Pain-free customer service calls

Customer service calls can be painful. But a recent study has revealed a way in which these calls can be a lot less frustrating – and it’s so simple.

Okay, let’s paint the picture. You have a problem with your internet connection. You dial the customer service number and you are asked to press one, two, three or four depending on the nature of your call. You press one, and the automated service leads you to a second series of ‘press one, two, three, four or hold the line’ messages. You finally think that you’ve pressed all the right buttons and you are put on hold and told your call will be answered shortly. Shortly. Yeah right …

We’ve all been there.

By the time your call is finally answered, you’re in a right state and the first person to whom you speak is the most obvious target of your ire. And if there’s even a hint of an accent, well, needless to say, things can often get a little heated.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology has revealed a simple tweak which, when applied, makes such calls a lot less painful.

The study analysed around 10,000 calls and over 36 hours of talk time. In about 80 per cent of the calls, it found that the caller exhibited signs of aggression. This made it more likely that the customer service employee would become defensive and the call would spiral into an uncomfortable experience that often ended poorly for both parties.

But when the callers were civil and polite, fewer than five per cent of the calls escalated to the point of rudeness on the employee’s behalf.

It also found that ‘targeted aggression’ is the most powerful trigger of frustrating customer service calls.

So, here’s the simple tweak: stop using first-person pronouns when referring to your issue. For instance, instead of saying “I have a problem with your product” say “this product is giving me trouble. Can you help me?”

By shifting the blame away from the person to whom you’re talking, they are less likely to become offended and they are more likely to help you get what you want from the call.

“If customers change their language so that it’s less about the employee and more about the product or problem in question, they can improve the quality of the customer service they get,” said study author David Walker.

It pays to remember that during these calls you are (albeit eventually) talking to a human being. Put yourself in their shoes – when someone makes your job difficult, how likely are you to want to help them?

Read the study at psycnet.apa.org

Do you think this is good advice? What are your tips for making customer service calls less painful?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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