How to Deal With a Difficult Customer-Service Conversation

By following these conflict resolution techniques, you can get your way out of any tough conversation and find a resolution that works for all parties.

learn more about Norine Toomey

By Norine Toomey

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Tough conversations are generally difficult to initiate and respond to. Whether they occur in personal or professional life, we are hard-wired to act, react and emotionally invest -- and that makes it difficult to know how to resolve conflict. As a result, many people, especially younger or less experienced individuals, struggle here.

Those working in any profession will experience their share of difficult conversations. Whether a customer's cable service is not running properly, a new tablet is on the fritz or someone was overcharged on her healthcare bill, things simply come up. They also occur on a daily basis at work as managers and peers mentor, correct or bring tough news to others.

Regardless of the context, when these types of things happen a live conversation is the most direct way to address the issue. In many instances, this is done over the phone, and some of these people wind up calling our company DialAmerica. As a result, I have gained a wealth of experience with conflict resolution skills to help in navigating these tough situations.

Related: 4 Ways to Extend Customer Service Beyond Your 1-800-Number

By following these conflict resolution techniques, you can get your way out of any tough conversation and find a resolution that works for all parties:

Don't act on instinct

Human nature tells us to go with our gut. When someone is upset, critical or yelling at us, our initial reaction is to respond immediately. It is important that you do not try to hastily fix the issue. Listen for a minute, because if someone feels you are talking over them, it only exacerbates their frustration.

Listen, listen and listen

While this may seem like common sense, it is a lot easier said than done. At this point, the person you're listening to is making her issue clear, so it is crucial that you sit back and let them be heard. Don't speak unless you are asked a question to clarify something they have said, and you might consider holding questions until the end. Sometimes just allowing a person to "let it out" can do a lot in helping to relieve their frustration and lead to a better dialogue.

Related: 8 Ways to Offer Stellar Customer Service That Don't Cost a Penny

Say 'thanks' and apologize with empathy

After listening carefully to the issue, consider it and clarify it if needed. Moments of silence are OK in these interactions -- you can even ask for one. If the situation warrants it, and you fully comprehend the issue at hand, apologize in a way that demonstrates real empathy. Remember that apologies can come across as half-hearted or insincere. Find a way to not do that. If a person can sense sincerity, they will be more willing to listen to potential resolutions.

Respond in a thoughtful manner

Once you have apologized, develop a solution to their problem in tandem with the other party. If you are not able to provide them an immediate solution or what they want, "pivot."

For example, "I cannot fix your cable right now, but I can schedule an appointment for the cable company to check out the issue tomorrow." As long as a short-term solution is provided, the customer will start to feel better about the situation. It is critical that you provide timeframes where possible and make good on any commitments.

Check back in

An email, handwritten letter or a quick follow-up call checking in is a simple way to let people know you haven't forgotten about them. Surprising them with this unexpected touch of kindness may turn you from an initial enemy to a trusted resource and friend.

It takes much more to resolve a situation than simply to go for a quick fix. It is important to take the time to understand the problem at hand and then come up with solutions and conflict resolution strategies that are personalized, relevant, and timely.

Related: 3 Fundamentals of Better Customer Experiences

Norine Toomey

SVP of Corporate Development at DialAmerica

Norine Toomey is the senior vice president of workforce management and development at DialAmerica,  a privately owned domestic call center company with contact centers located across the U.S.

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