Top Call Center Tactics for Handling Stressed Out Callers

The Art of Thick-Skin
For inbound call center agents, angry, hostile callers are a fact of life. Front line agents are unanimous in their verdict – stressed out callers are nerve-racking! 

They also contribute to the high agent turnover common to call centers.


On the other hand, the customer is always right – even if their words (or volume) are not…right? 

So how do you handle difficult callers?

  1. You Are the Face of the Company
    The caller is frustrated, angry and lashing out. In their eyes, the front line agents are the face of the Company.
  2. Listen to the Caller
    Listen more than talk. Choose a calm tone to match the customer’s emotional state.
  3. Don’t be a Robot
    Be empathetic. Whatever the issue, it’s a major source of frustration for the customer. Be understanding and compassionate, and remember: the customer likely feels they are investing a lot of time into this – which is another source of frustration for them.
  4. Stay Polite & Helpful
    Keep your anger under control, and don’t ever hang up on a customer! However, there are typically call center policies on when ending a call may be acceptable (there’s a pretty clear line between difficult, upset callers and those who launch into sexist, racist or threatening outbursts).
  5. It Isn’t Personal…
    Keep your own frustration in check! Try explaining your position to them in a different way, or keep looking for a reasonable solution that meets the customer’s needs.  

  6. …but if it Becomes Personal, Pass the Call.
    If it does get personal on the call, hand it off to a fellow rep or supervisor who can try a different approach to diffuse the situation. Sometimes, just the feeling that they have progressed through the system to another agent improves cooperation with frustrated callers.
  7. Finally, Take a Deep Breath.
    It’s over! They aren’t fun, but angry customers are a fact of life in the business world. Be sure to find ways that work for you to control stress and maintain your sanity.

How to Eliminate Customer Service Issues that Annoy Customers

Every year, the customer service industry is treated to a ‘Worst of’ list of companies – typically banks, airlines and cable or cell phone providers – who have received recognition for delivering astonishingly bad customer service.


In fairness, these companies are sometimes the victims of misguided customer expectations – though that often indicates a failure to properly communicate what realistic expectations should be to the customer.

In many cases, however, they are…well…simply delivering really bad customer service. While the extremes are usually well-publicized (being dragged off a plane by your foot comes to mind), it is the more routine blunders that tend to get companies branded as bad purveyors of customer service.

And more importantly, these actions lead to customers who don’t want to do business with a particular company.

A recent article at MarketingProfs - The Customer Service Issues That Annoy Consumers Most – explored the data behind some of the customer service behaviors we most dislike. Topping the list: uninformed agents, long wait times, unfriendly agents and complicated automated systems. 

It is interesting that two of these ‘most disliked customer service issues’ are agent-related, and two are technology- or policy related. The good news is that all of these are largely addressable issues.

Training & Coaching: Making Half of Your Brand’s Problems Go Away

The agent-related actions – unknowledgeable or unfriendly agents – can be easily overcome with proper training & coaching. Uninformed agents, which tops the list of most disliked behaviors, is particularly vexing for me as a training- & coaching-focused Quality Assurance pro…mostly because these issues are completely avoidable.

If your agents need some assistance with these two behaviors, give us a call.

How Long Should Wait Time Be? Well, How Important is Your Brand Reputation?

The other two challenges among the top four – long wait times and difficult-to-use automation – are driven more by company policies relating to call center staffing and IT. With wait times, brands need to weigh the long-term value of losing a customer against their agent staffing budgets – and they need to factor in the impact on brand reputation.

That’s a key consideration in the era of social media sharing and instant global communication - brand reputation is easy to lose…and much more difficult (and time-consuming) to recoup.

[By the way, wait times are subjective. How? Check out this article from a few years ago: Wait times and patient satisfaction: Perception is reality.]

Phone Automation That Demands a PhD
Be honest: how many times have you decided that you “still own a rotary phone” in order to get to an agent faster?

While most customers would prefer to speak with a real, live human being, the sheer volume of calls can make automated phone systems (interactive voice response systems, or IVRs) a necessity. Some of these automated phone systems work better than others, to be sure. But in many cases, the complexity of menus makes them almost unnavigable. At best, they are a time-wasting gatekeeper that delays callers from reaching an agent.

How much do callers dislike them? From an April, 2017 Huffington Post article:

“When we asked respondents their opinions about IVRs being the most common entrée to customer service help, the results were almost uniformly negative. Only 10 percent were satisfied with their experience and approximately 35 percent of respondents found the systems difficult to use. Just 3 percent actually liked using the IVR service.”

Don’t Make Me Repeat Myself.
Another customer service automation blunder is systems that repeatedly ask the caller to repeat themselves. It’s something that has happened to all of us: one or two minutes into a call, you find yourself shouting, “Talk to an Agent!!!” into the phone for the thirteenth time, only to be told “Thank you. We’re now transferring you to the Technical Engagement Office.”

If these systems could hear and measure the frustration in your voice, they’d be smart enough to know the time is right to get you to a live person, stat.

In both of these cases, companies may want to revisit how their IVR decision trees are set up, and look for ways to trim or restructure their menu in order to simplify the process for callers.

The Future of Customer Service?
One really interesting takeaway from the research (and a topic I discussed in an earlier post)  was the increasing prominence of chat as a customer service channel:

“Consumers rate online chat as the easiest-to-use customer service channel; email ranks second, followed by phone.”

You can read the full article here.

Quality Assurance Implementation: In With the New… AND the Old?


CSR is currently in the process of developing & implementing a new Quality program for a new client. It’s a (dare I say it? fun) process which never gets old – probably due to the truly individual characteristics and particulars specific to each client.

As we’ve developed quality programs for clients over the years, the industries (both our own quality assurance industry, as well as our client’s customer service and call center industries) have continued to change and evolve.

Staying up-to-speed with developments – and having programs remain relevant in the face of change - has contributed a great deal to CSR’s success over the last few decades.

Key Quality Basics
Strangely, sometimes identifying and implementing the ‘new stuff’ (think: procedures, policies or technology) is less important than the points we’ve long taken for granted. We always make sure to share these key pearls of wisdom with our new clients - and we also frequently remind our old clients of these Quality basics.


Calibrations Aren’t Just a Chore. They’re a Tool –
and An Important One.

All four of these basics tend to go without saying, which is why they really are the most fundamental points of any Quality program. That’s why it’s important to repeat them:

1.       It All Starts at the Top - It Always Starts at the Top.
It is the supervisors who coach agents that make or break a quality program. And to deliver on the promise of a quality program, supervisors must be supported by management.  From the get-go, management buy-in is critically important, and will be one of the largest success factors. Management must commit to the process and provide all the support they can. This includes the tools to make the job efficient, and the time to learn the ropes via the training to make it stick. 

Follow up Coaching the Coach sessions (LINK TO TRAINING MODULE) are great refreshers. Supervisors need to be engaged and also supported on a regular basis. It’s almost an axiom in Quality Assurance: if the supervisors sour, so does the program.

2.       Calibrations Aren’t Just a Chore. They’re a Tool – and An Important One.
One of the ways in which managers can support their team is to ensure that supervisors have the time they need to undertake routine calibrations.

Calibrations can be tedious, so they sometimes seem like a chore or task to be checked off. But to ensure a consistent focus on the customer service traits management cares about, they really need to be productive and positive learning experiences for the supervisor who will – in turn - eventually coach the agent.

Calibrations run smoothest when healthy conversation is fostered. Ensure that the Supervisors understand the objective, and know how to inspire their agents to provide that experience to your customers.  

3.       Scoring & Scripts are Great, But Concentrate on the Customer
Don’t get lost in the measurement. The whole point of a quality assurance program isn’t to ensure an agent sticks to a script or receives a certain score. All of these tools are designed for one purpose: to ensure customer service meets a specific company-driven quality standard. The focus is – and should be – on the customer and whether the agent met their needs, with less emphasis on what specifically the agent said or their particular call score. Outcomes matter.

4.       Positivity Translates to Success.      
The most successful quality assurance programs involve a representative sampling of all employee groups. From the top down (as mentioned above), this should be an ‘all hands on deck’ program, and it must be presented to the team as a force for positive change. Always start coaching sessions by telling the agents what they did well. Remember, the more positive the program, the more helpful it will be to both the agents and the customer – which improves your odds of success.


Customer Satisfaction Surveys: Stop Guessing What Customers Care About

What Matters to Your Customers?
Do your customers care if call center agents address them by name? Does it make a difference? What about product knowledge – should agents know every single product detail? If you don’t know, you should definitely find out – especially if you are training and measuring agents on a specific behavior such as using the customer’s name a few times.

How Important is Training for Call Center Supervisors & Managers?

Customer Service Starts With Coaching the Coaches
Many times when we think about Call Center Quality Assurance, we focus our attention on the front line agents. We also tend to focus most of the training & coaching in a customer service organization on customer service reps (CSRs). Front line agents can only perform to the level of quality they are trained to know.

Customer Retention or Customer Acquisition? It’s Not Even Close.

Landing a customer is one thing, but retaining them is a whole different game. It’s a well-known fact that acquiring a customer is more expensive – and more difficult – than keeping one. Let’s face it – a customer knows your brand and is already familiar with your products and services, so – while not effortless – keeping them as a customer has to be easier right?

Mystery Call Coaching: Leveraging Measurement to Achieve Improvement

QA: Measure All You Want, but Measuring Alone Won’t Change Anything

Getting in shape and losing weight is a great analogy for call center quality assurance (unless you’ve decided your New Year’s fitness resolution was just so last year!). In a fitness program, we measure (or weigh) ourselves often – perhaps even daily. In quality assurance, we measure ourselves often as well – by evaluating calls.

2017 Call Center Trends

2017…yes, we made it!

First some good news: call centers aren’t going away this year (well, not exactly – but more on that later). And while call centers are expected to see an uptick in staffing in 2017 (did you know that 4% of working Americans – about 5 million – already work in a call center?) they are also in the midst of wide-ranging change.

5 Must-Haves for a Successful Call Center Quality Program

An effective call center quality program is vital to keeping your call center running at peak efficiency. But making sure the program itself is also high quality is just as critical. At best, a poorly-designed or badly-executed program will give you an inaccurate picture of what’s working and what’s not. At worst, it can do serious damage to agent morale and productivity.

Top 5 Best Practices for Deploying a Behavior-Based Mystery Calling Incentive Program

While mystery calling incentive programs remain one of the most effective ways to encourage agent growth and improvement, it’s important to handle them right. The key word is incentive. Time and again we’ve found that agents respond more favorably to programs they see as opportunities for reward rather than “gotchas” that lead to punishment.

Bringing it into the Home: Customer Service in the Field

Customer service isn’t what it used to be, but I don’t mean that in a negative sense. In fact – by nearly every measure – companies are working harder than ever, from training through resolution, to resolve customer issues quickly and to provide a positive customer experience.

Technology to Improve Call Center Agent Engagement & Productivity

Earlier this month, I discussed the growing trend towards home-based call center agents. It’s a field that – without a doubt – has been exclusively enabled by technology. But the role of tech in the call center industry stretches well beyond enabling virtual agents.

Call Centers Go Home: Successfully Managing Remote Front Line Agents

First, some bragging rights: we’re early adopters. Ted Turner once said “I was cable before cable was cool.” In a similar vein, CSR went virtual before virtual was cool – and it wasn’t nearly as seamless from a technology standpoint as remote agent systems are today.

Devolving the Customer Experience

We tend to think of customer service (or the customer experience) as constantly improving – that companies are always striving for ‘better.’ It’s similar to technology: at no point do we believe that tomorrow’s tech will perform worse (or offer fewer features) than today’s tech. We know current smartphones won’t devolve into 3 pound flip phones with 45 minutes of battery power, right?