Conflict is inevitable in customer service.
Yet, many customer service reps are dropped into challenging situations with no formal conflict resolution techniques at their disposal.
Sure, reps can and will pick up these skills eventually. However, the customers they interact with in the meantime are in the unfair position of getting less than stellar service.
By encouraging new service reps to approach work with basic conflict resolution techniques in mind, leaders can ensure they get their feet under them much faster.
What’s more, reps will experience much less stress in the crucial early months of their career. This helps fend off burnout and control attrition, especially in high-turnover call centers.
Want to learn some new ideas you can act on right away – as soon as your next call or contact? These 14 conflict resolution techniques will get you to the next level.
1. Use Active Listening
When people are angry, the first thing they want is to know that others are really paying attention to them. You don’t have to understand the situation right away: Just let them explain.
Be actively engaged, not just waiting for your turn to speak. That means strong eye contact, open body language, and using verbal cues to let the customer know you are focused on them.
2. Take a Genuine Interest
If you don’t really care about others’ needs, they are sure to notice. That said, managing your emotions this way can be tough, especially if it seems the other person is being unreasonable.
The best way to give yourself an “unfair advantage” is to manage your stress level. Check in with yourself throughout the day and use quick stress management habits that work for you.
3. Ask Open-Ended Questions
You can feel an interest, but how do you show that interest to other people?
As inbound sales pros will tell you, open-ended questions help you get to the root of the problem. By asking these pertinent questions, you get the details you need to move toward a solution. Plus, you will often help defuse tension by letting people get unpleasant emotions off their backs faster.
4. Seek Points of Commonality
Even if the customer is in no mood for small talk, you should always be alert to things that you can agree on. Agreement creates a bond between people, even when it’s something very minor.
That said, be cautious not to sabotage your efforts by agreeing to the wrong things. People will want you to be “on their side,” but don’t be tempted to agree that your coworker is a jerk!
5. Mirror What Others Say
“Mirroring” is a classic conflict management technique that opens channels of communication by creating mutual empathy on an unconscious level.
You can mirror people in two ways: One, by reflecting what they say in your own words to verify understanding. Two, by responding to their body language and vocabulary, “matching” them in subtle ways. This reduces perceived threat.
6. Offer a True Apology
These days, people have gotten more and more used to face-saving non-apologies – “I’m sorry you felt that way.” When they approach you with a problem they’re having with your business, they are usually bracing themselves for exactly that kind of treatment.
A real apology shows them you are on the same side. That is perfect for helping them lower their guard and collaborate.
7. Always Assume the Best
Yes, some people will make up “false reports” so they can get something from your business. This has become especially common as companies have grown more dependent on review sites like Yelp.
Still, assuming good intentions until proven otherwise will spare your sanity. If a customer is truly taking advantage, that’s likely to come to light somewhere down the line.
8. Clarify Your Next Steps
In customer service, the customer’s only job is to report the problem. After that, it becomes your own adventure.
You’ll probably have many different things you need to do behind the scenes. Before you get started, ensure you lay out the steps that will be taken to resolve the issue, plus the timeline. This keeps customers from thinking that nothing is being done.
9. Match Problem to Solution
Since customer service reps field all kinds of complaints, it’s easy to lose sight of this fact: Most people don’t like to complain and will only do so in situations they deem relatively serious.
In that kind of scenario, a $10 gift card is unlikely to restore their goodwill. Look for answers that are a) specific to the issue the customer raised and b) commensurate with the harm they feel.
10. Follow Up Promptly
In many cases, these conflict resolution techniques get you a long way back toward a state of harmony. At the very least, your effort should be obvious! But customers may still be peeved, even if they give you the benefit of the doubt.
Be sure to follow up ASAP to ensure they are satisfied, especially if their solution is “cooking” and the results might not be obvious to them right away.
11. Don’t Give Up Until Your Customer Is Satisfied
Whenever you follow up about a solution, get specific feedback. Does the answer you provided match expectations? If not, what additional action would the customer deem appropriate?
A small fraction of customers may be unreasonable, but most will lay out clear expectations. This lets you continue on until you truly grasp their position.
12. Set Appropriate Limits on Behavior
Let’s face it: In some workplaces, “the customer is always right” has been taken to extremes. No effective conflict resolution techniques require you to absorb threats or abuse.
Be familiar with your company’s escalation policy as well as its safety policies. In a call center environment, know when and how to forward cases to supervisors.
13. Document Your Results
These days, most forward-thinking firms are launching customer relationship management (CRM) software. Among its many benefits is the fact that a CRM serves as a sort of “permanent record” for all the times a customer interacts with you.
No matter what the standard is, however, be sure you document the nature of the problem and the actions that were taken in response.
14. Share Your Conflict Resolution Wisdom
It’s fair to say not everyone is great with conflict. While anyone can learn conflict resolution techniques, temperament is a factor in whether someone wants to invest the effort to become truly exceptional.
This is understandable. If you find you’re “one of the greats” when it comes to conflict resolution, though, be sure to share your tips and tactics with your teammates!
Conflict Can Be a Terrific Learning Experience
For most people, conflict isn’t fun – it’s just another part of life.
But handling conflict with aplomb is an essential part of delivering world class customer service.
We all want to get things done right the first time. The truth is, though, that if you handle a problem brilliantly, it can make a lasting positive impression. In some cases, that may be better than if everything had gone smoothly in the first place.
Mistakes and complaints seem unpleasant, but approach them as learning opportunities and you can turn them into wins.