Recently, I happened to be involved in a situation in which the agent I was working with had just come off a call that resulted in an argument with a customer. You could feel this through the agent and I felt bad for them. I began to think about our stressful and challenging times, and how they must lead to customer and client situations that can and do end up with an argumentative or confrontational exchange.
Without a doubt, the objecting, angry, confrontational customer, client, or stakeholder is often looked upon in a somewhat negative light, and confrontation is a lose-lose situation. All that will be gained is trouble for us, and we may even end up in an adversarial mode, losing our civility and our focus. This explains why some companies discourage complaints or make it difficult for the customer to make the complaint by hiding behind extensive help menus, chatbots, or difficult/dead-end journeys to resolution. However, these very actions actually invite the customer to engage in confrontation.
Those of us who work with unhappy customers and clients can often resolve their technical problem with ease, but we still can leave the client angry. So where can we begin to make the exchange that will have a positive impact on the customer and their perception of the business?
From my years of experience coaching teams to manage angry customers, both internal and external, I thought I would take this opportunity to share tips with you on how to deescalate a heated situation.
I think we can begin by taking certain steps when one feels a “confrontational” mentality beginning. Studies have shown the challenge often begins with the assumption that the customer or client is wrong. We combat this with a positive attitude, and a company culture that intrinsically values the customer.
In addition, I have learned some tools which work well in avoiding a confrontational mentality. You and your teams may find these pointers helpful in your everyday encounters.
How to handle customers and clients without starting an argument.
- Listen carefully to the customer or client and try to hear what they are really saying. What’s really on their mind?
- Most confrontations begin with minor issues. We can successfully turn the situation around by seizing the first opportunity to move on to more important matters. Try to transition the subject gradually from the negative to a more neutral or positive state.
- Always acknowledge a good point. Let the customer or client know when their position has merit and use this as your opportunity to begin to explain your company’s position.
- Make sure you restate the point being made. This always helps to clarify and focus on a better understanding of both sides.
- Always, always avoid inflammatory words. Of course, you might still have a serious discussion with a customer; and this customer may want to vent anxiety and frustration. If so, allow it to come out into the open, so that you can move on to a productive resolution.
Handling conflicts when they arise
I can identify four possible causes of conflict with a customer or client:
- A conflict of interest
- A communication barrier
- Unresolved previous issues
- Feelings and attitudes
There are various ways to work with these:
Work at modifying perception. When a customer or client is emotional, this is difficult. Often they want to go to great lengths to protect that emotional involvement.
Avoid dealing with the conflict
Do not deal with the conflict at all. This is a temporary strategy, but one that can provide a cooling-off period and allow you to move forward to resolution.
Smooth over the issue
You capitalize on areas of agreement and deemphasize the areas of conflict. Move the conflict to problem resolution.
Forcing a win or lose
The only negative is that the conflict is turned into a win/lose strategy. Often a lose-lose for all involved.
Look for ways that both sides can share in winning and losing. This bargaining approach may not be the best, but both sides can come out with a winning feeling.
Both sides work at a mutual and satisfactory solution. This is usually the best approach as it is a win-win.
So, in summary, when we are dealing with conflict:
- Review the facts
- Move to defuse and not personalize
- Evaluate the importance of the conflict and select the right resolution method
- Show empathy and build rapport to gain the customer’s or client’s trust in you and the company
We often can arrive at an acceptable solution. Differences of opinion can still lead to a solution. Cooperation is beneficial to all; if all parties are looking for a mutually satisfying conclusion, then we can successfully deal with conflict.
My experience shows that utilizing tools and ideas such as these have helped people and companies become much more effective in working with their customers. These become the signs of the development of a successful service organization. They make the customer feel more appreciated. This then ends up being an engagement that was done well and leads to positives, such as trust, and loyalty.
So, when you are engaging the customer or client, give heed to what I have said. Delight and satisfaction cannot be achieved without clear lines of communication, involvement on both sides, and an acceptable resolution.
I hope you find this a useful refresher.
Dennis Gershowitz is Principal with DG Associates