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.
Conflict management styles
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:
- Collaborating style – This one is focused on teamwork. A person with a collaborating style will work together with the opposite side to find a solution that satisfies both parties. This style usually works best for long-term relationships, such as those with long-term recurring clients.
- Competing style – The name speaks for itself: the person only cares about winning the competition. This style is not recommended in customer service, for obvious reasons.
- Avoiding style – These people diplomatically avoid confrontation. We also don’t recommend sticking to this style in customer service either. When a customer reaches out with a complaint, you should take action right away. In this case, avoiding the problem can only make things worse.
- Accommodating style – This is the opposite of the competing style. The person in question makes sacrifices to please the other party. When you need to maintain a valuable relationship with a client, this might be the right way to go.
- Compromising style – It might be described as meeting the customer in the middle. This may work well when you’re looking for a temporary solution that needs to be applied right away.
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:
How to handle conflicts with clients
Avoid getting defensive
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.
Need help with an angry customer?
LiveAgent has built-in communication tools that enable you to reach out to your colleagues when you’re at a loss or need a word of encouragement.
Mind your tone
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:
Speak the language of empathy
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:
- Thank you for getting in touch – This is one of the best possible conversation openers. No matter how frustrated the customer is, it never hurts to thank them at the very beginning. When you start the conversation with something positive, the customer will feel more appreciated.
- If I understood you right… – Don’t assume that you know everything about the client’s needs. Not only does it sound patronizing, but it may also frustrate the customer when it turns out that you didn’t understand their intentions. It’s therefore good practice to ask for confirmation, and the other person will feel more respected.
- I’ve experienced this issue too – That’s true, it doesn’t work in all situations. Sometimes it’s impossible that you’ve stepped in the customer’s shoes. On the other hand, when the profile of your company allows it, it really pays off to use this empathy statement. When the client knows that you’ve had a similar experience, they’re more likely to listen. They can also perceive you as more competent, given that you’ve already dealt with the same problem.
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.
Don’t react to insults
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!
- Customer Support Mistakes You Probably Make (Updated)
- How To Win Back a Disappointed or Angry Customer (Tips)
- How To Handle Customer Complaints / Angry customers
- How to talk to customers (Guide)
- Empathy In Customer Service (+Statements)
- Shep Hyken Insights + Tips for Great Customer Service
- Customer Service Checklist – solve your customers problems like a pro
- Must-have Customer Service Soft Skills