Service with disrespect: top tips for handling rude customers

4th October 2021

This blog is part of our series of insights for National Customer Service Week. The changing world of work and it’s impact on customer and employee experience was shared on Monday.

‘The customer is always right’ is how the saying goes. But I am sure I not alone in admitting that I don’t always agree with that sentiment. We’re all customers in some form after all, and I’m sure many of us have experienced not wanting to back down when talking with customer service – in pursuit of what we want, despite knowing we were in the wrong. However, how you conduct yourself in these interactions is key and there’s a clear distinction between being assertive and being rude.

Many years ago, while working for the customer services team of a travel firm, I often dreaded that that the next call I was going to take, was going to be someone launching into a laundry list of complaints about a booking. Regardless of the issue, I always remained professional and appreciated that whatever was wrong with the booking, it was important enough for the customer to get it fixed. I could never understand though when customers would get personal about the issues, “it’s your fault the flight’s been cancelled”, “you’ve ruined my holiday”, “I’m going to sue you for negligence”, and on rare occasion, some callers would even use profanity to emphasize their point.

And it would seem customers being rude, abusive, and disrespectful to customer facing staff is only on the rise. UK Government research shows that 70% of customer-facing employees have either witnessed or experienced hostility from customers, which has led the Government to promise to help combat this issue.

Top tips for supporting your staff with rude customers

Your front-line staff will no doubt take the full force of disrespectful customers but there are things your business can do to support them with these interactions.

1. Train your agents so they feel prepared

It seems obvious but regular training to support your agents on how to handle uncomfortable or challenging customer calls is a must. Make them aware of the process for these types of calls – is there a script they should follow? What’s the process with flagging these calls to their manager? Do they terminate the call when it becomes abusive? Give your staff everything they need to feel prepared and confident when dealing with a rude customer.

2. Support team members that don’t receive rude customer calls often

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC), Canada, studied the impact of customer rudeness on employees. Their findings show that staff who expect to encounter rude customers at work react far less strongly than those who normally enjoy good customer relations, but who face unexpected rudeness. The lesson here being that rudeness can affect agents in different ways. While some may not be phased by it, others may take it personally and this could have a significant emotional impact on them and their wellbeing.

3. Use a good speech analytics tool

Speech analytics is a powerful tool that can be used to look for specific things your customers are saying and how your agents are reacting. You can search for profanities from the customer and gain insight on what may have provoked it or whether there is a common reason behind such calls. Where real time analytics are available, you can be alerted of these instances as they’re happening, enabling managers to listen in and assist their agent both with the call and any support needed afterwards.

4. Survey disgruntled customers

Similar to speech analytics, requesting feedback from a customer in the form of a survey is a great way of understanding what the issues are. This verbatim can be analysed in the same way as speech to shed light on pain points and improvement opportunities.

5. Resolve things quickly

If you’re able to fix the reason behind your customer’s outburst, do so and do it quickly. We’ve been able to prove (using speech analytics and surveys) that the speed in which you fix a customer’s problem directly impacts how the customer will view you in the future, sometimes leading to an increased confidence, knowing you’ll do what needs to be done.

If you’re looking for ways to support your customer service team with rude customers, we have some ideas (and clever technology) that can help you.

Free time in your diary?

To find out more about our ideas and clever technology, please get in touch with Lee Mostari, Director of Insight and Analytics, to arrange time to talk. You can contact Lee at Lee.mostari@davies-group.com

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