that your mental health remains a priority – if you find that the customer or situation is not healthy for you, you have the right and power to disengage and rest!)
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