We asked a group of customer service reps to choose what training area they needed help with to take their work from good to great. Was it Stress Management? Communication Skills? Time Management? Most CSRs chose “Handling Upset Customers” as their top training need. Managers were surprised — they did not perceive many of their customers ever being truly upset. So, what were the CSRs telling us?

The first thing they were pointing out was that “upset customer” is a highly subjective thing. It can be colored by the kind of day we are having, how well we’ve slept, our state of mind. The second thing they were telling us was that they needed help handling emotions.

Call monitoring showed that whenever a customer wasn’t nice on the phone, many CSRs were at a loss. They forgot to relate, forgot empathy, forgot to breathe and reverted to asking, “Can I have your phone number?” The customer’s strong emotion prevented the rep from accessing their own resources for dealing with the situation. When this happens the customer can hear it, feel it, they  begin to question the CSRs ability to help.  What the rep hears next is:  “Let me talk to your manager,” which can be frustrating.

Most people don’t have experience handling strong emotion.  We’re told to keep going, hide tears, suppress anger. But strong emotions provide important feedback; they need to be acknowledged, or they’ll never flow healthily into resolution.  Effective communication can transform strong emotion into powerful feedback for the business and into memorable service for the customer.  When a CSR can listen, acknowledge and guide their customer toward some stability the customer remembers the quality of the interaction. It’s a great gift we give a customer to acknowledge their emotion, listen and move on with it. “I can hear that you are upset and I am sorry for any inconvenience we caused you. Let’s see what we can do to make it right.”

Training our CSRs to be aware, good listeners enables them to handle strong emotion.  Effective training must include a detailed set of steps as well as ample practice — we are freeing up space previously occupied by doubt, fear; we’re changing behavior.  The most effective training identifies and releases fear patterns and blocks. Like anything worthwhile, it requires courage, honesty, and willingness to step out of your comfort zone.  It is powerful. Through role play and practice exercises new healthy patterns are created and reinforced. CSRs emerge more confident, better equipped to handle their own emotions and to guide more positive customer interactions. Better equipped to take their CS work from good to great.