The call centre dark side – why are some customers just so angry?

With all the talk of Star Wars I got to thinking about the dark side of contact centre life.

There are days when working in this environment leaves you feeling like everyone’s punch bag. Fielding one angry call after another can be exhausting and demoralizing; even for seasoned contact centre agents.

These angry customers that fuel the poor reputation of the call centre industry. In fact, I’ve personally come under fire for writing an article about how I’d be proud for my own children to work in a call centre one day; because some people think it’s a career from hell. I disagree, I’ve worked with enough successful contact centres to know that even though there’s a dark side to the industry, it still can be one of the most rewarding career paths. There are many amazing and very successful people in the industry that have worked up from front line agent to Senior Managers and Directors.

Perhaps it’s my belief in people, or simply seeing how an agent can turn an angry customer into a satisfied one that makes me so passionate about this industry. It’s no small task to diffuse an escalating situation especially when all you have at your disposal is your expertise and your voice. Being able to achieve this makes a real difference to people’s lives and is extremely rewarding. Being able to rise above the challenges is what makes it all worthwhile.

Having said that, experienced agents do have an advantage. Because they know people and how to read them, they understand that often there is more to it than just angry tone and words.

What’s the real problem?

Let’s consider an angry customer. They may well be short tempered, even unreasonable and their anger might be directed at you, but in the end it isn’t about you, it’s about them. Most of the time they are simply angry because they are frustrated. Something has gone wrong, something doesn’t work anymore, or something is costing them money. It could even be all three, and your company could be at fault, but still it’s not about you, it’s about them.

One of the fastest ways to diffuse an angry call is to get the customer to understand that you’re on their side. Empathy is a key tool to winning customers over. When customers are angry it could be because they feel as though no one really cares about them or their problem. But when they realise that they have an ally, willing to listen and help find a solution, it can take all the bluster out of their sails. Empathy, not sympathy is what wins them over.

Who’s not listening?

Another problem with angry customers is that they can be unreasonable. As much as you try empathise and get them to give you the info you need to help them, they aren’t really listening to what you’re saying, they just want to vent. It takes a great deal of restraint – and this is where I have so much respect for contact centre agents – to remain calm and professional and keep the call on track. Sometimes customers will run out of steam enough for you to be able to assist them, or have an ‘ah-ha’ moment that perhaps anger isn’t the best approach. If you can keep your cool despite their ranting, you may just be able to get through to them.

System fails:

There are times when the systems simply let you down.  The caller may have been calm when they first called in, but after 3 dropped calls, or consistently being routed to the wrong department, even the most reasonable person would be flustered. At that point they are likely so exasperated, they just want someone who will take ownership of their problem and help get it solved. They don’t want promises, or to be put on hold again, they simply want a solution without any further hassle. Call centres that empower their agents to be able to do this can win over customers even when things have gone wrong earlier on the call.

The hassle factor:

People today lead busy lifestyles and they have the expectation that things should operate efficiently. As much as technology has its benefits, it can also be a real hassle when things go wrong. It’s this interruption to their well-organised lives that many people can’t handle. A small glitch can become a major issue simply because our lives are so tied into technology. If you’ve ever lost or damaged your mobile phone you’ll know exactly how this feels. What these people really want is for their lives to get back to “normal” without the hassle of having to spend time fixing the problem. If you can help them do this you can be their hero rather than their punch bag.

While there are people that get overly and unreasonably angry, a lot of time there are additional factors that have escalated a situation.  As a contact centre agent you have the opportunity to really hone your people skills and look beyond the anger to help the customer with a solution. May the force be with you.

For a free report on the 5 keys to Contact Centre Success by Carolyn Blunt see http://bit.ly/5keysdl

Carolyn is Managing Director of Real Results Training www.real-results.co.uk +44 1614082003 (GMT) hello@real-results.co.uk and co-author of Delivering Effective Social Customer Service available on Amazon.com Tweet @carolynblunt or say ‘Hi’ on Linked In https://uk.linkedin.com/in/carolynblunt