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Trainer’s tip: Handling disgruntled customers


How to handle difficult people is one of the best read subjects on - although, as Rus Slater points out, customers are usually angry, miffed or disgruntled, rather than difficult! Here, trainers give their advice for training exercises for dealing with those irate callers.

Michelle Nickless asked:

I am due to deliver a session around handling difficult customers (over the phone) who are usually upset, annoyed and angry about quite emotive matters. I was wondering whether anyone had some ideas for activities/exercises to highlight key issues and are thought provoking but also lighthearted as the subject matter is delicate.

Philip Harris advises:

I have run similar sessions over the years and I have always found discussion in small groups to be useful. I give the groups a topic and ask them to discuss, later discussing in more detail with the rest of the group. Topics include: what makes you complain? What makes you annoyed when speaking to phone-based companies? Consider good and bad experiences that you have had and what worked and what didn't. The idea behind this is to get the group into the mindset of the people who are complaining, with the hope that understanding where they are coming from will help you to overcome those issues more easily.

Rus Slater points out:

Sorry to be a bore but the customer is seldom 'difficult' the customer is angry/irate/annoyed/miffed/disgruntled at something but if we view the customer as the difficulty then it is going to be hard to see past the complainer to the form of the complaint.

Juliet LeFevre adds this:

I always find a lot of this goes back to customers who are caught in process failure.

Unless we can empower the agent and address the process failure I'm afraid the problem will re-occur. Most of this type of training seems to focus on addressing the outcome rather than the cause - process failure.

Agents are often sharp enough to understand that unless they can change their processes and demonstrate to the customer that they are able to make a difference then they will simply be going through the motions.

Lean thinking has a lot to say on this subject as does the recent thread on Mehrabian and debunking myths.

In my experience, dealing with process issues and unempowered agents is a key issue and thought provoking.

While Kim Wigfield advises:

Use video content to help demonstrate the wrong and right ways of dealing with difficult customers over the phone.

Check out this clip from the training resource 'On the receiving end'. There are some great exercises and role plays that you can use in the training session.

Ehsan Honary has the last word:

When handling difficult people, one of the most effective methods of communication is to have empathy.

So I suggest using an empathy exercise, in the context of customer services. We have empathy training exercises in our courses available from the website.

Another concept you can work on is how to have the right mentality. Research shows that a customer is more likely to become loyal to you if his or her problem was sorted out by you than if they had no issues at all in the first place. So customer services should look long-term and not just try to solve one issue. You can turn this into a puzzle and let the delegates guess and discuss before revealing the results of the research. They will be more likely to remember it for a long time.

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Handling difficult customers

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