Paging Dr. Ruby ep. 5: handling frustrated callers.

Everyone has bad days now and then, and that includes your callers. So we weren’t surprised when we received this question from Ruby fan, Michael:

“As the owner of a small company, there’s nowhere else for customer complaints to go, so I’m often the one having to deal with them. What magic does Ruby use to turn these types of callers into positive experiences?”

We’re so glad you asked Michael. Our clients look to us to make a great impression, so it’s critical our receptionists maintain a positive attitude and address the callers concerns as best they can. Talking with the occasional frustrated caller can be intimidating and stressful—as it sounds like Michael has experienced. But with the right skills, (no magic required), a difficult call can be turned around.

First, never go into a phone call thinking “This person is angry and nothing I say will change that.” If you do, you’re nearly assured to be right! Start by approaching every caller as a unique human being.

Next, allow the caller some venting room. One nice thing about frustrated callers is they’ll let you know what’s wrong. Give callers the room to complain and explain. Don’t interrupt, and when it’s your turn to speak, begin by acknowledging the caller’s frustration, like this:

“Hello, thank you for calling the Law Office. How may I help you?”

“I don’t know if you can help me. I was injured on the job and I’ve been getting medical treatments, so I can’t work. But now the company is claiming that I don’t qualify for workman’s comp and is refusing to pay. I don’t know what to do and I’m just calling around to see if there’s anyone who can help.”

“Oh dear! I can certainly understand why you’re upset! I’m going to do everything I can to get you some help.”

A little empathy goes a long way. But don’t fake it—frustrated callers are like bloodhounds when it comes to sniffing out insincerity, and a lackluster “I understand” might make your caller even more upset. If truly you’re empathetic to a caller’s strife, make sure they hear it!

Empathy is a great way to diffuse a caller’s frustration, however, they can quickly become upset again if they don’t feel they’re being heard. An upset caller demands your full attention, so it’s time to put your listening skills into high gear. A great way to let callers know you’ve heard their concerns is by paraphrasing them back, like this:

“Back on June 21st, I ordered a present for my wife’s birthday—two months ahead of time. I wasn’t notified it was on back order until this week, two days before her birthday. I’ve been a long time customer and I’m disappointed you failed to notify me in time. I’d like a full-refund.”

“My goodness, I understand why that would be frustrating. I want to make sure I have your information correct. The very special item order was placed on June 21st, but you weren’t notified it was on back order until this week, around August 19th, correct?”

Being transparent is also helpful. If you need to try multiple lines, always go back to the caller and let them know you’re still with them, like this:

“Thank you so much for holding. Beth Smith was away from her line. I’m going to try another line for you. One more moment, please.”

By keeping the caller in the loop, you reassure them they haven’t been lost on hold.

Of course, sometimes callers are frustrated because they’re not able to connect with the person they’re seeking. If you’re not the expert they’re looking for, framing your role can be a big help. Explain what you do, and assure the caller you’ll do everything in your power to help. You may not be able to offer exactly what your caller wants in the moment, but your dedication to customer service will still shine through, like this:

“I can certainly understand why you’re upset! As the receptionist, I will alert everyone on our tech support team to your issue, and ask that they return your call to set up a repair appointment as soon as possible. I’m going to do everything I can to help get this resolved!”

Most importantly, when handling frustrated callers keep calm and kind. This is the biggie. If you keep your cool, remain professional and friendly, and show your understanding and appreciation, you’re likely to improve even the most upset caller’s mood, even if you aren’t able to solve their issue right away.

Bad days happen. Cars break down, projects get delayed—a number of factors unrelated to your call can result in a caller blowing off steam. Instead of concentrating on the behavior, focus on the person at the other end of the line. While on the call, empathize with the customer and lend a listening ear. For most callers, this is enough to turn them around. If they’re still frustrated upon hanging up, however, you’ll know did your best.

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