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Talk given to Vangent Inc., July 19, 2011

Talk given to Vangent Inc., July 19, 2011



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  • Stop bringing nasty customers home with youCustomer service, marketing, and reputation management are converging into one because everyone now has a voice…Think social mediaThe medium alters the messageDifferent messages are needed for different media
  • Expectations fed by companiesLook upon CS as a cost, rather than investment Reduce # of employees Automated call centers Supervisors/managers w/ authority to help customer are overworkedTaught if complain long enough you’ll get your way (don’t have a receipt, no problem)
  • Customers can tell when you are talking to them as a human being and when you aren’t
  • How many of you have ever flicked someone off? Yelled at someone?Although it doesn’t feel this way to them
  • Pushing the buttons of service staff, trying to make it more likely they will do something to make the situation worse
  • Comment about your competencyPeople are more abusive in telephone conversations – don’t see the person, just a disembodied voiceAlso means you have to adopt a stronger tone than you would in person to control the conversation (can’t use non-verbal tactics to control)
  • Have you noticed that adults that are hostile and aggressive often behave like small children?Reversion just happens, it isn’t consciousTakeaway: People react to their internal states, not to you personally
  • Refuse to be controlled, and refuse to react the way your attacker wishes, you will be a good way toward stopping the attack
  • It’s all bait, I’m angry
  • Defensive statement almost always have the word “I” or “we” in them.
  • Counter-attacks almost always contain the word “you” or is implied (I am going to hang up)
  • Ever been to a department store, couldn’t find an item, then finally find a staff member and they say, “Don’t know, that isn’t my department.” Infuriating, but you are no worse off than you once were. It is psychological, the employee is saying “you don’t mean squat to me.”Alternatively, “I don’t know, but if you wait a moment I can find out.”Think Zappos pizza ordering storyTell Lowe’s wood cutting example
  • Offering choices, no matter how small, goes a long way to making a customer feel valuedReduces their own sense of helplessness
  • Need to convey that you are treating the person as an individual with individual needs and wants while at the same time conveying that they are not receiving less than someone else in the same situation
  • Goal 1: Gain Control of the Interaction
  • If you have to keep explaining the same thing over and over, or continues to interrupt, customer isn’t ready to deal with problems
  • “When you yell at me, I feel upset. I would like you to stop yelling, or I am going to end our conversation.” They are concerned with their own feelings.
  • “When you yell at me, I feel upset. I would like you to stop yelling, or I am going to end our conversation.” They are concerned with their own feelings.
  • Common triggers - Tone of voice, whining, yelling, sarcastic, swearing, comments (racist, sexist) suggestions (incompetent, lazy) Count to 2 or three and/or take a deep breath before respondingNegative self-talk (why does this person hate me.. I don’t have to put up with this…) They aren’t really angry at me (only the situation), I’m better than them, I won’t stoop to their levelNavy SEAL training – goal setting, positive self-talk, arousal control (slow breathing)
  • Can also refer to a co-worker “an expert on staff that deals with your situation quite often”Also to an outside source (the lender), best if it can be an actual person rather than just a contact phone number
  • Just like one gives children timeoutsGives them time to reflect on their behavior
  • Remove hot words and harsh language
  • If it is possible to explain rules and the benefitsEveryone pays taxes, part of those taxes go to student loans, you would not want everyone defaulting and not paying you back
  • Make suggestions, we feel helpless when interacting with rules, this can lead to hostility. Choices gives us a sense of control
  • Be specific in describing behaviors (do not say, unless you calm down)Must be prepared to enforce consequencesChoice means customer chooses the consequence – if the customer feels you are punishing with power she will respond with increased force. With more control, customer is less likely to be aggressive
  • Could say “I would appreciate it if you would stop yelling”However, beginning with “I” you are focusing on your own motives, customer is not interested in what you appreciate
  • Saying “I warned you” sounds like a threat
  • It is patronizing, as is:You are welcome to call back when you get a gripYou are welcome to call back when you smarten upYou are welcome to call back if you act responsibly

Vangent Vangent Presentation Transcript

  • Dealing With Hostile Customers
    Vangent Inc.
    Rob Rouwenhorst, Ph.D.
    July 19, 2011
  • A brief history of Rob…
  • Defining Moments
  • Goals
    Shorten the length of time you have to spend with angry customers
    Reduce the intensity of their anger
    Reduce the stress
  • Why are People Angry
    Lip Service to Customer Service (CS)
    Lack of Investment in CS
    Frustrated people tend to be more aggressive
    Unreasonable expectations
    Expect the worst when they call
  • There is NO magic solution
    Talk includes numerous techniques
    Don’t memorize scripts and recite them
  • Personality vs. Situational
    Abusive customer behavior is situational
    People choose their emotional states
    You cannot control the emotions of another person
    Control how you react to their anger
  • Hostile Behavior
    Put you off balance
    Manipulate you
    Demean you
    Cause you to feel guilty
    Intimidate you
  • Verbal Abuse
    Sexist/racist comments
    Personal attacks
    Threats (e.g. I’ll have you fired)
    Accusations (e.g. calling you racist)
  • Angry People
    Adrenaline pumps
    Emotions get high
    Revert back to behavior learned earlier in life
  • Reaction
    Purpose of aggression is to control you
    We want to remove rewards for the bad behavior in question
  • Bait
    Behaviors designed to get you to react in an emotional way
    If you react, you hand control to the attacker
  • Customer: What the hell is wrong with you …
    Employee: Mr. Doe, you really sound upset about this
    Customer: Damn right I’m upset. What are you going to about this?
    Employee: I need some information from you so I can help. Can you give me your loan number?
  • Do Not Respond Defensively
    I only work here
    I try the best I can
    I am treating you fairly
    I know what I’m doing
    We don’t lose files
  • Do Not Counter-Attack
    You have no right to talk to me like that
    You don’t know what you are talking about
    I am going to hang up
    It’s too bad your parents didn’t teach you manners
  • Defensive behavior and counter-attacks are what the angry customer expects
    They are natural responses, but almost always make things worse
  • What Do They Want
    Their problem fixed (which is unlikely since you can’t make their debt go away)
    Want you to be helpful, even if you can’t solve their entire problem
  • People Want Choices
    “I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis is away from his desk. Can I take a message and he can call you back?”
    “I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis is away from his desk. Would you like him to call you back at a particular time, or would you prefer to call again after 2pm when he is available?”
  • Acknowledgement as Individuals
    Each person feels their situation is unique and special
    Acknowledging that a person is upset will help to calm them down
    Common mistake is to ignore the feelings being expresses and shift into problem-solving
    Customers perceive a move to problem-solving as uncaring and unfeeling
  • Sense of Equality
    We want to be treated as individuals
    We don’t want to receive less than other customers
  • Escalation
    If the customer is not treated in a way that helps them feel important and listened to, the customer gets more abusive
    Employee over-reacts, in turn increasing anger of caller
    Tactics we discuss are for diffusing this early on
  • CARP
    Problem Solving
  • Control
    Customer peppers you with questions or insults, talks over you, refuses to listen
    Their attempt to control the interaction
  • Acknowledge
    Let the customer see you understand their emotional state and situation
    Empathy & active listening
  • Refocus
    Transition from dealing with emotions to dealing with problem
    Do NOT deal with the problem until dealt with the feelings first
  • Problem Solving
    Get information
    Offer choices
    Agree on course of action
  • Principles of Defusing
  • Deal with the Feelings First
    Acknowledge the person’s upset
  • Avoid being a Bureaucrat
    Avoid formal language
    “It’s against our policy…”
    “Let me explain how we usually do things. We ask that you…”
  • Every Person/Situation is Different
    Strive to control the interaction
    Begin defusing early
    Be assertive, not aggressive or passive
    If you lose control of your emotions, you lose
  • Every Person/Situation is Different
    Don’t supply ammunition (e.g. sigh, mutter)
    Don’t ask questions you don’t want answers to
    Avoid high risk, high gain behavior
    Telling someone to be quiet or humor… great when they work but can backfire
  • Avoid Losing Your Cool
    Identify your triggers
    Slow down your response
    Positive self-talk
    Put on their shoes
  • Use Cooperative Language
    Instead of “We always send out this information to customers”
    “We usually send out this information…”
    “It’s odd you didn’t receive the information”(invites discussion without pinning responsibility on customer)
    “Perhapsit’s just gotten lost somewhere” (perhaps is another less absolute word)
  • The Use of “We”
    “We” suggests cooperation
    But don’t overdo
    “I guess we’d better take a look at that”
    “Let’s see what we can do about that”
  • Avoid Contentious Words & Phrases
    Customer: You wouldn’t treat me this way if I wasn’t green, you just don’t like green people
    Employee: Your race doesn’t affect how I treat you. We deal with lots of green people here
    Employee : Your BACKGROUND doesn’t affect how I treat you. We deal with people from EVERY WALK OF LIFE
  • Contentious Words & Phrases
    Ethnic background
    Blame (if you paid attention, obviously you haven’t)
    Absolutes (always, never)
    Suggest helplessness (there is nothing I can do)
    Suggest disinterest (I’m not interested in, that has nothing to do with)
  • I can’t
    We always
    You must have
    You can’t
    You’re wrong
    I don’t think I can
    We try to
    Is it possible that
    I don’t think that is going to help you
    It might be better if you
    Is it possible that
  • Questions
    “Do you know how fast your were going?”
    Less likely to provoke a person vs. a statement
    Allows officer to assess your state
    Asserts control over the interaction
  • The When Question
    Customer: You don’t give a damn about me. You have some nerve telling me I can’t…
    Employee: When did you start thinking that we aren’t concerned with your situation?
  • Person expects defense (I / we statements) or counterattack (you)
    If they respond to your question, you have gained control of the interaction
    When did you start feeling (or thinking) that [rephrase a part of what the person said in a non-inflammatory way]
  • Topic Grab
    Taking something the person has said, commenting or asking a question about it
    Temporarily distracts and returns the conversation to a more calm tone
  • Example
    Customer: What the hell do you expect me to do now. What kind of idiot are you? I have a family to support. The bank is going to take my home. How am I supposed to feed my kids, what are they…
    Employee: It must be frustrating Mr. Smith. How old are the kids?
  • Customer: Umm 5 and 7. Why do you ask?
    Employee: Well I have kids around that age too. I know how difficult it is to worry about them. Let me explain what you can do, so at least you will know your options.
    Customer: It isn’t fair
    Employee: Some people think it is unfair. Let me explain what you can do next, OK?
  • Broken Record
    Client not paying attention
    Repeat 1 or 2 short sentences until the person starts to hear you
    Choose language that shows you are willing to help and that you are concerned
  • Customer: [talks on and on]
    Employee: Mr. Smith, it is frustrating. Let me explain what you can do
    Customer : [talks on and on]
    Employee : I know you’re frustrated. Let me explain what you can do
    Customer : [talks on and on]
    Employee : It’s frustrating. Can I explain what you might do next?
  • Customer: Damn right it’s frustrating.
    Employee: It is. What you might do next is…
  • Silence
    When the customer asks if you are still there it provides an opportunity to reassert control
    Acknowledge customer’s feelings
  • Customer: Why are people so inefficient? I called the bank six times and each time I get told the same thing… what’s wrong with them… I am sick and tired…
    Employee: [Says nothing, making sure not to say words like “yes” or “uh huh”]
    Customer : Hello, are you still there?
    Employee : Yes, and I know you are frustrated. I will help you if you give me your name.
  • Customer: It’s Mr. Smith
    Employee: Thank you Mr. Smith. Now, if I understand, you are upset because you… Can I ask you a few questions to help us get to the bottom of this?
    Customer: OK
  • Allow Venting
    If you constantly interrupt the message you are sending is you aren’t listening
    When they start to wind down acknowledge their feelings to prove you are paying attention
    Then refocus and problem-solve
  • Acknowledgment
  • Empathy Statements
    Show employee understands the situation
    Nothing to show that employee agrees with the customer
  • Examples
    It must be frustrating. It sounds like you’re pretty annoyed
    You must feel like you’re getting the run around
    It must be pretty difficult to make ends meet
    It must seem like these things take forever
  • Avoid “I”
    Focuses the feelings on you
    Run the risk of providing ammunition
    Employee: “I understand how frustrating this is for you”
    Customer: “How could you possibly understand?”
  • Do not use the word “but”
    I realize you’ve been waiting a long time, but all these people were in front of you
    I realize you’ve been waiting a long time. [pause] There are a number of other people who have been here quite a while.
  • Referring to Supervisor
    Tend to treat people who we think have status and power with more respect
    Who says it often makes a difference
    Far more powerful if you offer it rather than waiting for customer to demand it
  • Disengaging
    Short time only!
    Consult a colleague
    Consult with supervisor
    Check policy or laws
    Check file/computer
  • Listening Responses
    Proves you are listening
    Helps clarify the situation
    So, if I understand you correctly, you’re saying that … Is that correct?
    I want to make sure I understand. Are you saying that …
  • Problem Solving
  • Steps
    Define the customer’s problem
    State your own requirements/ limitations
    Share information
    Explore alternatives
    Agree on course of action
  • Define the Problem
    Identify the root cause
    Must be calm enough to focus on the problem and to listen
    If not, control-acknowledge-refocus
  • Provide Information
    Customer needs to know:
    What you can and can’t do
    Why you can’t do what is desired
    Benefits of rules and procedures
  • Helpful Phrases
    “Sir, let me explain what I can and cannot do for you”
    “Were you aware that our job is to ___”
    “Perhaps nobody has taken the time to explain the situation to you. Let me try”
  • Create Agreement
    Ask questions guaranteed to get agreement
    “I’m sure you want to settle this as quickly as possible, right?”
    “I agree that the process seems to take a long time. I am sure you would agree that your priority is to get this fixed.”
  • Offer Alternatives
    Offer suggestions about what you can do, in addition to what the client can do
  • Follow-Thru
    Don’t make promises you can’t keep
  • Setting Limits
  • Assertive Limit Setting
    Decide based on:
    Failure of gentler defusing techniques
    The person’s behavior
  • Limit Setting
    Define behaviors that are unacceptable
    A request (implied) to change those behaviors
    Indicate consequences
    Question that gives the customer a choice
  • “Sir, if you continue to swear and yell, we will have to end our conversation. Would you prefer to continue or stop?”
  • “Would you like to continue or stop now? It is up to you whether we continue. We can continue if you stop [behavior], or you can call some other time.”
  • Enforcing Limits
    Reference the limits previously stated
    A request to comply with the consequence
    An offer for further help
  • “Sir, I explained to you that I won’t continue this conversation if you continued to yell. I am ending this discussion now, but you are welcome to call back some other time.”
  • Don’t say, “You are welcome to call back when you calm down.”
  • Wrap
    Twitter: @robrouwenhorst
  • Customer Happiness
  • Seven Drivers of Customer Happiness
    Know me, remember me… since I know a lot about you!
    Give me choices… that make sense for me
    Help me be better, do more… and become part of my fabric
    Don’t bother me… with spurious stuff
    Surprise me… I can’t imagine all that’s out there
    Listen to me… I have a bunch of good ideas, too
    Make it easy for me… to do business with you
  • 1. Know me, remember me - Amazon
    “personalized” intro, with relevant
    recommendations based on past searches,
    purchases, and “customers like me”
    easy access to my Cart,
    my Account, and Help
  • 1. Know me, remember me - Ritz-Carlton
    Three Steps Of Service
    • A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest's name.
    • Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest's needs.
    • Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest's name.
    From: “Gold Standards” in http://corporate.ritzcarlton.com/en/about/goldstandards.htm
  • 2. Give me choices - Netflix
  • 2. Give me choices - “click to call”
    customer lands on “high
    value page”, “dwells” too
    long in Help, or at checkout
    ... and is stuck
    but he gets box inviting him to get call from CS
    immediately or when it’s convenient for him
    system sends web log data to agent, skipping general “how can I help you
    --> shorter handle time + higher conversion rate + more satisfied customers
  • 2. Give me choices - Esurance tagline
  • 3. Help me be better, do more - German Autobahn
    In case of accidents,
    weather problems,
    general congestion …
    • turns on radio
    • plays over radio or CD
    • provides warnings ahead of next exit
    • explains reasons
    • reassures drivers
  • 4. Don’t bother me - eliminate dumb contacts
  • 5. Surprise me - respond and act
    • Upset or “irate” customers are like the turtle on its shell – they cannot fix the situation (turn over)
    • The role of the person handling upset customers is to take extra time (again) to fix the situation, thus “flipping the turtle”
    • Then, if the customer resumes buying, they are CPR (customer permanently retained)
  • 5. Surprise me - “down selling”
    “Down selling is telling the buyer that the item he/she want to buy is inappropriate. For example, Garden.com informs customers if they are buying flower bulbs during the wrong season or for the wrong geographic area.  Naturally, they then suggest alternate products that are better suited for the customer.   
    Up selling and cross selling increase revenue.  Down selling increases revenue because a happy customer will return and tell others about his/her good experience.  Down selling also reduces the cost of returns.  Up selling, cross selling and down selling should be done on the Internet, call center, in person and any other way you sell.”
    From: “Best Practices CRM”, in http://www.r2isc.com/Best%20Practices%20CRM.htm;
    bold added for emphasis
  • 6. Listen to me - Amazon
  • 6. Listen to me - Amazon
    Then, send
    email to customer when it’s available for (pre)order - “wow, you remembered!”
  • 7. Make it easy for me - Amazon
  • 7. Make it easy for me - Netflix
  • Best Service(Challenge Customer Demand for Service)
  • Wrap
    Twitter: @robrouwenhorst
  • Angry Customers & CustomerHappiness, Sources and Inspirations
    Bacal, Stop Angry, Hostile Customers Cold; CreateSpace, 2011
    Dixon, Freeman & Toman, “Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers”; HBR, July-August 2010
    Fornell, The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference; Palgrave MacMillan, 2007
    Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness; Alfred A. Knopf, 2006
    Good Experience; http://www.goodexperience.com/ (old blog led by Mark Hurst)
    Hsieh, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose; Business Plus, 2010
    Peters, The Pursuit of Wow! Every Person's Guide to Topsy-Turvy Times; Vintage, 1994
    Price & Jaffe, The Best Service is No Service: How to Liberate Your Customers From Customer Service, Control Costs and Keep Them Happy; Wiley/Jossey-Bass, 2008