Are Your Contact Center Agents Prepared The Holiday Season?

Black Friday is approaching fast. You’ve spent weeks or months working through your customer service priority checklist: people, processes, technology, workflows. Your front-line teams are bracing for what’s coming – and that may mean an influx of angry customers.

It’s not just higher call volumes your agents are worried about. They know they’ll be hearing from angry customers whose holiday stress has been made worse by a poor brand experience.

Are your agents ready to handle these difficult encounters? Do they have the tools, training, and support they’ll need to save the customer relationship and carry on in the spirit of the season?

If you’re the least bit unsure, it’s time to zero in on the following best practices.

Engaging the Angry Customer: 5 Things Agents and Team Leaders Must Do

Your teams need to understand the vital role they play now and throughout the year. It’s not to defend the brand against hordes of angry, demanding customers. It’s to exemplify the best of the brand, especially when things go wrong, so customer loyalty is stronger in the end.

Angry customers are looking to connect with “brand heroes”— agents who are empowered with the knowledge and authority to solve problems on the spot. If your customers encounter anything less, you risk losing them forever.

1. Know what kinds of inquiries to expect

Just as agents need a good grasp of products, policies, promotions, and technology, they need to be prepared for the types of inquiries they’ll likely face. If the question or issue is a familiar one, it can be easily resolved, allowing agents to handle more calls and satisfy more customers in a given time frame.

Team leaders: Communicating with other departments is critical during the busy holiday season. Make sure you’re getting updates from (and sharing timely customer feedback with) marketing, operations, website management, and other brand teams so your agents aren’t caught off guard and you can help prevent unnecessary contacts.

2. Bring the temperature down

Anger can turn to outrage when customers are subjected to patronizing, scripted, or tone deaf responses. Agents should do what any good brand representative would: listen closely to the customer, ask questions to better understand the problem, and focus on solving it.

It’s important for agents to take charge of the conversation early and steer it in the right direction by: 1) treating the customer’s problem as a common enemy; 2) using only positive language; and 3) suggesting a resolution that best suits both the customer and the brand.

Team leaders: Make soft skills a big focus of your onboarding and refresher training. Get inside the mind of an angry customer. Incorporate plenty of role play in your training to boost agents’ confidence. Consider sharing stories of comically bad customer service to not only lighten the mood, but also get agents thinking and talking about how these customer encounters should have been handled.

3. Be transparent

Angry customers want honesty, even if the immediate answer is “I don’t know.” They’d rather wait a few minutes for complete, up-to-date information than be misled or hastily transferred. If agents need to research a problem/solution, they shouldn’t be shy about asking the customer to give them a few minutes to do so.

Team leaders: Provide agents with easy access to the people and resources they need to research customer histories as well as products, policies, and promotions. Be less concerned with average handle time than with first call resolution; a rising FCR rate is a win-win-win for customers, agents, and the brand.

4. Make policy exceptions when appropriate

When they hear from VIP customers or those who’ve had a particularly bad experience, agents shouldn’t be quick to dismiss requests that go against brand policy. The brand stands to lose big, in terms of both reputation and revenue, if you treat these customers just like everyone else.

Make sure agents know they’re free to make exceptions in certain cases, taking into account the customer’s history with the brand and/or the nature of the complaint.

Team leaders: Ensure consistency on the front line—and keep call escalations to a minimum—by explaining when policy exceptions can be granted, what resolution might look like, and the process agents should follow.

5. Don’t let negative energy from an angry customer take hold

The stress of an emotionally charged interaction can take an emotional toll. When agents don’t have the time, space, and support they need to recover, morale suffers. The resulting impact on performance and service outcomes can be significant and lasting.

Team leaders: Allow agents to take breaks and gather themselves after grueling encounters. Offer support and encouragement, and help agents better prepare for these types of calls in the future, during 1:1 micro-coaching sessions.

To help agents bounce back fully and continue performing at their peak, give high fives for great customer feedback as soon as possible and throughout the day (aim for a 5:1 positive-to-negative ratio). And be sure to recognize some of your agents’ outstanding service encounters publicly, with the entire team and across the organization.

An Empowered Team Can Turn the Worst Encounters Into Brand Wins

The best, most resilient customer service teams are well trained and supported. They have the skills, tools, and confidence to handle whatever might come their way. They gladly take ownership of the service experience, with the encouragement of team leaders. And they understand the true impact they’re making on the front line—from the customer’s point of view.

Angry customers expect agents to be, at the very least, committed to resolving the issue at hand and competent enough to get it done. In those moments, even white-hot anger can turn to lifelong brand loyalty. Unleash your brand superheroes by empowering them fully, and they’ll be ready to soar through the coming holiday rush.