Business Advice

How to deal with difficult customers when you’re working from home

- November 10, 2020 3 MIN READ
customer complaint

While the skills of managing a complaint are similar whether you are in an office or home environment, the location of where you manage the complaint is having an impact on customer service professionals, writes customer service and leadership expert Monique Richardson.

Through multiple workshops and coaching conversations, team members have shared with me the difficulties of dealing with complaining customers in their own homes.

Managing difficult conversations

The greatest challenge shared is missing the physical support of colleagues normally present in the office. No longer having the team physically nearby to assist, being able to de-brief with someone in the near vicinity or having immediate access to a leader to rely on for support when an issue escalates is not easy. In addition, having to work in shared spaces where others may overhear the call or having to manage complaints from a more personal space such as a bedroom, is all having an impact.

When faced with a complaining customer, it can be helpful to have a way to structure the conversation.

Give the HEAT method a try

Step 1 – Hear the customer out

The first step when managing complaints is focusing on your breathing to allow you to slow down and focus your thoughts. Let the customer vent their frustration and listen attentively without interrupting. While acknowledging it can be challenging, try not to take it personally and remind yourself the customer is normally complaining because of a process or issue.

Step 2 – Empathise

Empathy is one of the most powerful ways to connect with a complaining customer. Acknowledge their level of emotion and show you are looking at the problem from their point of view. Use sincere empathy statements such as “I can appreciate you are upset…,”.

Step 3 – Apologise, Ask Questions

Apologising is another way of connecting with the customer. Ensure that apologies are meaningful, personal, and neutral. For example, “I am sorry there has been a delay with our response”. A timely and sincere apology can move the customer to a rational state where it is easier to deal with them and prevent further escalation.

Move to problem-solving by asking questions through seeking permission, for example, “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about…?”. Continue to ask as many questions as necessary to fully understand their complaint.

Step 4 – Take Ownership

There are three ways to take ownership of  a customer’s complaint.

  1. Presenting an immediate solution.
  2. Committing to further investigate the complaint.
  3. Delivering an outcome that is not in their favour. If this is the case,
  • Focus on potential options or alternatives.
  • Educate the customer by explaining why you cannot deliver on their expectation.
  • Empathise – a statement such as “I am so sorry there is nothing further we can do” can at least provide acknowledgement. Advise of any internal or external recourse available to them.

As part of a complaints service recovery process, follow up after the complaint can be greatly valued. All data from the complaint should continue to be logged to ensure root cause analysis and prevent future complaints.

Tips for taking care of yourself while managing complaints from home

Without the clear delineation between home and work and the physical isolation of your team, the stress of dealing with complaints can be heightened. It can be beneficial to:

  • Examine your work environment. Is it working for you? If you find you are taking things more personally than before, reflect on where you are working and if necessary and possible, find an alternative workspace. If you can, remove your work from your bedroom.
  • Pack your work away or close the office door at the end of each day if feasible.
  • Change your physical state. Stand up, move around or have a cup of tea.
  • Utilise peer and leadership networks to gain support and ideas. Don’t be afraid to check in with the team or your leader via phone or chat.
  • Use personal debriefing. After a complaint, ask yourself, “What was positive about the way I managed the complaint? What would I do differently next time? What can I learn from this?” Acknowledge the complaints you have managed well.
  • Focus on self-care strategies that work for you. Walk the dog at lunchtime, engage in yoga or meditation and focus on doing something you love and enjoy at the end of the day.

Managing complaints is one of the most challenging aspects of working with customers and has proven for some to be even more difficult when working from home. By engaging the skills to manage complaints and implementing strategies to take care of yourself, it will assist in supporting both the customer and yourself as we all adapt to our new ways of working.

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