CXO

Three-step method helps keep frustrated help desk callers calm

Irate and frustrated customers are a normal part of life on the help desk, and one veteran support pro has a three-step method for dealing with them: Be quick, be direct, and be gone.

Frustrated callers can surely be difficult to deal with. We've all had those customers who call for help and are upset and annoyed. Many times, you may receive these calls at the worst possible moment: as soon as you arrive at work, at the end of your workday, or after dealing with another upset customer.

While these customers can be challenging, they need to be served as any other customer. The techniques described in this article can help you deal with these callers and help to calm them down. The key phrase to remember as you deal with such a caller is this: "Be quick, be direct, and be gone."

Be quick: Acknowledge the caller's frustration
The first step to calm callers effectively is to quickly acknowledge that the caller is frustrated and in need of help. Remember, he or she is aggravated and you are the person he or she is taking it out on. A good first impression can help you get to the root of the problem.

Statements such as, "I understand you're having a problem now, but I will help you as best I can," may soothe callers and help them focus. If it's a walk-in customer, remember your gestures. Nonverbal communication is as important as what you say. Try not to point, needlessly gesture, or make any facial expressions that would lead the caller to believe you aren't listening intently.

Be direct: Find and focus on the reason for the call
You need to focus on the problem, not the caller's behavior. Ask direct questions and try to have them demonstrate the issue.

Many of us have heard callers make statements like, "After you fixed my computer last time, it's never worked right since." I choose not to respond directly to these statements because normally one problem has nothing to do with the other. Instead, I calmly ask, "What is not working at this point," and I ask more than once, if necessary. If the caller is blaming something on you or your section, try to refocus him or her on the problem and assure the caller you are here to help correct the situation.

Define the problem without blaming the customer
It's important to accurately and specifically define the problem. For example, define whether it's a network problem, an application problem, or something more insidious, like a virus. Don't ask what he or she did to break the system; ask what last happened or didn't happen. This knowledge will arm you to quickly resolve the issue.

Don't blame or patronize the customer, and don't try to use sarcasm or humor. They are rarely effective for communicating with upset people, especially while the problem still exists. People expect to be treated as professionals. Don't base your manners on their company role, their age, or their gender. The goal always should be to solve the problem efficiently.

Ignore sideline issues
As you're helping the customer, you may notice other problems that aren't specifically related to the issue that prompted the call. When this happens, you must resist the urge to try and fix those problems, or even mention them.

For example, some customers may have many needless shortcuts on their desktop. When dealing with an upset caller, you need to focus on his or her current problem, not on any other potential problems. Leave the tangential issues for a time when the customer calm and open to learning how to better organize the files, etc.

Be gone: End the call as quickly as possible
Leave or hang up politely, but promptly, after the problem is solved. This "be gone" strategy will help keep you from getting bogged down in any outside factors that spurred the call, like a short deadline or other issue. Realize that although you bore the brunt of the caller's frustration, it wasn't personal. Closing the call quickly will also help the caller refocus on his or her task.

Know when to call it quits
If, for some reason, you can't solve the customer's problem, you must be prepared to extricate yourself from the call. This may also be necessary if the customer continues to be irate and won't focus on the problem. You may need to schedule the problem to be resolved by you or another technician later, which also may give the caller time to calm down. If this is the case, try to make the caller understand the reason behind this decision and tell him or her that you will call again later.

Another instance where the call may need to be deferred or closed altogether is if the caller threatens you. If this ever occurs, remove yourself from the situation as quickly as possible and report it to your supervisor.

After the call: Exorcise the irate caller demons
You will deal with irate customers throughout the course of you duties, so it's important that you remember not to personalize the anger. If you're feeling emotionally drained after a particularly bad call, talk to someone about what happened. A peer or your supervisor has probably been in a similar situation.

Simply talking through what occurred often helps you de-stress. Sometimes you may want to talk with someone outside your organization who is impartial. The mail carrier or the coffee shop counter person may not know the irate customer, but may be able to empathize with you.

Take time to calm down before resuming your duties
In any case, realize that you've done as much as you could to help the caller and try not to dwell on any negativity. Further, be aware of your state of mind before you pick up the phone again. You will become frustrated and rude more quickly if you've just dealt with an upset customer. So if you can, try not to work with another upset caller right away.

It's all part of the job
Keep the phrase, "Be quick, be direct, and be gone," in the front of your mind as you begin your next day of work at the call center. It may help you solve the problems of irate callers with less stress, and you'll have a feeling of personal satisfaction from knowing you helped despite a customer's rotten attitude. In the end, your fondest support call memories will always be of those that went well, but you'll never forget the frustrating ones.
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