People are more stressed than ever, so it’s no surprise that customer service agents are feeling the heat when interacting with customers frustrated by shipping delays, product supply issues, website questions and…bad days. So how can we de-escalate angry customers?
In a recent webinar, Aly Klidies, Marketing Manager at Solvvy, talks with Customer Experience Designer and Master De-escalation Instructor, Myra Golden, to discuss how customer service agents can bring down the temperature during tense conversations when customers’ feelings are running high.
Here is Myra’s 3R Method to customer de-escalation:
The most fundamental “R” that customer service teams must implement before anything else is to recognize.
Customer service agents must recognize the customers’ complaints and emotions through the communication chain. This is a process in which someone, like a customer, voices a message – such as a question, comment, or complaint – to gain a response. It’s the agent’s responsibility to respond in a way that does not trigger the customer to feel awkward, embarrassed or even more stressed.
To do this, agents must pay extra attention to the statements they use. These statements should be genuine and include personal pronouns such as “I,” “You,” and “We.” Examples of constructive statements include “I understand this can be frustrating” or “I see your point.”
Reframe is the next “R” of the 3R method to customer de-escalation, and the “R” where the customer calming process takes place. There are four ways that customer service teams can implement reframing: optioning, psychological priming, asking close-ended questions and giving a sense of customer control.
By reframing through optioning, customer service agents are providing the customer with choices to reach a resolution. Because customers are focusing on making choices rather than emotions, they can easily focus on a solution and agents can get to a resolution more quickly.
- Psychological Priming
When an agent reframes the complaint using psychological priming, he or she is using a technique of introducing one stimulus to influence how a customer responds so that the agent is then able to drive the conversation. To successfully do this, customer service agents must know where they want to direct customers.An example Myra demonstrated during the webinar was by showing the first and last letters of a four letter word: H_ _R, alongside a picture of a woman’s profile. She then asks for people to fill in the blanks with their guesses of the word. Myra then primes the audience to guess “hair” by casually using the words “afro” and “afro-pick” in her conversation with the audience.
- Asking 3 Close-Ended Questions Back-to-Back
There are two types of questions: open-ended and close-ended. Open-ended questions allow for a response where emotions can run on with multiple sentences, whereas a close-ended question only requires a one-word answer. By asking three close-ended questions back-to-back, customer service agents can lower the temperature of their conversation with an angry customer. The most effective type of close-ended question to ask is to ask for a specific piece of information—such as a reservation number, order number, or tracking information. This changes the customer’s point of focus over to the left-brain (their logical side), gives the agent control of the situation—yet doesn’t disregard the customer’s concerns either.
- Giving Customers a Sense of Control
By allowing customers to be helped in a way that they prefer, companies are giving the customer confidence to get to a resolution and they feel empowered interacting with your brand. One of the easiest ways to give the customer a sense of control is by implementing a conversational AI platform that includes self service. By allowing customers to access instant answers online with 24/7 availability, businesses are removing support roadblocks such as long wait times that can trigger heightened emotional responses from a customer.
Conversational AI platforms, like Solvvy, can utilize a company’s existing knowledge base to provide intelligent answers to customer questions and complaints. With a library of over 100 pre-built intents for the most common support issues, your team won’t have to struggle with building out every possible way a user might ask a question. Built directly into Solvvy’s Workflow Builder, the intent library saves your team valuable time and resources, and allows you to create solutions for complex questions in just minutes. Solvvy also has an in-depth analytics dashboard with records of conversation details for easy hand-off between the chatbot and live agents. In a digital-first world, adding a digital customer service automation platform gives customers a stronger sense of control more quickly than ever.
Myra explains that when customer service teams effectively recognize and reframe while dealing with angry customers, they find themselves at the final “R”: resolve. Though this is the final “r,” in the real world, resolve doesn’t always equate to the customer’s ideal resolution. In many cases, resolve can be seen as guiding a customer to a next step or providing a customer with an alternative solution.
No matter what the resolution to a customer complaint may look like, if service teams implement the 3R method of customer de-escalation: recognize, reframe and resolve, agents will find themselves communicating with more relaxed and reassured customers. And when customers are relaxed, reassured, and given a choice of solutions—they have better customer experiences and are more likely to return.
During the webinar with Myra Golden, so many questions were asked that not all were able to be answered live. Here’s a short Q&A of some questions answered after the live event.
Q: How should support teams deal with customers from Ukraine? They are in the middle of the war and to say they feel frustrated would be an understatement.
Myra: Indeed, they are frustrated. Start by acknowledging the war. Don’t hesitate to convey genuine empathy for how you feel. Then, patiently and presently work to support their service needs.
Q: How can I help to calm down someone with an intellectual disability?
Myra: Support customers that are intellectually disabled the same way you’d help any customer through issues. Recognize concern, reframe the problem, and resolve it by guiding them to the next steps.
Q: We try to be as transparent as possible with customers, but what recommendations do you give as to where to draw the line? How much info is too much info?
Myra: Transparency is always a good approach with customers. As long as you’re following your company guidelines, you’re in good shape. My favorite way to be transparent with customers is to explain: Here’s what we know. Here’s what we’ve done. Here’s what’s next.
Q: When the customer is in the wrong – let’s say they never responded to an email that required action – how would you recommend de-escalating that customer?
Myra: You will be wise to never tell a customer they are wrong or mistaken. Telling a person they are wrong arouses opposition and will make the customer want to battle with you. In “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie points out an indisputable fact, “it’s difficult, under even the most benign conditions, to change people’s minds.” So why make it harder by starting on the wrong foot? If you know your customer is wrong, it’s better to start off by saying, “I thought the contract read otherwise, but let’s take a look.”
Q: What do you recommend when a customer is upset, and refuses to provide any information?
Myra: The person who is so angry they won’t give you information to help is in the emotional right brain. Start by linking the communication chain with this person. “I realize this whole thing has been frustrating for you.” Next, reframe the situation: “My goal is to resolve your issue on this call. To do that, I will need some information from you.”
Q: We are currently very short staffed and continue having more people leave weekly; so, customers are waiting far longer than normal to speak with someone. We don’t normally know how long a customer has been waiting, and empathy does not calm them down for having to wait. Do you have any suggestions on how to help with this?
Myra: Patiently convey empathy, even if you think it won’t work. Support your customer with a sense of urgency, and then focus on moving the call to successful closure.
To learn more about de-escalating conversations with angry customers, please register to watch the webinar on demand.