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The Seven Essential Conflict Resolution Skills for Customer Service Representatives

People typically buy from you because of your note-worthy product, service, or brand reputation. In contrast, they most frequently stop buying from you because of poor customer service.

Studies show that around 58% of customers ditch a company because of a poor customer service experience. That’s why conflict resolution skills are some of the most fundamental skills for a customer service team to have. 

In this post, we explore seven ways representatives can handle conflicts in their customer service conversations. With these conflict resolution skills, your customer service team will be able to better resolve customer issues and protect your customer retention rates.  

Sound familiar? 

A customer phones one of your agents. They’re frustrated because their carefully thought-out Valentine’s gift for their partner still hasn’t arrived. They’re close to getting angry.  

Meanwhile, over in a live chat conversation, a customer is feeling frustrated because she’s having issues with your company’s latest tech upgrade.  

Every day, customer service representatives are up against hundreds of similar scenarios. Frustration and overwhelm are common. Your representatives need the skills to handle these issues confidently, calmly, and effectively.  

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Conflict will happen 

No matter how efficient your customer service operation is, or how great your customer service solution is, issues will still arise. There’s no way to avoid confrontation and conflict.  

To handle these situations effectively, your customer service agents need excellent communication skills. We’ve identified the seven most important of these skills to put into play below.  

Seven skills that your representatives can use to help resolve conflicts 

Remain calm as much as possible  

If a customer or prospective client is raising their voice or using obscenities, it’s easy to adopt the same attitude. But an agent must always maintain their cool.  

One tried-and-true technique: breathe in deeply and release slowly. It’s important to breathe from the diaphragm, rather than the chest, to tap into the relaxing powers of the breath.  

Another approach is ‘see’ oneself from outside the situation. Rather than saying, “I am angry,” agents can reframe and give themselves space from their anger by saying, “A part of me carries anger.” This space can give your agents new perspective and help prevent overwhelm.  

Understand what the caller wants  

An agitated person can jump from subject to subject. In many cases, it’s up to the representative to help the customer focus on the real problem. You can do this by asking targeted questions about the customer’s problem.  

Sometimes, someone is calling just to vent their frustration. In this case, the goal is to lend a sympathetic ear for a sufficient amount of time. When you do this, you enable the caller to blow off steam.  

To be effective, agents need to understand the difference between the two scenarios. Giving someone enough space to talk can give agents enough time to distinguish between the two instances.  

Manage expectations and set limits 

Let’s say a customer wanted to upgrade their service without any additional costs. As per your company’s terms and conditions, this isn’t possible. It can be difficult for agents to juggle customers’ expectations with the reality of the way you do business.  

As such, your agents need to structure such conversations from the outset to ensure callers’ expectations don’t run wild. Agents need to lay out your business processes calmly and confidently and make sure the customer understands the next steps. 

To keep a customer, adopt the right tone 

Customer service representatives are brand ambassadors, and if there’s a problem, they should apologize for the issue and be transparent with the customer. All this should be done without a ‘better than’ or ‘less than’ attitude that results in customers feeling ‘talked down’ or ‘talked up’ to.  

Customers appreciate a good-faith effort to resolve issues, especially when the representative appears to be straightforward when offering information and managing explanations.  

Manage mental health  

Dealing with irritated, venting customers can quickly take its toll. A stressed-out agent can’t deal with customer problems effectively. As such, agents should be encouraged to take care of their mental health. Training should be provided, support should be offered, and discussions around stress and mental health should be encouraged.  

Beyond putting the right infrastructure into play, here are some simple ways agents can manage their mental health:  

  • Journaling one’s thoughts and feelings for 10-15 minutes a day has been found to significantly reduce stress, depression, and anxiety levels. This practice is called Therapeutic Writing. People who journal in this way are found to be more optimistic and physically healthy (something we can thank the mind-body connection for!). It can even reduce the number of sick days your employees take. Journaling doesn’t have to be difficult to fit in – employees can even do it while catching up on their Netflix binge!  
  • Meditation has been found to help mental wellbeing, reduce stress, and boost happiness. There are lots of great apps out there, including Insight Timer, which offers free guided meditations.  
  • Aerobic exercise can have a great impact on people’s mental health. The best exercise is one that your representatives enjoy most, from rollerblading to rock climbing.  

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Mirror back their experience  

One strategy that therapists use to help their clients feel seen and empathized with is a technique called mirroring.  

When someone expresses a thought of feeling, such as, “I’m irritated that I can’t log into my account,” an effective approach can be to mirror that language back to them. For example, an agent can say, “Sorry to hear that, that is a really irritating and frustrating experience.”  

Anger is what psychotherapists label as a ‘secondary emotion’. A secondary emotion is a protective emotion that arises in response to a more vulnerable feeling, such as fear or sadness.  

Sadness can be connected to disappointment or loss. While fear can be connected to concern or worry. In these moments, what many people are looking for is validation, recognition, and empathy.  

Empathy cuts through anger and helps establish a connection with the customer by helping them feel understood and heard.  

Skilfully and calmly reframe information  

While many aspects of how your company does business may seem obvious to your customer service representatives, most of your customers or clients are completely unaware of your business processes and limitations.  

As a result, it may be necessary to repeat oneself several times in a conversation. This often needs to be done in different ways and with patience. Above all, agents should refrain from saying things like: “As I said” or, “As I told you.” These kinds of statements can quickly escalate the conversation.  

Unfortunately, there will be instances where a customer may refuse to hear or simply be unable to understand what the agent is trying to say. After all avenues have been burnt out, agents should find ways to end the conversation politely, respectfully, and calmly.  

Customer service conflict resolution: manage conflicts like a pro  

Challenging customer conversations can feel stressful and overwhelming, but these techniques will help representatives maintain their cool and help them feel better in the work. With the right skills and know-how, reps can use difficult customer interactions to build trust and establish an emotional connection with your customers.  

To learn more about how we can help you provide excellent customer experiences and boost customer happiness, head to our page about Mobile Service Cloud.  

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As a copywriter, Brechtje shares a lot of content for our Customer Service, Customer Support, Marketing & Sales community. Believes in 'customer first'.

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