If you’ve ever worked in customer service, you know that it’s hardly a walk in the park. You learn a lot about human nature and you’re faced with a wide range of challenges. Conflicts are almost an inevitability, regardless of the industry.
One could say that resolving conflicts is a form of art. You need to carefully juggle your client’s expectations, consider the available resources, work through strong emotions, and, above all, preserve your well-being.
In this article, we’re going to share some of our best conflict resolution tips for handling communication with clients. However, before we move on, we’d like to introduce you to one of the most interesting psychological concepts that can be applied to customer service.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument describes five major styles of conflict management. This tool is typically used by HR professionals, yet it can also be successfully applied to customer service.
The five styles of managing conflicts include:
The takeaway? When possible, it’s best to aim for the collaborating style. Accommodating strategies work well for key clients that are demanding, while the compromising style can be used ad hoc when you need to smooth things over.
Once you’re aware of these different styles, it’s easier to see what your default strategy is. You’ll become more aware of your own behavior and you’ll be able to start working on your communication with customers in the future.
Now, let’s move on to some actionable insights:
The client is not here to listen to your excuses. Instead of making things better, explaining your behavior might just make things worse as it might come off as if you don’t want to take responsibility for your actions. In addition to that, they may feel like you’re not really listening to their complaints and only care about ‘clearing your name.’
It’s not about telling the client you’ve done nothing wrong. Whether you like it or not, it’s about telling them what they want to hear. They came for a solution to their problem, and even if it can’t be applied right away, they need some sort of guidance. This is why you should aim for another approach:
As a customer service representative, you’re the face of the company. Even if you’re not the one who made the mistake, you’re still speaking on behalf of the product and the organization. The client doesn’t care who is actually accountable for the mishap. Therefore, the best thing you can do is take responsibility, admit your mistakes, and come up with a solution. Even if the issue is uncommon and you’re not sure what to do, you should always present the customer with a plan. Tell them exactly what you’re going to do, who you’re going to ask for advice, and assure them that you’re taking care of their problem.
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This is particularly important when it comes to online customer support as well as social media. Many conflicts arise online because we don’t see the other person’s facial expressions and body language. The only way to convey meaning is through writing. This is why it’s crucial to be mindful of your tone. And here’s where another aspect comes in:
You can use words to express empathy towards the client. When they’re in trouble, they want to feel that you care about their feelings.
To make it work, you can use these empathy statements as a point of reference:
When a customer is angry, they may not always share the core of the problem. Instead, they will focus on their emotions and frustration. Ask your client about the source of their feelings, e.g. what exactly made you angry? Another good question is What can I do to help you? This will give the person space and opportunity to describe their expectations openly.
Sometimes even the most sublime conflict solving skills won’t help if the client is particularly enraged. When the customer starts insulting you personally, the best thing to do is to ignore the verbal abuse. Once you start trading insults, there is no way you can recover from that. You’ll likely lose the customer, and it’s bound to affect your business negatively.
The best thing to do is to remain professional and unprovoked. The anger will eventually pass if it’s not fueled by your responses. When you don’t reply to slurs and offensive messages, the person on the other side will also gain some extra time to reflect on their actions and defuse their emotions.
Once again, we’re well aware of the fact that customer service is not a piece of cake. This is why we’re sharing tools and knowledge to help you deal with conflicts successfully. It pays off to familiarize yourself with different styles of managing conflicts. Remember to use empathetic phrases and throw some “thank you’s” in for good measure. It’s sure to pay off in the long run. Fingers crossed!
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