Three Ways to Help Agents Handle Difficult Calls

I recently read an article about a customer that received his bill and noticed that the company’s contact center agent had intentionally changed his first name to a derogatory term. I was appalled that anyone experienced this. It was good to know that the company performed an investigation and found the agent that conducted himself in this unprofessional manner and promptly terminated his employment.

So what went wrong? While companies monitor for quality and train agents to be empathetic, these approaches aren’t foolproof and a bad apple gets through every so often. But what would provoke an agent to act that poorly? It’s hard to believe that the customer and agent were having a lovely conversation, where the customer ended the call perfectly elated. Chances are the customer was upset and the agent was letting out frustration — a very poor approach to solving the problem.

This company chose to first focus on damage control by terminating the agent. But did the company learn anything? What is it doing to prevent this from happening again?

Here are three ways companies can help their agents handle difficult calls:

  1. Provide agents with additional training. Help agents understand how to effectively handle angry customers.
  2. Empower agents when facing abusive customers. Give agents the channels to advocate for the customer, where appropriate. Allow agents to escalate rather than telling customers that no supervisor is available. If the customer is belligerent, allow agents to offer warnings to stop or the call will be disconnected.
  3. Evaluate each situation to understand the customer’s issue. It may be a systemic issue that the company’s policies or structure have created and the agent takes the fall for deeper rooted issues. In most cases, customers understand that the agent is not personally responsible. However, customers have learned that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and so we’ve created legions of overly assertive consumers hiding behind the anonymity of the phone.

Delivering service to angry customers is a challenge and every company should strive to ensure that its agents don’t become victims of poor training or policy. The absence of training, evaluation and protocol drives agent disengagement, leading to higher turnover and customer dissatisfaction.

While this will not completely eliminate complaints, nor will it put an end to attrition, it will show your agents that you support them and they will reciprocate. It should come as no surprise that this will yield greater customer satisfaction.

Back to the catalyst of this topic. I wholeheartedly agree with the termination of the offending agent.  However, the company should’ve also held itself accountable by trying to understand how to better protect its agents and customers.

Omar Usmani