Why customer conversations spin out of control | Blue Sky
Sean Spurgin - Director of Learning Design

Why customer conversations spin out of control

“You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into!” Covey

 

The way we behave has a direct influence on how others behave and therefore how they react to us.

Here’s an example of a recent conversation I had with a Customer Service Agent, swipe left to follow the conversation below:

Me:

“Someone promised to call me back today.

No one has so far and I’m starting to get a little annoyed”

(with a slightly frustrated tone of voice)

Customer Service Agent:

“I can see on the system that the person wasn’t due to call until 4pm…”

Me:

“I was told they would call me at 10am… which is pretty frustrating, really!”

(now starting to sound slightly angry)

Customer Service Agent:

“There is no need to get angry… I am just trying to help…”

Me:

“No need to get angry? Wouldn’t you get angry if you waited in all morning for a call back?!”

(my tone of voice raised and getting even more angry)

Customer Service Agent:

“Please calm down”

Me:

“Calm down! I am not calm…I am angry”

(now raising my voice even more)

Customer Service Agent:

“Don’t shout at me…I am trying to help.

If you shout at me I will terminate the call”

(tone of voice becomes defensive and louder)

Me:

“You’re joking I hope? I am really hacked off now!”

(my voice getting even louder)

Customer Service Agent:

“I said don’t shout at me…”

(their voice now raised as much as mine)

You can imagine how the conversation progressed… and I’m sure that you’ve probably experienced something very similar yourself!

What you can see here is the behaviour impact cycle in play (see model). The conversation quickly escalated out of control because the service person’s behaviour had an impact on me, so I then changed my behaviour, which in turn impacted them and they changed their behaviour and so on!

 

 

Talking to customers can be tricky and front-line people can sometimes find themselves in what we call a high intensity situation where either party is angry, aggressive, irritated, annoyed or just plain emotional.

Some professions such as psychiatrists or the police are trained in how to deal with the vast array of human emotional responses they might face, but for people in sales and service jobs, this is often not the case.

There’s a part of our brain that controls our reaction to high intensity situations. We are programmed this way so that, in dangerous situations, our brain reacts before we have time to think about it – so logic and reason are bypassed and either a fight or flight reaction is triggered. It’s instant and unconscious so when we come up against difficult or dangerous situations, our natural response is to fight back or retreat, and we can often feel the physical response happening through things like our heart racing, or blood rush to the face.

We’re all programmed differently so when faced with an angry customer, some people are more inclined to fight back or be defensive, others retreat and say as little as possible to try and end the conversation as quickly as possible.

Diffusing situations like this

The trick is to recognise what’s happening and try to create a tiny bit of space between stimulus and response – space to have a short word with yourself, register that it isn’t personal and remember you’re the solution, not the problem – whatever works to get you in the right mindset to respond.

Now you’re ready to respond and you’ve got to get it right, so the next important thing to know is that, contrary to popular belief, you don’t take the heat out of a conversation by slowing your pace, adding a soothing tone and hoping the customer will follow suit. In fact, quite the opposite is true.

What the other person needs in that moment in time is for you to match their energy, but without the confrontational language, so for example if a customer says something such as: ‘This is the fourth call I am having to make to you about the same issue – I’ve had enough’, instead of ‘Right OK, what seems to be the problem’, you could say, ‘OK, I can hear how frustrated you are, you’re through to me now, let’s sort this out once and for all. Can you tell me a bit more about your situation…?’

Recognising that we are in control of how we respond in any situation is a powerful thing. Think how differently we behave in situations where we feel comfortable to one’s where we are not.

Just knowing that we can choose our behaviour, irrespective of person or situation, is very empowering and can help us create very difficult outcomes at home, work and every social situation – try it!

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