COVID-19: Call center agents at home?
30 Jul 2020

How to Deal with Angry Customers in Inbound and Outbound Calling

Many business professionals will agree that customer needs and satisfaction are top priorities. Apart from the fundamental need to address client concerns, disgruntled client reactions can negatively impact your business’s reputation. So it’s no surprise that you’re in trouble when customers get angry.

No one wants to upset their customer in the first place. But it can, and most likely will happen, so how should you deal with this sticky situation?

I. Anger VS Professionalism

Generally speaking, angry customers categorized as "politely angry" and "abusively angry".

There are a few reasons that clients might get upset. Some typical examples include:

  • They don't understand something (they are confused; they mistakenly assumed something; they suspect something);
  • Something is not working (e.g., the servers are down, which may not be your fault but your contractor's);
  • Something is wrong/faulty with the payment process or policies (e.g., with the return policy);
  • You presented an irrelevant offer;
  • You called at a wrong time.

To put it simply,

  • They messed up (it happens to the best of us)
  • You messed up (uh oh)
  • Someone else messed up (you didn't deserve the angry response, which is particularly painful).

Separately, customers might begin a call calmly, but become progressively irritated over an agent that is too slow — we'll discuss this as well.

Whatever the case, an agent should always stay calm and maintain a professional demeanor.

We suggest two response strategies; or rather, two roles:

Emotionless and coolheaded
VS
Sympathetic friend who is there to help

  • With the "abusively angry" client: emotionless and coolheaded. The agent acts as a problem-solving machine and makes every step masterfully, demonstrating no sign of emotion, positive or negative.
  • With the "politely angry" client: a sympathetic friend who is there to help. The agent demonstrates friendliness and compassion through intonation and words of encouragement.

The first role can sometimes also be successful in cold calling, since people do not always trust overly sweet manners.

It is important for call center agents to intuitively identify which approach will be most effective with each particular caller. Arrange a workshop on communication skills with role play simulations to make your agents more psychologically and strategically prepared to handle calls with hostile customers.

II. Before/during the call

Okay, practice is over — it’s time to go live for both inbound and outbound call centers.

Inbound

Let's admit it: with inbound calls, the customer does not always begin a call in a calm and peaceful mood. They're most likely already dealing with an issue — it’s your job to help find a solution. And more often than not, one of your goals as an agent is to mitigate this tension.

A common annoyance for inbound callers is long wait times. Ask yourself a question: is there anything you can do for even just a fraction of on-hold callers to reduce wait times? From a business perspective, some clients just should not wait long, as they are of greater value. Meaning not only lucrative, VIP clients, but also those that are loyal and long term. Of course, you should provide all clients with the same level of service, if possible, except for in specific situations. For organizations other than nonprofits, consider priority routing, in which the requests of most-valued clients will be accommodated first.

Long wait times can also occur in call centers with long chains of agents. This is not a situation where a client is on hold, listening to generic music while waiting for an agent to pick up — rather, agents do pick up and try to help, but when they are unable to resolve the situation, they transfer the call to another agent who has no idea what the original issue is.

The more transfers there are, the more the client has to restate their issue, getting progressively more angry.

...Which is no surprise as this infuriating series of jumps endlessly extends the initial call time before reaching an actual resolution to their problem.

The best way to deal with this is the "Transfer with Context" functionality. It passes the caller to the next agent, along with any relevant information: notes taken by the previous agent, the IVR digit route entered by the caller, etc. With such context, the customer doesn't have to repeat themselves, your call center isn't wasting customers' time, and your brand remains professional in the eyes of those who need your assistance.

Outbound

Things are slightly different with outbound calls. While inbound callers are often angry from the start growing angrier down the road, an outbound call recipient does not always intend to be negative. Rather, they have the potential to explode in an instant. This often happens if the call is being made at the wrong time — when the call recipient is busy. Or perhaps, the recipient is unwilling to receive calls (e.g., during private time after 6 P.M.); or their number is on the DNC list (Do Not Call list under the FCC control). In such a scenario, you need call scheduling management, which allows the system to identify the best hours for calling a particular potential customer, saving you from their anger and making clients more open to your proposal.

DNC (the National Do Not Call Registry) gives you a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls. You can register your home or mobile phone for free.

Read more on donotcall.gov (U.S.)

If you use an imperfect predictive dialer, a problematic situation in which the number of outgoing calls exceeds the number of available agents could occur. In this case, the person picking up the phone usually hears something like: "Please wait till you're connected to an available agent.” Needless to say, such a frustrating message will greatly diminish the possibility of a deal. A quality predictive dialer is critically important if you don't want to become notorious for unprofessional calling.

Both Inbound and Outbound

There are a number of features suitable for analysis and incident prevention as well as for day-to-day customer satisfaction control.

  • Silent monitoring enables you to check on the flow of conversation between agents and customers, helping you to determine whether the caller's anger was incited by the agent's behavior (which should never be the case). Silent monitoring is a basic feature, "necessary and sufficient" for basic quality assurance. However, a number of other, more sophisticated call center software features exist that give you much more control over the conversation in tense situations.
  • The Raise a Hand command gives the agent a lifebuoy if they are stuck: it quickly notifies the supervising team members that help is urgently needed in the conversation. Depending on the situation, a "raised hand" can prompt the supervisor to select one of the following functions:
  • Barge In allows a supervisor, or more knowledgeable agent, to sneak into the conversation when needed, without requiring an additional call. This function facilitates timely, unintrusive assistance, letting you prevent or curb the customer's anger and significantly reduce the time needed for problem resolution or deal completion.
  • With Whisper Mode, you can covertly guide the agent through the call. This will help to avoid awkward situations that are particularly common with slower, inexperienced agents. It’s also a great option for addressing situations in which a customer demonstrates extreme dissatisfaction: you can guide junior agents out of a tense exchange into a positive conclusion to the conversation. Of course, it’s up to you to whisper the right thing!
  • Intercept transfers the call to supervisor.

Last resort

Terminate, which instantly ends a call, is the command that we never want to see anyone use. It should only be resorted to if the customer demonstrates complete disrespect and verbally abuses the agent.

Another situation is when an agent can’t quickly retrieve relevant information. They obviously must have client data, account level, account information, and transaction history at hand. You've got to be prepared to prevent your agent from being stuck and helpless under the customer's anger (which would be twice as unfortunate if your agent is brilliant!). Make sure that your call center software has solid CRM integration as well as ticket system integration. This way, your agents will always have access to all customer-related information, whenever the need emerges during a call. Only when an agent has the right info at hand, does a call have the best chances to succeed.

III. If the conflict occured

Confrontational customers will always exist, so you've got to have a set of tools for post-interaction analysis of the call. Best call center software has the below capabilities.

  • Speech-to-text is an awesome example of routine task automation. Instead of deciphering the call and manually typing it, the system will produce a neat transcription of the entire call, complete with landmarks and time codes.
  • Voice recognition automatically identifies the participants of the call.
  • With your transcript at hand, keyword search lets you perform quality assurance (QA). It's useful to have a database of keywords that demonstrate dissatisfaction, typically a list of obscene words. And yep, someone has to compile it. Have fun selecting whom to grant that unique opportunity.
  • Call scoring is another indispensable tool. AI can detect any case of raised voice, mutual interruption, cross-talking, critical word mentions (you set them; e.g., "close account"), and perform call evaluation on predetermined scales (e.g., from 1 to 5). After the calls have been ranked, you can easily assess the lowest-ranking ones in terms of QA, and then move on to those that weren't so bad. In other words, you can analyze the calls that scored highest in aggression/anger first.

IV. To put it in a nutshell.....

Frequently occurring incidents of client anger toward call center agents typically result from one of two reasons. The customer is disgruntled, or, there's some critical mistake hiding in your workflow. While we can't curb aggressive customers, we can offer unique and insightful functionality for your client communication hub, be it a call center or a contact center—inbound, outbound, or blended.

Voiso provides all the professional features you may need, all in one. Equip your agents with Priority Routing, Transfer with Context, Voice Recognition, Call Scheduling Management, Predictive Dialer, Silent Monitoring, Intercept, Barge In, Whisper, pre-built CRM and Helpdesk Ticketing System Integrations, Speech to Text, Keyword Search, Event-Based Navigation, Call Scoring, and a number of other handy tools.

Voiso Call Center Software has CRM integration for Salesforce, Zendesk, Microsoft Dynamics, Desk.com, SugarCRM, Zoho, Hubspot, Pipedrive, and more to come.

With Voiso, you will have the peace of mind that your customer can feel.

Don’t wait, get Voiso today