Unfortunately, conflict is an unavoidable aspect of the human condition, and is likely to creep into the conversation any time expectations differ. Conflict can raise stress levels and leave long-lasting effects on employee health, decreasing job satisfaction, and increasing absenteeism and tenure rates.
It is critical that employees who interact with clients on a regular basis work to improve their conflict management skills, and specifically, their ability understand the customer perspective. Communicating appropriately and professionally can deescalate conflict and allow all parties to come to an amicable solution.
The best method for understanding the customer perspective is simply learning to lead clients through a gentle, productive discussion of their perspective. If the interaction is positive to begin with, or an upset customer is still relatively calm, the employee can use encouraging language and ask relevant questions needed to move the conversation forward.
Employees should use positive phrases that affirm they are listening, such as “I understand” or “I see”, and ask the questions that reflect the client’s language. For example, saying “Just to make sure I’ve understood your perspective, you have experienced X, which has led to you to feel Y. What solution can we implement to help resolve this issue?” can do quite a bit to prevent misunderstandings.
When a client or customer first becomes frustrated, employees can prevent further escalations by taking care to avoid anger-triggering statements and body language. The employee should not try to make excuses for why they can’t meet a customer need, state that it isn’t part of their job description, or send an angry client off on a wild goose chase of call forwards and voice mails to have them speak to a manager who isn’t immediately available. These actions can give the client the impression that their concerns are being dismissed, which is sure to turn their frustration to anger.
Once a client is genuinely angered, it becomes even more important to treat them with dignity and respect. Being told to “calm down” is likely to be perceived as patronizing and downright infuriating to most, and a customer who already feels cheated is no exception to this rule. Following this up with statements like “as you were told” or “as it says in Document X” will leave the patient feeling further disrespected and dismissed.
Instead, employees can use phrases such as “You have every right to feel upset” or “Yes, I understand that you are upset about this situation” to help the upset client to feel validated in their emotions, which can help to sooth hurt feelings. Adding in a short apology for their inconvenience is always a good move, but it must be genuine and specific to their situation. A generic “We’re sorry for any inconvenience” may negate any progress that has been made.
When an employee is able to proactively use empathy and active listening skills throughout their interactions with clients, they will find that it is much easier to understand the perspectives and emotions of the customer. Keeping the customer perspective in mind throughout discussions will allow employees to find solutions that are a win-win for everyone, leaving the customer feeling heard and tended to properly and the employee more confident and calm in their customer service role.