8 Skills To Avoid Problems When Handling Difficult Customer Phone Calls

Aug 5, 2021
Nahulan Sreethararaj

We’ve all been there. Dealing with difficult customers' problems is never easy.

You pick up the phone and there’s an irate customer on the other end. You’re speaking with a client and can’t seem to get on the same page. You need to call someone who’s delinquent on their account. These are all inevitable and difficult calls you’ll encounter at some point. Many of which in worst case scenarios, could lead to a case of bad customer service.

Here are the eight skills you’ll need to handle the situation with grace and win the customer over.

1. Listening

It’s crucial to let the customer express their concern and ask questions. Avoid the temptation to talk over them or anticipate what they’ll say. Instead, listen carefully, then take a breath to formulate a response.

Allow the customer to fully explain their concern and ask any questions they may have. After you speak, permit them to give a full response. Even if you’re the one who called them, it’s important that the customer feels heard.

2. Empathy

The first step is to imagine the problem from the customer’s perspective. Then, communicate to them that you understand. It’s important to note that in face-to-face interactions, customers would pick up on nonverbal cues such as nods and smiles. However, they obviously can’t see these cues over the phone, so you can acknowledge their issue with explicit responses, e.g. “I see” or “I understand.”

3. Vocal Modulation

Being able to lower your voice’s pitch and volume is essential to creating a calm demeanor that will help the customer calm down. Never shout or become shrill with a customer. Maintain a level, professional tone with them.

4. Resilience

On that note, be sure that you resist any attempts by the customer to get a rise out of you. Some customers will try to insult or provoke you, whether out of frustration or as a tactic to obtain free or discounted services. Don’t fall for it. Always proceed with professionalism rather than mirroring the customer’s frustration or aggression.

You should also remember not to take it personally. In general, to be successful in customer service, you must be able to separate negative customer feedback from your self-esteem and professional demeanor.

5. Problem-Solving

When customers’ problems don’t have an easy solution or your script doesn’t seem to apply, you’ll have to think on your feet. Now that you’ve placed yourself in the customer’s shoes, you’ll next need to think about possible avenues to resolve the customer’s problem. Always preface these options to the customer in a way that shows you’ve heard their concern and might have a solution.

6. Memory

Tying into listening and problem-solving skills, memory is crucial to quick thinking and empathetic response. The customer should never feel like they have to repeat themselves because you forgot what they just said.

One helpful tactic for both you and the customer is to repeat information in a way that shows you have (1) heard it accurately, (2) empathise with the customer’s concern, and (3) are thinking of a solution. Try the following structure: “It sounds like you’ve experienced X and you’d like me to Y. I understand that this is frustrating/concerning. Let me find a solution.”

7. Compromise

Sometimes, you’ll have to make a concession. While you don’t want to reward abusive behaviour, you can help win back most unhappy customers by demonstrating that you’re thinking outside the box to find a solution. Remember, it’s usually not worth the effort to continue battling a customer. Compromise can help you both move forward, and if done well, can prevent the loss of a customer while protecting the company.

8. Time Management

Some customer problems might require multiple calls to solve, or you may need to put them on hold to check with a supervisor or review documentation. Either way, don’t leave the customer hanging. Work quickly and efficiently, then regularly check in with them. If customers are on hold more than five minutes, they’re going to feel you’ve forgotten about them. If you need more time to resolve the problem, check in with them every few minutes to let them know or offer to call them back. Then, be sure you call back on time!


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