Keeping Your Cool When the Caller Gets Hot

By Lydia Ramsey

Have you ever had a bad day in business? One where nothing seemed to go right and everywhere you turned you encountered angry or upset people? If this has never happened to you, stop reading now, but if it has, read on.

At one point or another, you have encountered people who were less than happy with you or your call center. It may have been because of a problem with the service, you may have said or done something to aggravate a coworker, or your company may have done something that disturbed a client.

Whatever the problem, it is always a challenge to deal effectively with upset people. Diffusing anger and handling difficult issues require special skills and practiced behaviors. It’s hard to be calm and courteous when others are out of control. So what can you do to keep your cool and resolve the issue when the customer or coworker is being hostile? Try following these five steps to sooth the situation.

Step one is to listen. Really listen to what the other person is saying. Too often, we don’t hear all that is being said because we are busy trying to come up with our own response. If you don’t fully understand why the other person is upset, you can’t possibly help with the solution. Sometimes people just need to vent – to get whatever is bothering them off their chest.

You may be well on your way to a resolution if you are a good listener who does not interrupt, letting other people finish what they have to say. Often, people calm down when they realize that you value them enough to hear them out. They may also hear themselves and recognize that they are overreacting or acting inappropriately.

Let your body language reflect your attention as well, even if you are talking on the phone. Use eye contact, lean in toward the other person, and use appropriate facial expressions that show your interest. If you do a good enough job with step one, you may not need to take the next four.

Step two is to apologize. It doesn’t matter whether the problem was actually your fault or not. Perhaps the caller received the wrong product and you had nothing to do with filling the order. As the representative of your client, you have as much responsibility as the person who made the mistake. Tell the caller that you are sorry.

Your willingness to be accountable will have a positive effect. All this person may need to hear is an apology, along with receiving the right product or service, to be satisfied. Make your apology with complete sincerity. If your tone of voice doesn’t match your words, you are wasting your breath.

Step three is to sympathize. Let people know that you can identify with their feelings and that you understand why they are upset. A simple and sincere statement validates the caller’s emotions and says that you are not going to be argumentative. Once again, match your tone to your words.

Step four is to accept responsibility for the situation. Be accountable. Let the caller know that you intend to do whatever it takes to make things right to get them the product they ordered or the service they expected. You can’t change what has already happened, but you will come up with a solution to the problem or you will find someone who can.

Step five is to prepare to take action. Decide how you can remedy the situation. Tell the caller exactly what you will do and when. But be sure not to make promises that are outside of your control to keep or that the client has not authorized you to make.

If it is an option, offer to replace the incorrect product as quickly as possible. If the issue was poor service, deliver better service – immediately. Offer something extra or unexpected. Whenever you can provide a bonus of some sort or waive fees, the tiger before you is transformed into a pussycat.

Use the acronym “ASAP” for calming angry people. Each letter stands for part of the process. Once you have heard the person out (step one), Apologize, Sympathize, Accept responsibility, and Prepare to take action (ASAP).

When you treat people with kindness, courtesy, and respect, they will appreciate you, your client, and your call center. When they need service again, they will call back. An appreciative caller may recommend your call center to others by sharing the story of their dilemma that was resolved by your excellent customer service.

Lydia Ramsey is a business etiquette expert with over 30 years of experience helping companies and individuals achieve success by adopting professional manners. She is the author of the acclaimed book “Manners that Sell- Adding the Polish that Builds Profits.” As a speaker and trainer, Lydia works with businesses, universities, and community organizations to help polish their communication skills.

[From Connection Magazine Jan/Feb 2005]

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