“What do you want?”
It’s a question many call center agents and sales reps hear all too frequently.
Of course, the real question for agents is, how do you handle angry prospects in your call center? How do you de-escalate your phone calls to win over angry or difficult customers?
Finding the right answers is critical, whether you’re running an outbound or a blended call center. Because, let’s face it, many people aren’t exactly thrilled to pick up their phone these days.
10 Tips for Handling Angry Call Center Calls
To move past initial anger and connect with a prospect, agents need more than just the right sales script. They need effective techniques to deal with angry customers and keep them on the line.
From pre-call prevention to post-call disposition, we’ve got 10 helpful tips for outbound call center agents below. Of course, running into some angry customers is inevitable. To bring down the temperature and get the call back on track, turn to these tips and techniques.
1. Prevent Angry Customers to Begin With
Before placing a call, contact centers should take top prevention measures that limit their chances of getting a disgruntled prospect on the other end:
- Focus on high-intent leads: Target efforts toward leads that are most interested in relevant products or services to boost conversion rates while making the most of agents’ time and lead costs.
- Protect your caller IDs: Use caller ID reputation management tools to protect the health of your caller IDs. When leads know who’s calling them, they will be more at ease from the start.
- Use smart redial and recycle strategies: Calling a prospect too much is a good way to aggravate a potential customer. Automated workflow technology can limit redialing and rest numbers for set amounts of tim e and increase the lifetime of those leads.
- Implement an omnichannel approach: Supplementing outbound calls with strategic texts and emails can help call centers reach customers at the right time and in the right channel for them. Learn more about omnichannel solutions.
- Skills-based routing: Make sure prospects are matched with the best available agent for their needs with smart skills-based routing.
- Dynamic scripting: After a call begins, dynamic scripting can keep agents on message—and keep customer conversations on the rails.
With good list, lead, and agent management, many difficult calls can be avoided altogether.
2. Don’t Take It Personally
First things first: Agents can’t take an angry prospect personally. This is critical to instill even before getting on a call.
Businesses may never know what’s driving a potential customer’s frustration. They may just be having a bad day. (We all have those.) Or maybe they’ve had bad experiences with telemarketers and are assuming the worst about this new call.
Whatever their reason, when you know not to take a client’s anger personally, it’s easy to focus instead on weeding through the anger to address their underlying concerns.
3. Remain Calm and Confident
It can be easy to be taken aback by an angry prospect. Don’t be.
When viewed from a distance, some of the most common hostile questions that come from a prospect (“What do you want?”, “Why are you calling me?”, etc.) actually have simple answers that can be answered quickly and confidently.
4. Listen First
One of the most important steps to take with angry customers is to allow them to be angry while simply listening.
Angry customers want to be heard, and the best agents will work to reassure customers that they’re listening. To move the call from a place of anger to productive conversation, let prospects do the talking at first—and then show them that you’re listening.
Sometimes, it’s only after launching into a sales script that a prospect will voice their displeasure. In this case, even if the prospect is merely venting, they’re actually divulging information that a sales rep can work with. Take note of the pain points or misunderstandings that are driving their anger and use them to fuel a pitch once they’ve said their piece.
5. Be Empathetic
Along the way, it’s important to display empathy toward the prospect’s frustrations and concerns. When angry customers are met with empathetic agents, it’s easier for them to express their problems and make it clear what solution they expect.
Simple but genuine responses like “I understand how you feel” and “I can see how that is so frustrating” can help de-escalate the situation quickly. By showing empathy, the prospect will be able to understand that they’re speaking with a person with potential solutions to their issues, not simply a salesperson who’s after their money.
6. Stay Positive
An outbound call is not an occasion to fight fire with fire. Don’t match an irate prospect’s anger—things will just go downhill quickly.
Instead of feeding into a client’s negativity, keep a positive attitude that helps the customer understand that, despite their frustrations, you’re able to deliver a solution. Positivity is contagious, and even if it doesn’t work at first, it will wear off on customers eventually.
7. Stick to the Facts
Facts can help de-escalate angry conversations and encourage customers to further define the ideal solutions to their problems. When confronted with an angry customer, remember to touch back on or clarify the facts of their situation (“Let me make sure I understand your problem…”) to keep things between the lines.
When talking to warm leads, it can be useful to remind them of their initial interest in your product or service. Including CRM data about when, where, and how they expressed interest in a sales script can help trigger more positive thoughts in prospects.
8. Secure the Next Step
Even after successfully walking a prospect back from the brink, it might not be the best opportunity to make a big sale. Regardless, it’s important to get the most value out of the conversation.
Nurture the relationship with the prospect by creating and securing a next step that will help ease their concerns and move them down the path to purchase. This approach can take a variety of forms. For instance, one might schedule a follow-up call to discuss things in further depth, schedule an in-person appointment or demo so that they can see (and believe) a product in action, or an agent might email them a case study or piece of thought leadership that directly addresses pain points.
Whatever the next step is, making the prospect feel as though they don’t need to make a purchase—especially so soon after being angry or defensive—can relieve some of the pressure from the situation.
9. See If There’s a Better Time
Of course, the next step with a prospect won’t always be something further down the funnel. Sometimes, it’s best to show respect for an angry customer’s time and schedule another conversation at a time that’s better for them.
When working with warm leads, prospects have already registered some interest in product or services. So, their anger is more likely driven by something that has nothing to do with the company that’s following up on that interest. Agents may have better luck by calling back at a different time.
However, this next call shouldn’t be left up to chance. Agents should politely press the prospect to choose and schedule a specific time so that they don’t lose out on the lead entirely.
10. Take Notes
No matter what happens while on a call with an angry customer, it’s important to record the events once the call is complete. Post-call dispositions can be used to inform future sales calls.
Did a particular de-escalation technique work well? Was the prospect misinformed about a product? There are a wide range of details that can be gleaned from conversations and used to improve your company’s sales process—even if it’s not a call that leads to conversion.
Efficient Agent Conversations and Call Center Success
Although not every angry prospect is going to be won over by these de-escalation techniques, using them consistently can go a long way toward driving efficient agent conversations.
And efficiency is ultimately what this is all about. Because with the right tools and techniques on their side, improved agent performance has a ripple effect throughout call centers: When agents make the most of their time, they save managers time, and they save their call center on leads.
And when you’re improving all three of the key call center efficiencies, you know you’re on the proven path to improved ROI.