Every industry has its share of trade secrets. These treasured offerings are known only by insiders who speak of these classified dealings in code so as not to divulge confidential details.
One of the dirty little secrets in the world of customer service involves a matter that is often carefully guarded. It rarely arises as a question among the numerous conferences at which I speak. But every now and then, a courageous attendee will broach the topic, each time leading to the same response.
Someone in the audience invariably gasps when the subject arises, while everyone else stares at me anticipating my reaction. The nature of this dirty little secret involves customer behavior, but specifically as to how a service representative deals with customers who use vulgar language.
The answer to this dilemma includes a tactical response designed to stun the customer. Customers who use vulgar or “dirty” language are seeking a confrontation. They are offensive in order to keep you on the defensive. The customer wants a victory at the expense of the representative. This win/lose outcome will not produce a mutually satisfying experience.
A service representative must therefore gain a tactical advantage over the customer to enable him to achieve a win/win conclusion. A noted military tactician fighting for the Confederacy during the Civil War said the simple keys to victory are, “get there first with the most” and “always do what the enemy least expects.” These same tactics are equally applicable when handling calls from rate customers using vulgar language.
Bad manners are excusable when dealing with upset customers; vulgarity is not. Customers using crude or vulgar language usually do so because of their emotional state.
Representative should tell customers who use such language, “I realize you are upset and I want to help you. But I am not in the habit of being spoken to in that fashion, nor do I speak with people who use that kind of language.” This polite statement will keep intact the self-esteem of the customer and allow the two of you to continue in your conversation.
Should the customer persist in using vulgar language, the representative must then disregard their self-esteem and, instead, make it a point to focus on their unacceptable behavior. To prepare for this, the representative should sit up straight, take a deep breath, and muster their most authoritative vocal tone for what will come next.
Ask the customer to repeat the last sentence that contained the vulgar language by saying, “Could you please repeat that last sentence, I am taking notes.” The customer should rationally think about what was just said and repeat the sentence minus the offensive speech. The customer should refrain from being vulgar from this point going forward.
It is now time for the representative to gain control of the conversation. One of the best ways I know to manage an exchange is to pay the other person a compliment. This will keep you talking and them listening.
After all, one is unlikely to interrupt when they are being given flattering comments. In my experience two groups of people always respond positively to affirmative comments: men and women. Regardless of gender, the best way to gain a tactical advantage with an irate customer is to pay them a soft compliment.
The use of soft compliments allows a representative to turn the tables on difficult customers. Following are some effective soft compliments: “You did the smart thing by calling me because I can help you.” “I am glad you called because now we will be able to get things resolved.” “You have a good sense of how to get things done. You also did a very good job getting your ideas across to me.” Doing so reinforces your control of the situation by establishing yourself as the expert. Such an expect knows the difference between a good and bad presentation.
If, in extreme cases, the customer insists on the right to be vulgar, then escalate the call to your supervisor. In my experience, most telephone customers contact you for help, not so that they can be vulgar. Service representatives should strive for the win/win option and skillfully teach the problematic customer a lesson in manners.
Socially unacceptable behavior is just one of the dirty little secrets in the customer service industry, but, hopefully, not for long. Perhaps service representatives everywhere will employ the aforementioned tactical advantages and establish themselves as professionals who lead by good example.
“The most successful distributors hire Steve Coscia to train their dealers and contractors in Customer Service and Soft Skills. Call Steve at 610-853-9836 or e-mail him at [email protected] to learn more about his speeches and seminars. Visit www.coscia.com to download a free 60 page e-book.”