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5 Ways To Stop Arguing With Customers

Brian Cantor

They’re supposed to be opportunities to build meaningful, long-term relationships with customers.

Why, then, are customer service interactions often so contentious?

As a customer, I often dread the prospect of calling the customer support team.  In addition to dealing with time-wasting inefficiency (repeating my information, discussing an issue of which they should already be aware), I know I’m probably going to enter an argument.  I’m going to need to prove why I deserve the make-good or resolution for which I’m seeking, and I’m probably going to deal with distrust, disapproval and even disrespect from an agent who is supposed to be acting in my best interest.

As a customer service advisor, I know the calls are often just as unappealing to agents.  Agents know they will deal with rude, discourteous, hostile customers who are demanding things the organization will not (and perhaps cannot) deliver.  The agent will essentially serve as a punching bag for the frustrated customer.

We need to change this dynamic.  Customers need to believe they will receive legitimate support from kind, empathetic agents.  Agents need to relish the opportunity to interact and build relationships with concerned customers.

In an ideal world, customers and agents would both make concessions in the name of a happy call.  This is not an ideal world.  It is a customer-centric one; only the agent (and business) have an obligation to take action.

Mindful of that scenario, we have detailed five ways to reduce the argumentative nature of interaction.  Whether applied separately or in unison, these approaches will turn interactions into opportunities rather than problems.

Take the Customer’s Side

Arguments do not happen when the two parties agree.

Indeed, the best way to avoid an argumentative interaction is to take the customer’s side.

You may not objectively agree with the customer, and you may not accept their specific demands.  A productive, customer-centric interaction, however, requires that you set their fundamental desire as the objective for the call.

When you do so, you ensure that every step you take and every decision you make is in the customer’s best interest.  The customer will see you as an ally rather than as a foe, and the tone of the call will be one of warmth, trust and respect.

Even in the event you cannot totally say yes, the customer will admire you for not blindly saying no.

Don’t Play The Blame Game

In a conventional dispute, the party responsible for the problem is the party deemed accountable for the solution.

That is not the case in the customer service world.  In the customer service world, the organization is always accountable to the customer.  It doesn’t matter which party is actually to blame; the customer is conditioned – and permitted by the rules of the market – to expect a solution from the company.

It is consequently futile, and in fact problematic, to get caught up in the blame game.  Blaming the customer (or at least refusing to accept blame on behalf of the company) results in one of two highly undesirable outcomes:

  • The business feels no accountability to the customer, and does not take every step possible to provide a solution.
  • The business explicitly blames the customer, adding fire to an already heated situation.

Both scenarios hurt the tone and undermine the efficacy of the interaction.  They turn what should be a productive, problem-solving conversation into a tense waste of time that may very well prompt the customer to switch to a competitor.

Don’t Just Hear – Listen

Frankly, some agents are guilty of not even truly hearing their customers.  Once they sense something familiar about a customer’s inquiry, they assume it is a run-of-the mill situation and start putting together a stock response.

Some agents are more attentive, but they ultimately succumb to the same problem.  They do not make an attempt to listen -- to truly understand why the customer is calling, how the customer feels, and what it will take to make that customer happy.

Without appreciation for that context, the agent is unable to provide a responsive substantively or emotionally consistent with the customer’s expectations.  The customer feels slighted, if not outright disrespected, and an argument may ensue.

To feel confident in the discussion, the customer needs to believe the agent truly understands the situation – and its magnitude.  While verbal tactics like repeating the issue, apologizing and promising to assist the customer can eliminate hostility, understanding is not something that can truly be faked.  Based on the actual flow of the call, the customer will be able to determine whether the agent’s supposed understanding is legitimate or a façade.

If it is the latter, do not expect the customer to maintain a pleasant tone.

Recognize The Customer As A Person

People may be argumentative by nature, but they are not insensitive to the feelings of others.  It is far easier to dispute the “idea” of an “individual” than it is to contest the “viewpoint” of a “human.”

Customer service arguments stem, at least in part, from the anonymity of the interaction.  The customer feels comfortable expressing crude frustration because he is arguing with a big company rather than Joan, the mother of two who works in the California Service Center.  The agent feels comfortable firing back because she sees the customer as a random, entitled complainer rather than as Jim, the man who couldn’t film his son’s graduation because the camera battery was defective.

To avoid this problem, it is important to connect on a human level.  Such a connection will encourage the customer to take a more level-headed, productive tone, resulting in a more articulate explanation of the problem and desired solution.  You, as the agent, will understand the magnitude of the situation as well as the real “pain” associated with saying no.

The sides will work together – rather than in opposition – to achieve the best possible outcome.

Take Pride In Satisfying Customers

While it would be naïve to assume agents never get pleasure out of rejecting the demands of rude, aggressive customers, it is reasonable to conclude that agents do not argue with customers strictly for their own amusement.  They are doing so because they believe they are acting in the best interest of the business.

To thrive in a marketplace supposedly governed by customer centricity, they need to transform their thinking.

Instead of assuming the business will be happy because they rejected a refund or refused offering a make-good to a customer, they need to know the business will be upset that they risked losing a customer’s loyalty.  They, similarly, need to know the business really wanted them to do everything in their power to make the customer happy.

Granted, business leaders are vital to this transformation.  They need to promote messages of empowerment and customer centricity; they need to make it clear satisfactory interactions are the objective.

All individual agents nonetheless can assume that a business, at the end of the day, would rather keep than lose customers.  Consequently, the agent needs to feel confident not only working to ensure a satisfactory interaction but justifying the behavior to the key stakeholders.  They need to be able to demonstrate why the steps they took were not only necessary but valuable for the business’ overall growth.

Satisfying customers is not about rolling over and dying.  It is not about letting customers take advantage of the business.  It is about coming up with a solution that fosters happiness in the short-term and lucrative loyalty in the long-term.  It is a victory.

A salesman would surely express glee at closing a big deal.  A contact center agenet needs to feel (and demonstrate) similar excitement when resolving a customer’s problem.