5 Skills that Can Help Appease Difficult Phone Customers

Nicole Marcellino

Difficult phone customers are the most nerve-wracking thing to deal with as a sales agent or customer service representative. Even if you have years of experience, having someone get upset or yell at you can just ruin your day. Luckily, there are skills that you can develop that make these calls easier and can even help you deescalate the situation successfully.

Don’t React

The worst thing you can do when you are on the phone with someone who is upset or being difficult is to match their attitude. Rather than giving you any real satisfaction or solving any of the problems, reacting and matching their attitude is likely to make things more difficult and escalate the situation. When you feel them start to escalate, make sure you keep your responses calm and polite, even if you want to scream back at them. Once you are off the phone, you can vent to your coworkers, but in the thick of it, keeping your cool and not reacting is the most valuable thing you can do.

Validate Their Feelings

One of the reasons that people get upset when talking to agents on the phone is because they feel they aren’t being heard or that they aren’t being taken seriously. Validating their feelings and acknowledging that a situation may be difficult or frustrating can go a long way to diffusing the tension. Validation doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, it just means you are acknowledging them. Rather than ignoring the emotions, if you give a difficult phone customer space to acknowledge that they are upset, you can take the wind right out of their sails.

Focus on the Main Issues

Once people get going, especially on the phone, it can be hard for them to stop. It can easily snowball away from what is important and what you can actually help with. Rather than chasing down everything that they bring up and trying to solve all of the problems they may be upset about, choose one thing and focus on that. Start with the main issue, which will usually be whatever got them started with being upset in the beginning. This does require some active listening and verbal dexterity because you don’t want to make things worse, but with practice, you can keep them on track.

Offer Appropriate Solutions

No matter how much they want you to, there will be some situations that phone customers bring up that you will not be able to solve. Sometimes people want things that aren’t possible, whether it is because they don’t understand what they are asking or because they have unrealistic expectations. Rather than explaining why you can’t give them what they are asking for, give them the solutions that are available for their main issues. Focusing on what you can actually do to help them, rather than what you can’t do, can make the situation more productive. It also redirects the conversation in a more positive direction, which can diffuse some of the tension. 

Stick to Your Script

Phone scripts are incredibly helpful for navigating any phone call, and they are doubly important for difficult phone customers. The point of phone scripts is to give you the tools you need to deal with different questions you may get, the information you need to give, and the solutions you can offer. When you end up in a difficult conversation, these scripts not only give you the answers you need, they can help you avoid promising things that the company doesn’t offer or that aren’t a good fit for the situation. Even if you are nervous, you will have a resource in front of you that gives you the cues you need to handle the solution and lets you know when it is beyond your ability to handle and you need to call in reinforcements.

These skills don’t develop overnight, so make sure you practice them on all of your calls so you are trained and ready for the difficult ones. You can even work with your coworkers when you have slower call volumes to role-play difficult scenarios ahead of time to make sure you won’t be caught unprepared.

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Nicole Marcellino

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