How to train staff to handle challenging calls

Guest blog by Jason O’Brien, COO,, an international telecommunications provider based in Los Angeles.


If your workplace offers customer service channels over the phone, tricky calls are an inevitability – and something you have little control over. How your staff cope with them, on the other hand, can be down to you.

Fortunately, there are many key concepts and training touchpoints out there that can help educate and support staff to deal with difficult calls from irate or awkward customers:

Roleplay difficult customer situations

Your call centre staff were chosen to be on the front line of your customer service channel because of their excellent communication and people skills.

While you can’t plan for every eventuality, make best use of these skills by offering practical training to illustrate how to deploy their personality and temperament in real life situations.

For example, you could transcribe a particularly difficult telephone encounter with a customer from a recorded call – regardless of how successfully it was dealt with. You can then use the customer dialogue to run through the techniques your staff can use to reach a positive conclusion.

The L.A.S.T. technique can be an effective and memorable method of dealing with problem callers. It’s comprised of four ideas that can be explained during a role playing exercise:

• Listen – Hear the customer out and encourage staff to take notes of the exact issues described.
• Apologise – Saying sorry doesn’t mean admitting guilt, but apologising for the customer’s experience or inconvenience can go a long way.
• Solve – Systematically go through the issues raised and deduce solutions, ensuring these reach the customer’s expectations.
• Thank – Thanking the customer for their time and patience can also lead to a positive experience for both parties.


Make sure management are open to support

Encourage your call centre staff to escalate any persistent issues or very difficult calls to a superior.

Some employees can be reluctant to transfer problem calls to a supervisor or manager, but occasionally this is necessary to show the customer that their concerns are being taken seriously, and will be dealt with by a more senior member of staff.


Log common problems and solutions

Sometimes a customer’s complaints are completely justified. It may even be a common problem that is frequently encountered within the company.

If this is the case, ensure that all staff are logging the exact nature of every customer complaint call after the call has ended. This has two key benefits for a business:

• Logs will expose the most pressing issues that need resolution within the business.
• If a solution exists for the issue, all staff can be trained in the correct response.

If staff are dealing with the same complaint on a regular basis, awareness within the business can help create a solution. If this solution is widely distributed, all employees will have the answers to hand to reassure the customer and resolve the problem quickly.


Train staff to expect a rant

Sometimes, staying silent and allowing a customer to vent about all the issues or problems they have can be cathartic for the customer and put them in a more agreeable mood.

A key customer frustration is not having a sympathetic person to speak to. Ensure staff are trained to hear customers out and to completely understand the problem before making any action. Don’t be bogged down with call length, and instead focus on getting the whole picture.

In a recent statement, Customer Experience Expert, Shep Hyken, explained the benefits of being a good listener:

“If a customer is complaining and angry, let them vent. Most likely they aren’t mad at you personally. Ask them questions to show that you care. Don’t add to their aggravation. You might ask them to repeat the problem just to make sure you understand. Be a good listener.”


Encourage your staff to look after their own wellness

When faced with difficult and sometimes abusive telephone exchanges on a regular basis, your staff’s mental health and stress levels can sometimes suffer.

Avoid putting your employees in a situation where they must sacrifice their own wellbeing to meet the demands of the company. No one should be subjected to abusive language or harassment at work, so encouraging a culture of protecting their own mental health and wellbeing should be paramount.

Make sure all customer facing staff are trained in how to amicably end abusive exchanges. For example, calmly informing the customer that the conversation won’t continue if abusive language is used is a reasonable response.

Low morale, absence from work due to stress, and poor employee retention, are the likely results of failing to encourage customer facing staff to be confident enough to cut off conversations that are causing them undue distress or personal offense.

Author: Editor

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