Monday, August 28, 2023

Dealing with a Difficult Customer Over the Phone

Listen to the Customer’s Complaint

The value of listening cannot be overstated. However, listening involves more than simply hearing the words the customer says. Developing the skills of active listening can ensure you not only hear the words your customers say but understand your customers’ concerns on a deeper level. You will find our steps for active listening at

Build Rapport

• Address the other person by name. 

• Have a smile in your voice. 

• Use “we” language to indicate the collaborative nature of the interaction. 

• Be honest and genuine. If you truly do not know the answer to a question, be up front but also demonstrate a willingness to find the answer.

• Demonstrate empathy and actively listen, speaking with an even pace and in a lower tone of voice.

• Be attentive to silence. A short silence allows you the opportunity to digest what the customer is telling you, and it indicates to the customer that you are thinking about what they said.

• Show agreement with the customer when you do genuinely agree, and express specifically why you agree.

• If you must disagree with a customer, give your reasons first, and do it gently.

• Be polite in your interactions. You can offer compliments when genuine, but don’t overdo it. Avoid criticism. Instead, offer alternatives in the form of a question: "What if we tried this …"

Do NOT Respond with Negative Words or Emotion

If you respond with negative words or emotions, this can reinforce the negativity. While responding with empathy often requires that you acknowledge a customer’s negative emotions, your choice of words can set the tone for the remainder of the conversation. For example, to acknowledge that your customer has had a frustrating experience, using the word “challenging” rather than “frustrating”, can communicate that the problem is a solvable one.

Offer a Solution

Offering a solution or a range of solutions helps to diminish a customer’s anxiety. Be specific, and set realistic expectations. When offering a range of solutions, indicate your preferred solution and why it’s preferred. Ask, “does this work for you?” If the answer is "no," probe further to determine the objections.

Until next time ...


Sheryl Tuchman, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

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