Categories
Call Center

7 Tips to Conduct Engaging Customer Surveys

Incorporate Best Practices into Your Customer Survey Process

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Do you survey your customers or clients? Should you do a customer survey? And if you already have a survey process in place, do the results meet your needs? Or should it be overhauled or even retired?

Regardless of where you are on the survey continuum, don’t rollout a customer survey without first determining if it’s necessary, ascertaining what you hope to accomplish, and having a well thought out plan.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Here are seven tips to conduct engaging surveys:

1. Determine Your Why

Decide what you want your customer survey to accomplish. Never do one until you know why you’re doing it. The worst reasons to do a survey are because everyone else is or because you think you’re supposed to. If it doesn’t make good business sense, don’t do it.

Here are some possible reasons why you should have a customer survey: To improve the level of customer service, to reduce customer churn, or to close more sales. But don’t try to achieve all three objectives with one survey. Pick one.

2. Fine Tune Your Focus

Next, you need to narrow your focus. Don’t expect one customer survey will meet the needs of every department throughout your organization. Thinking that you can conduct one survey to give useful information to your service department and your sales department and your marketing department is folly. Again, pick one.

3. Assign Responsibility

Based on your survey’s why and focus, assign it to the department that will most benefit from the results. Then pick a person in that department to champion it. They may or may not be the person to design and implement the customer survey, but they do need to ensure it moves forward.

4. Design with Intention

In planning your customer survey, be intentional with its design.

In preparation, take as many surveys as you can from other companies to see what you like and don’t like. Common survey issues are ones that are too long or too short. Other pet peeves include forcing users to explain their answer or not providing the option to leave a comment. Posting a time estimate for the survey helps increase participation; displaying a status bar increases the completion rate. Both are nice touches.

5. Test and Retest

With the design of the customer survey complete, it’s time to test it. The survey designer should test it thoroughly before asking for more input. Next, have employees in the sponsoring department test it. Then solicit input from the rest of your company. Last, invite select customers to go through the beta version.

After each round of testing, implement the recommended changes that support your objectives. But don’t implement every suggestion. Just do the ones that make sense.

6. Rollout Your Survey

At this point, you’re ready to publish your survey. But don’t blast it to every potential recipient, through all possible channels all at once. Instead do a soft launch. This way, if there are errors or oversights, you have a chance to fix them before everyone experiences the problem.

7. Iterate and Repeat

If you have a rolling survey that continues to collect data over time, periodically look at it to see if it needs tweaking but do this only after waiting a sufficient time and gathering enough data to do a thorough analysis of its strengths and weaknesses.

And if your customer survey is a one-shot endeavor, look at what went well and what didn’t. This can inform the next time you launch the survey, because—unless you really bungled it—you’ll want to do it again.

Conclusion

When done properly, customer surveys can provide valuable data and critical feedback to inform decision making. To achieve the best results, apply these tips to your design and implementation process.

Happy surveying!

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Integrate with Your Organization

Don’t Stay in Your Silo or Function in Isolation

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

I once needed to call a company in the healthcare sector. With their call center I encountered long wait times, surly representatives, and little help in resolving my dilemma. I made many unsuccessful phone calls.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

At last, one rep transferred me to a different department. My experience with that call center was the opposite of the first one.

The employee answered quickly, was cheerful, and offered help. In one phone call, lasting but a couple of minutes, she resolved my concern. I thanked her for her helpful resolution and remarked how difficult it was to get to her department.

Her response took me aback.

“No one knows we exist,” she laughed. “We’re our company’s best kept secret.”

It seems she worked in a silo within her organization. Her silo functioned wonderfully, in contrast to the organization’s primary call center. What made the difference? I assume it was management, but that’s a topic for another time.

Today’s discussion is about integrating your call center with the rest of your organization.

It’s Us Instead of Them

When you integrate with your organization you move away from the mindset of us referring to the call center and them referring to the rest of the organization.

Instead, everyone in the company becomes us.

Making this mental switch is key. Without it, any plans to integrate with your organization will not succeed. Embracing a holistic us mentality is the first step to successfully integrate with your organization.

It’s Focusing on Others Instead of Self

As you make this mindset shift, you also shift your focus. By redefining us to include the entire organization, you encompass a greater set of employees who can band together to serve patients and callers. Isn’t that why your organization exists? To help patients and callers? To best accomplish this the focus must be on callers and what you can do—with your whole company behind you—to best address their concerns or needs.

It’s a Team Approach

This reformed focus embraces a team approach to problem solving. The goal isn’t to make yourself look good or even your whole department. The goal is to work as a team to make your organization look good. When you do this you and your company win, and—more importantly —so do your patients and callers.

Implementation

This grand vision to integrate with your organization is easier to visualize than to realize.

Though you can start it from within your call center, it will take time to permeate through your entire organization. It’s easier when the initiative comes from the C-suite. And, of course, some managers will resist this change. But this reveals their selfishness.

They’re more concerned about maintaining the status quo than about what’s best for the organization and your customers.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Call Center

Avoid the Covid Excuse in Your Call Center

Admit Your Service Faults Instead of Blaming the Pandemic

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Different countries around the world and various areas within have had differing responses to the covid pandemic. For some it is but a memory—albeit a painful one. Others, however, are only now beginning to emerge from its grip, with its influence lingering on.

Regardless, it’s impacted our call centers and how we do business. Many are quick to blame it for their staffing shortfalls and service failures. I call this the covid excuse.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Citing the covid excuse for low staffing levels, reduced hours of support, and delayed response times may be truthful, but it’s wearing thin.

Some businesses have successfully responded to the pandemic and rebounded appropriately, returning to their prior levels of service, or even surpassing them.

Yet others continue to struggle. They blame covid for their ongoing issues. And, for the most part, using the covid excuse to justify their shortcomings reached a receptive audience.

But don’t expect the public’s acceptance of covid as the explanation for continued ongoing service problems to last much longer.

Initially, virtually every company was quick to use the covid excuse as justification for everything that went wrong. But as we inched forward, many companies have moved away from blaming the pandemic. And wisely so.

The purpose of call centers is to serve customers and react to prospects. If there’s a service shortfall, regardless of the reason, that’s a bad reflection on the call center and poor customer service. It must be corrected, covid or not.

Provide Excellence

Many call centers initially struggled as they attempted to deal with lockdown restrictions, work-at-home mandates, and employee concerns. Yet they adjusted and adapted. They persisted in holding high their ideals of providing excellent customer service.

And despite having glitches along the way, they soon stopped using the covid excuse and simply assumed responsibility for their service shortfalls.

Not having enough agents working or seeing key performance indicator slip didn’t matter if it was pandemic related or not. Instead, it was something to fix, and they fixed it.

They focused on providing service excellence, pandemic or not.

Use the Covid Excuse

Other operations, however, took the opposite approach. They used the covid excuse whenever they could, and they continue to do so—even when it’s not true. This occurs for understaffing, offering poor customer service, and failing to meet caller needs.

While the pandemic may have initially caused these problems to surface, it’s disingenuous to continue to use the explanation—even if there remains an element of truth to it. The covid excuse is blamed for price increases, service delays, and supply chain issues.

The public is tired of hearing it; they don’t care. They expect service and expect companies to deliver. It’s that simple.

Moving Forward

Every person and every company had to navigate the covid pandemic. While we may never forget it and the long-ranging effects it produced, it is time to move beyond it.

It’s time to focus on serving our clients and not blame circumstances when we failed to deliver.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Remote Patient Monitoring

Add New Services to Better Serve Your Stakeholders

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Whether you’re an in-house medical call center provider or a for-profit outsourcer, look for ways to add more services to better serve your stakeholders. This will increase your value to them and help your community. It will also increase the value of your operation to your organization or to owners.

One such option is remote patient monitoring.

Remote patient monitoring tracks the output of patient devices as they gather healthcare-related data. Much of this plethora of information yields to automation. But at some point, the output requires human intervention. Why not let your call center agents provide that personal evaluation that surpasses an algorithm or escapes the abilities of artificial intelligence (AI).

You already have the staff to do it. And regardless if they have medical training or not, they do have a working understanding of healthcare. Also, you have the infrastructure in place to do it. Though you may need to add a module or app to your existing platform to handle remote patient monitoring, you already have the basic technology in your call center.

When you offer remote patient monitoring, two benefits result.

The first one is that you can better serve your stakeholders and your medical community. And the other outcome is that you make yourself a more valuable vendor to your stakeholders.

If you’re an in-house operation, this earns you more attention at budget time and a more esteemed standing within your organization. And if you’re an outsource call center, the results our increased revenues and a more holistic service package to offer to your clients.

But don’t rush into remote patient monitoring without careful planning. Consider the technology aspect, the training aspect, and the legal aspect. None of these are insurmountable issues, but it is critical to address each one in advance. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

By all means, consider remote patient monitoring for your medical call center. Just make sure you do it right, and your chances of success will increase greatly.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Call Center

Going Beyond the Call

Offer Call Backs and Customer Service Options

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

In thinking about going beyond the call, you may assume this is an article about offering web chat, text messaging, and email response in addition to handling phone calls. Though I’m an advocate of these options, thereby turning your call center into a contact center, these are not my focus this time.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

Instead, I’m addressing what you can do with the telephone to go beyond the call. Here are some considerations:

Call Backs

Offering to call back the caller instead of having them wait on hold—in queue—is an option call centers can offer.

Some callers like this flexibility and others don’t. Some are skeptical they’ll receive a call back, while a few have tried it and never got the promised call—or it came hours later instead of the few minutes they were led to believe. Yet many delight in this option.

The benefits of a call back for the customer is not having to wait on hold, being able to attend to other activities, and a feeling of greater control.

Benefits to the call center are fewer callers on hold, lower toll-free costs, and agents who have a chance to prepare to engage with the caller before placing the call. Even something as simple as bringing up the customer’s account in advance saves agent time and reduces customer angst.

Abandoned Calls

What do you do with callers who hang up in frustration while on hold? Hope they’ll call back? It might not happen. Be glad for one less call to handle? This is a short-sighted response that misses the reason for the call center in the first place.

What if you took the initiative and called the customer back? “We see that you called us earlier today, but we couldn’t get to your call in time. Is there anything we can help you with now?”

Yes, some customers will have given up, figured it out on their own, or decide to vent their frustrations. But many will be impressed you called to check with them and have heartfelt gratitude you made the effort.

In doing so you can turn around a negative experience and correct it. As you do so, you’ll forge a stronger relationship between your organization and your customers.

Surveys

Some organizations do follow up surveys, either at the conclusion of a call or afterward. If you conduct surveys, what are your goals in doing so?

Is it merely to amass a statistical database of C-Sat (customer satisfaction) scores? There’s nothing wrong with this, but too often the end-of-call surveys try to learn about the effectiveness of the call before the caller knows if the advice they received is correct.

A better reason for follow up surveys is to determine customer service failures, providing a chance to correct your call center’s shortcoming. Then you can work to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one.

Going Beyond the Call

These are ways you can go beyond the call to better serve your customers. And that’s the reason your call center exists.

Read more in Peter’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Sales and Marketing and Sticky Customer Service featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry. Read his latest book, Healthcare Call Center Essentials.

Categories
Call Center

Make Chat Availability a Priority

Make Customer Service a Distinguishing Factor for Your Organization

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Companies are increasingly offering chat services as a way for their customers and prospects to reach them. Not only is this an option that more and more people want to use, but many businesses find it’s a cost-effective customer service solution.

Author and blogger Peter Lyle DeHaan

As such, you’d think that customer-focused enterprises would make chat availability a priority. Yet in my experience as a customer, too many do not.

Avoid Turning Chat On and Off

I’ve experienced multiple companies that turn their chat option on and off throughout the day. Though their posted schedule says they’re available during business hours, their practice runs counter to that.

One site indicated that their chat was online. Excited, I begin typing my message, but before I could press enter, the chat availability indication turned from online to offline.

Hopeful it was a momentary glitch, I stared at the screen for the next several minutes, poised to press enter as soon as the chat availability changed back to online.

I got tired of waiting and went on to my next project. This was most frustrating because I needed to reach them, and chat was their only option.

I’ve seen this occur on other websites as well, with chat toggling between online and offline throughout the day. This is no way to serve customers. But it is a way to frustrate them.

Have a Schedule and Follow It

A retail operation would never open and close throughout the day; no self-respecting business would ever do that. When a customer shows up during regular business hours, they expect to come in and make a purchase. The same mentality should apply to chat service.

Make a schedule and staff accordingly to meet that schedule. Yes, when it’s difficult to hire and keep staff, meeting a desired schedule is problematic.

Yet it should be a priority for any company that cares about its customers. And every business that wants to stay in business must put their customers first.

If staffing levels drop too low to support chat in a reasonable time frame, don’t shut it down. Instead note what delay customers may encounter, apologize for the inconvenience, and offer an alternate solution.

One company I deal with boasted 24/7 chat availability. That didn’t last long. They soon scaled back to business hours availability. And a few months after that, they reconfigured their chat window to be a front end to email.

You type in your question is normal, and they tell you they’ll get back with you in a couple of hours. The answer comes by email, even if you leave the chat window open.

Offer Alternatives

In addition to chat, other common customer service options include the telephone and email.

Presumably if a company can’t staff their chat service, they can’t operate their call center either, which carries an even more time-critical expectation than chat. But many companies have cut their telephone support altogether.

That leaves email. Of the three communication options, it’s the most frustrating, with lengthy delays lasting days—or being ignored altogether.

With email, back-and-forth interaction, which happens with ease on chat and phone interaction, is difficult and time consuming. Imagine waiting two days for an email response and receiving a message that says, “What is your account number?”

Yes, there are also self-service options, with many companies offering FAQs, blog posts, and customer forums where users help each other.

FAQs and blog posts seldom address the more specific questions I have. And I try to avoid forums because I have no way of knowing if the help they’re offering is reliable or not. And too often no one ever responds to the questions I post.

Chat Solutions

Offering accessible and prompt customer service is even more critical today than ever before, where a business can lose a customer at the click of a button. Offering chat service is a common and cost-effective way to do this.

But to be successful, do it wisely. This means no turning on and off chat throughout the day, posting and adhering to a realistic schedule of chat availability, and offering customer service alternatives.

And if your staffing levels don’t allow for this to occur, look for a contact center you can outsource this to, either to back you up as needed, according to a set schedule, or around the clock.

This is the perfect solution to providing consistent chat availability to your customers.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Go Beyond the Call  

Seek Ways to Solve Caller’s Pain Points

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

As a medical call center your job is to answer healthcare-related calls and respond to each one efficiently. Yet what if this isn’t what the patient needs? To paraphrase and old saying, sometimes we can win the battle but lose the war. That’s why we need to go beyond the call.

Being efficient sometimes gets in the way of truly winning. Call centers have a lot of metrics to track. These help us quantify results, but they may not measure outcomes. We need to find a balance between efficiency and patient-centric results.

Here are some ideas:

Offer Empathy

Sometimes callers need to know you heard them just as much as they need their issue addressed. This requires listening and offering empathy. Correcting a caller’s issue but doing so abruptly or without listening to them leaves the caller more frustrated than satisfied.

To you, they are one more call in a busy day. But to them you may be the most important call they’ll make all day.

Pursue Resolution

Other times what a patient asks for isn’t what they need—not really. Yet a passive-aggressive response results in answering the question, while not resolving the problem.

For example, a patient might ask for the web address of your online portal so they can check the results of a recent test. You give them the address because that’s what they asked for. Yet you know the results they want won’t be available for at least another day. Do you tell them that, even though it’s not what they asked? Can you suggest a different method for them to get the results quicker?

Anticipate Problems

Let’s say a patient calls to verify the location of where they need to go for an appointment with a specialist. You give them the address.

They didn’t ask about parking, but you know that’s an issue that frustrates many people. So, you can go the extra mile and let them know where they should park and how much time to allow themselves so they can arrive at the specialist’s office without being frazzled or out of breath.

Stay on the Line

Back to our caller who asked for the web address. You can give it to them and get off the call. Or you can give it to them and stay on the line to see if they have any more questions. Maybe they wrote it down wrong. If you’re still connected, you can clarify it, instead of making them call back a second time.

Or you can help them navigate the site, offering a quick tip that will save several minutes of frustration on their part. The point is, don’t end the call prematurely. If you think they’ll need help, the best approach may be to stick around.

Putting These Tips into Practice

You may acknowledge that while these are insightful ideas, they’re not practical for your busy call center and that you can’t afford to implement them. But recall the concept of winning the battle and losing the war.

That means the better perspective is that perhaps you can’t afford not to.

Think about it.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Telephone Answering Service

Look for Ways to Better Serve Your Clients

Seek Initiatives to Stand Out from Your Competition

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

You’re proud of your telephone answering service; at least I hope you are. You strive to serve your clients and their callers well. You do things with excellence. You relish the fact that you facilitate hundreds or thousands of communication efforts every day.

Yet your competitors feel the same way. Every answering service does.

So how can you stand out? What can you do to differentiate yourself from every other service, which seems to most people to be just as impressive as yours?

You should focus on providing quality service; everyone does. It’s not a distinguishing factor anymore but an expectation.

Instead look for ways to better serve your clients. Here are some areas to consider.

Inquiries

The first idea to better serve your clients is to start before they become your customer. One area to look at is the amount of time from when they click on your ad to when they’re having a true conversation with someone on your team. An automated response or AI-powered bot doesn’t count. Only true human interaction matters.

Strive to shorten this time as much as possible. Establish systems to aid in this effort, and reform your sales staff’s perspectives of the imperative need to respond right away.

Onboarding

Once you’ve closed the sale, the next step is setting up their account and beginning to answer calls. Again, measure the time from when they commit—such as submitting paperwork or signing an online form—to when you answer their first call.

Streamline this process is much as possible. Cut bureaucratic steps. Look to do functions in tandem rather than sequentially.

Yet balance speed with completeness.

Don’t subject them to a generic solution within an hour or even a few minutes with the goal to add the details later. This will give them a negative first impression of your answering service, one from which you might never recover.

The goal is to minimize the time from when they hire you to when you’re providing complete, first-class service. The longer you take, the more opportunity they have for buyer’s remorse to sit in. Take too long and they could cancel service before they even start.

Message Delivery

The TAS industry has made great progress in better serving clients with all the innovative options in your arsenal of tools to get them their messages and information quickly and effectively. Yet most of these capabilities exist on your platform, which means every other answering service has these options at their disposal as well.

Look for other innovative ways to help your customers with their communication needs, delighting them in the process. This will be a key distinguishing characteristic to better serve your clients.

Billing

Have you ever received an invoice that was hard to understand? Did it contain descriptions that didn’t make sense or line items that delineated information that confused you?

Do the invoices your answering service sends carry these same issues?

Information on most invoices reflect what the business needs to better manage the financial aspect of their operation. The side effect is a less-than-ideal presentation to customers.

This is backward. Don’t frustrate your customers with a confusing invoice just because it is what works best for you.

Redo your invoicing with a customer-first mentality to better serve your clients.

Problem Resolution

Though we wish problems never arose with the service we provide to our clients, they do. The obvious solution is to strive to minimize the occurrence of problems in the first place.

Yet when they do pop up, how you react is critical. This includes how quickly you respond and how accurately you resolve the problem. A third, but often overlooked, element is how the customer reacts to your efforts. If you’ve corrected their concern and they don’t realize it, you still lost.

Moving Forward to Better Serve Your Clients

As you review this list of areas for improvement, pick the one that offers the biggest potential impact to your customers. Then work toward improving it. This will help you better serve your clients and stand out from your competition.

Learn more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s book, How to Start a Telephone Answering Service.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of TAS Trader, covering the telephone answering service industry. Check out his books How to Start a Telephone Answering Service and Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Healthcare Call Centers

Tips to Deal with Angry Callers

Prepare How to Best Handle Abusive Callers

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

People today, it seems, are more demanding and less tolerant than they once were. They want immediate answers and have little patience to wait. And this unfortunate trend may be even more pronounced when speaking to someone over the telephone. This is the reality of angry callers that our medical call centers must deal with.

Here are some strategies to address this troubling issue:

Tips For Management

Determining an appropriate response to angry callers starts with call center leadership. Implement these ideas for your call center or organization to support your frontline people when they encounter a difficult phone call:

Have a Plan

Develop a written strategy for how agents should best respond to and deal with angry callers. This goes beyond well-sounding platitudes and should offer practical, actionable steps. This includes recommendations for how agents should react to volatile callers and the options you recommend for them to deal with the aftermath.

Communicate the Plan

Share your strategy with your staff. Teach it during their initial training, reinforce it in ongoing instruction, and make it readily available to all parties: your frontline staff, your supervisors, and your managers.

Support Your Staff

Let your staff know that you care how they are treated. The off-repeated adage that “the customer is always right” isn’t always true. Sometimes callers are wrong, unreasonable, or mean. Let your agents know that you have their back.

Offer Options

In most instances, when an agent hangs up from one phone call, there’s another one waiting in queue. The goal, in normal situations, is for the agent to immediately go to the next call. But after an extremely difficult interaction, they may not be at their best to assist the next caller right away.

Give them options to take in extreme cases. Else they risk turning one bad call into a string of bad calls. One idea is allowing them to take themselves out of rotation for a moment to regain their composure. Extreme cases may warrant taking an early break. Just place appropriate guidelines on when these steps are applicable.

Tips For Agents

I hope your call center has provided instruction and tools to help you deal with angry callers who won’t calm down. Always follow their policy.

But if you’re in a position without the needed direction, here are some ideas you can use to better cope with abusive callers. Exercise care, however, to use these sparingly, especially as you move down the list.

Also, your organization may have given you variations on these techniques, so follow their processes. And don’t be alarmed if your call center prohibits one or more of these options, particularly the last one. Know that they have a good reason for doing so. Respect it and follow their wishes.

Lower Your Voice

It’s in our nature to raise our voice in response to someone who raises theirs. This just escalates the situation. Instead do the opposite. Talk more softly. They’re apt to do the same. And even if they don’t, it will calm you.

Take Five

Sometimes a five-second respite at the conclusion of a phone call can help. Close your eyes, inhale slowly, exhale slowly, and quiet your emotions. Do a shoulder roll to release tension.

Press Hold

When a caller escalates out of control, place them on hold under the guise of needing to check something. Maybe you actually do, and you’ll be able to accomplish it more effectively if they aren’t venting their anger in the process. But even if you don’t need to check something, use this time to refocus yourself. Hopefully, they’ll calm down a bit as well. Just make sure you politely and patiently explain to them that you will place them on hold before pressing that button.

Pass Off the Call

Do you have a supervisor or manager who can help you deal with difficult callers? Sometimes your coworker sitting next to you can serve as an ad hoc “supervisor” to take a difficult caller that you’re not connecting with. Of course, be willing to do the same when they have a difficult conversation of their own.

Know That It’s Not Personal

Most angry callers are mad at your organization, and they take it out on you as its representative. Know that their frustration isn’t personally directed at you. This understanding puts a buffer between their emotions and your self-esteem. Though this is easier to say than to do, acknowledging that their anger isn’t personal may help you take an emotional step back from a volatile situation.

But Sometimes It Is Personal

Sometimes, however, an angry caller becomes abusive and attacks you personally. They may call you a name, question your intelligence, or worse. These direct attacks sting. It becomes personal. You can’t separate yourself from their emotion because they just verbally assaulted you.

If this occurs and none of the above options help, you’re justified in telling the caller that their behavior is inappropriate. Explain that you want to help, but until they calm down you won’t be able to. If they persist, warn them that you’ll need to disconnect their call. If they don’t soften their demeanor, hang up on them.

Conclusion

Though you can do little to change how abusive callers treat you, you do have control over how you respond. Follow these ideas to help you successfully move forward.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Healthcare Call Center Essentials, available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book.

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News covering the healthcare call center industry. Read his latest book, Sticky Customer Service.

Categories
Business

How to Deal with Difficult Customers

A Personal Note to Frontline Customer Service Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Anyone who’s worked in a support role knows how difficult it can be. Yes, some customers—hopefully most—are easy to work with and appreciative of your responses. They may even thank you for your help. Celebrate each one of these wins and use them to shape your outlook for the day.

Yet other customers, hopefully a minority, are challenging. They’re agitated before they even reach you, and if you don’t provide the answers they seek, their ire escalates. Even though you aren’t the cause of the problem that prompted them to contact you, they dump their frustration on you anyway, sometimes erupting into a personal attack. This isn’t fair. It isn’t right. But it happens.

First, know that everyone who contacts you makes a choice in how they treat you. They can choose to interact with you in a respectful and humane way. Or they can choose to let their emotions control the words they say and how they speak to you. This is on them, not you. This explanation doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it helps us better understand it.

Next, your responses to these difficult customers can defuse the situation or worsen it. Just as their decision of how to treat you is within their control, your reaction to them is within yours. 

Here are some tips to defuse difficult customer service situations.

Remain Calm

It’s hard to maintain your composure amid confrontation. Yet this is key to successfully dealing with challenging people. Don’t mirror their unruly behavior and reflect their negativity. Instead, counter their inappropriate conduct with an appropriate response.

If your interaction is over the phone, don’t forget to breathe. This will help you relax. It also releases tension. Remember to smile. A smile on your face will ease helpful words out of your mouth. Some reps place a small mirror on their desk to remind them to smile. Callers will hear your smile. Also be professional, treating them as you would want them to treat you. 

Though not as critical when you’re not on the phone, these tips to breathe, smile, and be professional also apply to online interactions, such as text chat, email, and social media.

Pause

If you feel emotion building up inside of you that might cause you to say something that’s not helpful, pause. If you’re on the phone, you can ask them to hold while you “look something up.” The same applies to chat. You can also introduce a pause into email and social media support without the customer even knowing it. 

When receiving an emotion-filled email, I make myself wait an hour before responding, sometimes even waiting until the next day. My delayed communication is always more constructive than what I would have typed at first.

Regardless of how you pause a customer interaction, the purpose is for you to refocus your attention on producing a positive outcome and to ensure you don’t respond negatively and escalate the situation.

End Positively

Regardless of the customer service outcome, make sure you conclude it positively. You can thank the customer for contacting you—even if you don’t want to say so. Or end by telling them to enjoy the rest of their day. 

This accomplishes two things. 

For the customer, it may cause them to rethink what just happened, hopefully putting their day on a different trajectory. 

For you, it helps set the tone for your next customer interaction. It signals to your mind and body that the difficult interaction is over, and it’s time to embrace the next one with a fresh outlook.

Take a Break

Sometimes after you complete a negative customer service interaction, you need time to move past it. This makes sure you don’t carry the unpleasant situation you just endured into your next call. 

You may need to take a break. 

Most employers understand this and allow their customer service reps the latitude to take this step as needed. This action, however, should be rare and not the norm. If your employer doesn’t allow this, then do what you can to interject a short pause into your workflow after a difficult call.

Customer Service Success Tip

Work to make every customer interaction produce a positive outcome. Celebrate your successes. Learn how to better deal with difficult customers. Don’t let one rude customer ruin your day.

Working in customer service has many rewarding moments. Don’t lose sight of them.

Read more in Peter Lyle DeHaan’s Sticky Series books, including Sticky Customer Service and Sticky Sales and Marketing, featuring his compelling story-driven insights and tips.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is an entrepreneur and businessman who has managed, owned, and started multiple businesses over his career. Common themes at every turn have included customer service, sales and marketing, and leadership and management.

He shares his lifetime of business experience and personal insights through his books to encourage, inspire, and occasionally entertain.