Conflicts can’t be avoided, but they can be managed with agility and grace.
As the seminal Harvard Business Review article ‘Stop Trying to Delight Your Customers’ showed, while people buy from you because of your product or brand, people most often leave because of poor customer service.
This is why conflict resolution skills are some of the most fundamental skills for every customer service team. Down below are seven ways to handle conflicts in your customer service conversations to stop customers leaving.
A customer phones one of your reps. They’re frustrated because their purchase (a Valentine’s gift) has still not arrived. They’re close to getting angry. Meanwhile, over in a live chat, a shopper is struggling and frustrated because her coupon has not reduced the price during checkout. These are just two real-life examples of the countless issues reps must resolve effectively, and with a cool head.
Conflict will happen
No matter how efficient a customer service operation is, or how wonderful the product or service may be, issues will arise. It’s not merely a case of preventing unhappy and sometimes angry customers. Conflict is inevitable, so it’s a question of how to handle conflicts when they do arise.
While good customer service reps can reliably employ information and experience about the company’s products, that’s not enough. They also need people skills.
Customer service reps should regularly deploy the 'Top People Skills required for effective Customer Service'. These include common communication and interpersonal skills, needed in professions that interact daily with people who seek info or ask questions.
At ROBIN, our mission is to empower eCommerce companies with the tools, data and knowledge they need to achieve the highest level of customer service. But we are also committed to helping Customer Service Reps understand which skills, besides these people skills, they need to successfully resolve conflicts. We’ve identified the seven most important of these skills to employ in service conversations.
Seven skills that really help resolve conflicts
1. Remain calm at all times
If a customer or prospective client is raising his or her voice, or using obscenities, it’s easy to adopt the same attitude. But a rep must maintain her cool at all times. One tried and true technique: breathe in deeply and release slowly. Another is to ‘see’ oneself from outside the situation and “tell” oneself to keep calm.
2. Focus on finding the person’s specific issue or need, if possible, provide a fix
An agitated person can jump from subject to subject, and it’s up to the rep to find the specific solution for which the individual is looking. Sometimes, someone is calling just to vent his frustration. In that case, the goal is to lend a sympathetic ear for a sufficient time, enable the caller to blow off some steam, and then end the call by wrapping up the situation.
3. Manage expectations and, if needed, set limits
Let’s say a customer thought he could receive delivery of a purchased product in one day without any additional costs. In fact, this is not logistically possible with this brand. The best that can be offered is delivery within 3-5 days. In some instances, the rep may choose to waive the shipping. Conveying this type of information is key to resolving the problem, so the rep needs to structure the conversation from the outset to ensure the inquiring party’s expectations don’t run wild. Make sure the customer understands the next steps.
4. To keep a customer, adopt the right tone
Reps are brand ambassadors, and if there’s a problem, they should apologise for the issue and be transparent with the customer. All this should be done without a ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ attitude that results in customers feeling ‘talked down’ or ‘talked up’ to. Customers appreciate a good-faith effort to resolve issues, especially when the rep appears to be straightforward in offering info and explanations.
5. Explain, don’t blame
The brand’s shipping department may be overwhelmed with a holiday rush, and lots of customers are complaining about delivery times. The rep should apologise for failing to meet expectations, but also explain the situation. In a few words they should describe how the company is addressing the spike in demand, and then work to resolve the issue without blaming the shipping department. It doesn’t help to bad-mouth another part of the organisation.
6. When possible, draw on personal experience
Perhaps a customer wants to buy a new pair of jeans online, but finds their size is out of stock. If the rep can recall a similar, real-life experience of their own, it helps establish a connection with the customer. Placing oneself in the customer’s shoes is a helpful tactic for resolving the issue.
7. Repeat necessary info (within reason)
Many details of finding, buying, and receiving a product from this brand may seem obvious to the rep, but the customer or prospective client is still figuring them out. It might be necessary to repeat oneself several times, but in different ways and with patience. Above all, reps should refrain from saying things like: “As I said” or “As I told you.” That said, there will be instances where a customer may refuse or simply be unable to understand what the rep is trying to say. Keep in mind there is a reasonable limit to explanations.
When it comes to managing complaints in eCommerce, the bottom line is actively preventing customers from leaving and never returning. At the same time, you want to use these customer interactions to build trust and establish an emotional connection, which ultimately builds brand loyalty. No matter how great the product or service, across all of life’s dimensions, one will encounter difficult people. We advise that customer service reps combine their key people skills with the seven conflict resolution tactics here to keep their customers happy.