The correct way to handle grumpy callers.

Posted in Best Practices and tagged

How to Handle Angry Callers

With all of the shenanigans call center staff has to contend with on a daily basis, surely there must be an extensive manual dedicated to the navigation of difficult in-call situations. Um, not so much. There is no such manual in existence, just like there is no manual for life, or childbirth, or marriage.

But we really don’t mind. Here’s why:

The fact is call center etiquette focuses on statistics and metrics.

Numbers. Methodology. It’s fairly black and white with no gray area in between for variables. You either hit positive key metrics, or you don’t; and if you don’t, your call center suffers.

Take that knowledge and apply it to how operations must proceed when dealing with difficult – or as the title says, grumpy – callers. No matter how efficient call centers are, a percentage of calls will most definitely be negative in nature.

So, how do you apply this knowledge? Simple. Here are the standard call center metrics utilized industry-wide to measure success:

Quality scores.

This is a term typically used to determine overall caller experience, and it’s measured through quality control recording. What’s that? Well, every time you’re on the phone with a customer service representative (CSR) and they say, “the following phone call is being recorded for quality control purposes,” that’s what quality control recording is.

A business’ quality control team measures level of service, candor, personality, and adherence to scripts or certain words. The emphasis falls on conformity. If all callers conform to the same system of speaking, it provides a high-quality overall score for the call center.

They score each call based on a system specifically derived by the company. It could be letter grades, number grades from 1-10, whatever the company chooses to use as its measurement. Careful analysis will determine just what kind of service the caller experienced based on those scores.

Now this does not mean that a “grumpy” caller will ensure a low quality score. Rather, it’s those grumpy calls that may determine the high scores depending on how the operator responds.

That’s the first thing to keep in mind: getting the grumpy calls doesn’t necessarily mean your operators aren’t servicing effectively. The truth of it is, if grumpy calls come in here and there, with high quality scores, those callers are kept to a minimum, and they don’t escalate to the point of requiring the attention of a supervisor.

Subverting the need for a supervisor’s involvement is ideal. So observe the quality scores.

First call resolution.

How do we specifically measure quality scores? One of the first things to evaluate is something called first call resolution (FCR).

It’s a systematic analysis of calls per day, or per week or more, to determine which calls have been “handled” properly on the first call.

They measure this by noticing repeat callers from the same number, suggesting that the issue or problem wasn’t initially resolved, or the question wasn’t initially answered. What does that mean?

Inefficient time management. Ineffective productivity. The longer operators are spending with the same callers, the less time to handle more calls. And that’s bad for call center business.

The same applies for the grumpy callers out there with big problems. Operators need to focus on trying to solve the problem immediately. There’s no “call back,” no “transferring.” Handle the issue. Be straightforward and solution-minded.

This doesn’t mean the end-result is a happy caller! In fact, more often than not, the caller is still a little peeved, or even a lot peeved. But the point of trying to resolve the problem is that to some degree, the problem itself has been solved, even if the caller’s disenchantment has not.

There is, however, a direct correlation there. The study of call center psychology reveals that even if a customer is getting crabby on the phone, when the problem is resolved efficiently, the customer will actually be satisfied in the long run, and will resolve that grumpiness in his own time. That’s key.

Again, the emphasis for your telephone answering service here is on time management. Whatever time the call center spends is money, basically. And the end result is an exceptional FCR metric percentage.

Calls per hour.

This is undoubtedly more black and white than anything else; but it doesn’t discount the validity and importance of the metric. Statistically, the more calls handled, the more effective the call center.

Why? It touches on a variety of different aspects: conflict resolution, productivity, sales.

If an operator does handle a comparably sizable number of calls per hour, it’s safe to say from an analytical standpoint that the operator is resolving the issues in a timely and favorable manner. Excellent conflict resolution typically will result in higher call volume.

Productivity obviously is a no-brainer, as the more calls an operator takes will inevitably mean more business for the company. This is especially true if the call center has an element of sales strategy and planning involved. The more calls, the greater the potential for increased sales and profitability.

If a call center’s strategic administrative division is researching ways to improve the calls-per-hour metric, one might consider in-depth conflict resolution training. Better training will keep your employees less stressed when confronted by displeased callers. Another possible improvement is to have the information technology department update software and hardware to increase efficiency. Call transfers would be expedited, and signals and transmissions would be sharpened.

Last but not least…

Stay calm.

Truthfully, this is probably the most important metric (and it’s not even really a metric, per se, but a guideline).

Strict, methodical and almost mechanical without being impersonal: that’s the key. Your operators must literally not take anything personally. Letting every insult, every snide comment glide past will not only deflect further dragging of the conversation, but it will reduce the amount of time spent per call, increase the potential for resolution, and will thus lead to favorable results.

In essence, if the operator is grumpy, the caller will be grumpier. Plain and simple.

The operator’s goal is to stay focused and aim toward resolution against all odds, putting the needs of the customer first. Concentrating solely on getting through the call and addressing the needs of the customer may change the caller’s mood from appalled to appreciative!

In other words, allow the caller to vent. Let them be grumpy, let them talk out their frustrations. And keep your cool no matter how tense it gets. It’s the single most important guideline of basic counseling methods.

An operator’s main service to a caller is to simply listen. And only when the caller is completely done, respond. In many cases, after venting, callers actually feel better! We see this repeatedly in several other fields, such as healthcare, and the small business arena, among others. The ability to listen is crucial. It is a learned skill that leads to exemplary communication of information, assimilation of ideas, the application of those ideas in the real world, and interaction with others.

In the end, all of this does make all the difference. It’s the cornerstone of excellent customer service in a call center, hands down.

It’s not an exact science.

But it’s close enough. The key is remembering that there is a person on the other end of the line. And that the operator is also a person listening, not a machine, not a recording.

Keeping that in mind along with industry metrics will ensure that you have a call center dedicated to weathering any grumpy storm, and appreciating the “textbook calls” praising excellence of execution.

In other words: practice makes perfect.

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