Coaching service teams for difficult situations

Miller Heiman Group
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The way you treat customers will go a long way towards deciding how successful your business is, and delivering high-quality customer service requires excellent communication, consistency and a deep understanding of consumer expectations. Nevertheless, any customer service department will occasionally encounter difficult situations.

From customers shouting abuse over the phone, to those refusing to accept what you tell them, these types of situations can cause great discomfort and stress. This is problematic for many reasons, not least because stress accounts for half of all absenteeism and a quarter of voluntary turnover in call centres.

However, with the right customer service coaching, most challenging situations can be successfully navigated.

Defusing Anger

Dealing with angry customers can be uncomfortable and intimidating, but it is important to recognise that customers tend to be angry for a reason. For example, they may feel ignored, under-appreciated or like they are being misunderstood. This is why, from a coaching perspective, it is important to teach staff defusing skills.

You would be surprised how far phrases like "I can tell how frustrating this is for you" or "I have been there myself" go, because they acknowledge the problem. Staff should also be encouraged to ask questions, as this provides them with valuable problem solving information, while allowing the customer to explain their issue more clearly.

Miller Heiman Group's service-ready engagement approach places an emphasis on the importance of defusing skills for navigating difficult situations, and skills for taking the heat out of a situation should be a coaching priority.


Another important step to handling challenging customers is to try to create a genuine human connection as quickly as possible. Despite the fact that personalisation regularly ranks highly in the list of customer wants, ContactPoint Client Research found that employees only ask for a customer's name 21 percent of the time.

In most instances, customers have the awareness to realise they aren't actually angry at the person dealing with their complaint, but only once a human connection has been established. Simple customer service skills like staff introducing themselves and using a customer's name can help to make difficult problems much easier to deal with.

Offering Solutions

Finally, when tensions are running high, it is always more effective to offer solutions than excuses; even if the solution is not entirely what the customer is asking for. Put yourself in the shoes of an angry customer. Would you rather hear someone justify why they have made you unhappy, or would you rather they did something to correct it?

One of the keys to providing solutions is to continually coach your staff, so that their product knowledge is up to date. When this is the case, they can work with customers to try to find an alternative or reach a compromise, rather than simply telling them 'no' and expecting the customer to accept it.

The good news is, the majority of customers are perfectly reasonable and 70 percent of complaining customers will happily do business with you again if you resolve a complaint in their favour. This does not necessarily mean giving them exactly what they are demanding, but it does mean giving them a solution they can live with.

About MonikaGötzmann


Monika Götzmann is the EMEA Marketing Director of Miller Heiman Group, a global sales training and customer service coaching company. It specialises in providing exceptional sales training courses and helps organisations develop business strategies to achieve sales success. 


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