A switch gets flipped for many customers when they're angry.
They go from mild-mannered, easy-going people to stern, direct, and unyielding. These customers will tell a customer service representative what they want and how they want it.
Frustrated customers often encounter a customer service agent who fights back. Stonewalls. Obfuscates. Belligerently refuses to help the customer until their special little procedure gets followed.
Here are actual statements from customer service reps to angry customers:
- "I can help you, but you need to let me do my job."
- "We have a procedure to follow first."
- "I've been doing this for a long time, so we're going to do this my way."
Not the best words for an angry customer to hear.
You might be surprised to learn that many customer service employees say these things in heated moments because that's what they've been trained to do.
These employees are using a widely-trained skill called Call Control.
What is Call Control?
There's a good chance you train your employees to exercise call control, even if you don't use the specific term. Call control is a set of techniques that theoretically move a customer service interaction to a quick and successful resolution.
Many contact center agents are trained in some form of call control (or, contact control for other channels). Employees in other industries like retail or hospitality are often trained on control techniques as well.
There are generally three aspects:
- Workflow: Employees are expected to follow a standard set of procedures.
- Positioning. Employees are taught to be directive with customers to move things efficiently.
- Authority. Employees are expected to exercise other options before escalating an interaction to a supervisor.
All of these can be frustrating to an angry customer.
How Call Control Creates Problems
Each aspect of call control can be fine with a happy customer. We like a friendly customer service rep who is confident and can quickly serve us. But, those same techniques can be infuriating to someone who is already upset.
Workflow can reduce empathy.
Let's say a customer calls up because she's angry about an unresolved billing issue. The typical workflow for the customer service agent is to collect some information from the customer so he can pull up her account. Then, he needs to ask her a few questions to verify her identity. Finally, he needs to dig into the account to see what's going on.
All of this frustrates an angry customer because it delays real listening and empathy. It's frustrating because the agent insists on doing all that before letting the customer tell her story. In many cases, that's exactly what he's taught to do.
Positioning can feel like a confrontation.
Many customer service reps are taught to exercise their authority in an interaction. This works fine is most cases where you can use your expertise to guide the customer through a series of steps to quickly help her.
This same positioning doesn't work well at all when a customer is angry, frustrated, or upset. Now, the customer wants to be in charge.
An employee who says things like, "Let me ask you a few questions first," is really trying to re-exert his authority over the customer. It starts to be a battle.
In the customer's mind, the employee is being argumentative and unhelpful. In the employee's mind, the customer is preventing him from providing assistance.
Authority may seem like stonewalling.
Perhaps that angry customer is tired of telling the same story to a customer service rep who will robotically follow the same procedure the last three reps followed without success. She wants to speak to a supervisor and she wants to speak to them now.
But, the rep has a procedure to follow. He knows his supervisor will be upset if he simply attempts to transfer the call. So, he insists on following his standard procedure first.
The employee is protecting himself, but it makes the customer furious.
What to Do Instead
Employees should be trained to utilize de-escalation techniques before attempting to overtly control the call.
I like to follow a few steps that spell out the name LAURA. Think of Laura as a calm, patient, and kind employee who wants nothing more than to help that angry customer feel better.
Here are the specific steps:
- Listen to the customer so she can share her problem first.
- Acknowledge the customer's feelings.
- Understand the customer's emotional needs (she wants to feel better!)
- Relate to the customer in some way, so she senses you're on her side.
- Act to resolve the issue.
Notice that taking action is the last step. A successful customer service employee starts an interaction with an angry customer by addressing her emotional needs.
An angry customer wants their emotions to be validated. They want to feel that the employee understands why they're angry and is on their side. Unfortunately, this important need is frequently overlooked.
The amazing thing is once you address a customer's emotional needs, you can often go right back to those call control techniques you were trained to use.
After all, they work well when a customer isn't angry at you.