Managing the Difficult Phone Call | Virtual Assistant Israel How to manage a difficult phone call with customers

Managing the Difficult Phone Call

Tips for showing empathy to your challenging clients

We’ve all had them. That difficult phone call with a client in a quandary, a manager in a state of frenzy, a customer service representative who just doesn’t listen. Today, we’re going to focus on your role as a service provider and how to turn a potential disaster into a success.

It’s Not You, it’s Me!

Most difficult phone calls, from the frustrated client or customer to the overbearing boss, can be traced back to one fundamental root: ANXIETY. The person you are handling on the call is likely not vexed with you personally, but you are the lucky recipient of all of that cumulative frustration that has been built out of real or imagined failure of some process or system, or real or imagined fear of loss. Rule number one for managing a difficult phone call is to take immediate ownership of what role you actually played in the source of that frustration and desensitize as fast as possible from what does not belong to you. This will give perspective.

Empathy, please!

As quickly as possible into the call, engage in real empathy for what the caller is expressing to you (no phony or patronizing tone of voice or canned responses, please!) Assure them that you are here to listen and find a fast way to express that you want to partner in a speedy solution. Cool down that volcano with genuine understanding about the problem and listen intently. Repeat back to the caller a brief summary of what you understand the problem to be. They will immediately realize that someone is listening and that someone is you.

Be a Hub of Go-To Resources

There is absolutely nothing worse for a frustrated caller than to hear, I don’t know or the ABSOLUTE professional kiss of death, “That’s not my department” or “That’s not my job.” If a caller really has reached you in error, or you really do not know how to fix what’s broken, have back-pocket lists of amazing recommendations you can make to redirect the caller toward a solution. For example, “I happen to know someone who is an ace in WordPress. It’s not my best suit, but with your permission, can I reach out to her and ask her to give you a call to see how she can help you?” or “You know, I know that the brand development committee was working on that report for you. I think the team leader has more first-hand knowledge about the status. I will get in contact with him immediately following this call to let him know you are in need of an urgent status update in preparation for your 2 o’clock tomorrow.”

Never EVER leave a customer, client, manager, or colleague high and dry without something to hold onto in a crisis moment.

Err on the Side of the Relationship

Sure this call may be heated and challenging, but you have got to remember that a few minutes extra that you spend on this call, providing genuine support, could be the make or break that keeps your client engaged and/or keeps you employed. Do not think short-term. Invest your time and energy into making this call a success and stop looking at the clock, thinking that the call is taking too long to resolve. Sure, in some functions, especially support desks and call-centers, managers expect calls to finish in a fixed period of time. If you are in this kind of environment, and find yourself on a call that is going overtime, make log notes. Document the cause for the call, the problem you were helping to resolve, and whenever possible, the outcome of the call. If you demonstrate a justifiable reason and positive result that benefits the client and company, this will serve as a tremendous benefit to all constituents.

The Real Abuser

Sometimes, we experience an unfortunate call where the person is just bent on berating you. They may question your intelligence, your loyalty, your competency in the job. They may be swearing and yelling. Again, go back to point number one about anxiety. Your job is not to be this person’s psychologist and it’s not to say that you should be left to feel like you need therapy after the call. Again, try to settle that earthquake while remaining confident and upbeat, but set boundaries, too. “Ms. So-and-So, I am really here to listen and to help you. I can help you so much faster if you and I partner on this. I need us to meet on calm, common ground so we can effectively brainstorm solutions together.”

If the person really persists in being abusive or outright offensive, you can put the brakes on like this: “Ms. So-and-So, I think you might be better served talking with my manager about this issue. I am going to call her to describe the trouble you are experiencing and ask her to follow up with you promptly.” Do not feel like you are passing the buck by doing this. Naturally, in cases of severely abusive or inappropriate conduct, you can send a separate email to your manager describing what was said to you. You also deserve workplace protection.

Corporal Klinger

Now that this caller knows that you are excellent at putting out fires and getting them exactly where they need to go, they may be hard-pressed to call anyone but you ever again. Sometimes it’s a manager from another department who starts asking you for tasks that he should delegate to his project manager. Sometimes it’s a customer of another division, or a client who really should be engaging with your client relations manager. But you, my friend, have got yourself a Corporal Klinger. What do you do?

Take the call. That’s what you do. Address their concerns in a brief way so they continue to feel heard and valued. Triage the situation and then route it to the correct avenue. When dealing with this type of caller, keep this type of sentiment in the back of your mind: “Mr. Klinger, I’m so glad you trust me to help you. I am going to transfer you now to Mr. Wright who has absolute specific expertise on your question. I am sure you will be able to trust him, too, with your portfolio.”

Remember. Everyone is your Customer.

 Submitted by Darcie