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How the silent treatment and professionalism can calm angry callers

Techniques and approaches in dealing with irate users


Most calls to a help desk pass without incident. The vast majority of callers are nice, pleasant people who are simply asking for help. Usually, they get what they need, and the call is closed without any further comment. But occasionally, people call when they are in an emotional state, and they try to vent their frustration by yelling at the support staff. This is when you have to bring in skills that the Microsoft manuals don’t cover. Here’s a great technique for calming down help desk callers who insist on shouting and hurling insults at you.
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The silent treatment
When a caller opens a call by shouting or being rude and offensive, try this technique to change their attitude: Do nothing.

Remain silent for 20 seconds. Count 'em. It will seem like an eternity, but during this silence, the caller will wonder if he or she went too far. The caller will usually crack and be the first to reply. When he or she does, you can take complete charge of the call.

This technique is subtle, inoffensive, effective, guaranteed to work, and best of all, absolutely free. If the caller shouts again, pause for another 20 seconds. This will ensure that the caller remembers that verbal assaults will get him or her nowhere.

Callers often shout to get a reaction from you. They will eventually stop shouting when they discover this doesn’t work. At the call’s end, always thank the caller (trying, of course, not to sound sarcastic), and you will have won him or her over.

Don’t start a screaming match
The temptation to interrupt or be defensive is hard to resist. After all, someone is giving you a hard time, and it’s not your fault. If you want to escalate the situation, then by all means shout back. But remember, while it might feel good to join in the shouting match, your boss will eventually want to know why you called a client a rather unpleasant name.

Professionalism wins in the end
One caller recently sent a member of our team a large box of chocolates, despite being very aggressive on the phone. He appreciated the fact that the help desk didn’t respond to his aggression and wanted to explain that he had been having a bad day. Not all angry callers will see the error of their ways and reward you for your professionalism, but staying calm on the phone is still the first step to having a successful help desk.
What do you think of Jeff’s technique for handling angry callers? Do you have a great tip for dealing with angry or abusive users? If so, we want to know about it. Whoever submits the best suggestion for controlling irate users will win a TechRepublic T-shirt. Post a comment or click hereto submit your suggestions.

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