Fear, Hear, Mirror, Steer: A Conversational Strategy for Any Dialogue

While angry callers can make it difficult for professionals to remain professional, there are techniques that will help you convert anger into acceptance… and perhaps even grow your customer base. These tips will serve more than your customers, though. They will assist you in any exchange that starts out angry. Your ability to understand the other person’s concern and to fully listen to it. Beyond those initial steps, it’s important to reflect your understanding of what you heard. Finally, the overture that will most likely convert anger into acceptance lies in the Steer step. At this stage, you direct the individual to a partial or full resolution of the actual problem (for those with perfectionist tendencies, there is one more step).

Learn what the caller is concerned about. Typically, she’s afraid that she won’t be able to have her problem resolved. She may fear she’ll be transferred ad infinitum among departments. She is afraid no one will listen. Or, she’s fearful of encountering bureaucratic indifference. There are numerous assurances you can offer to allay those fears.

With co-workers, discuss three possible assurances you can give the customer to help overcome her fears.

Learn to listen both literally (you hear things being said) and empathically (you intuit things not being said). Empathic listening means being attuned to hesitation, to nervousness, to silence, for example, so that you can better understand the issue and the effect it may be having on the customer.

Train yourself not to interrupt but rather to indicate with short affirmations that you understand what is being said. Ask questions at the appropriate time. Try to determine the customer’s expectations. And, develop your powers of concentration so that you can truly attend to what the customer is saying.

Invite colleagues to discuss three ways you can indicate you are really listening.

By the way, if you hear things that upset you, such as profanity, you can be very direct in your response: “Mr. Jones, I’d prefer it if you didn’t use such language.” Or, “Mr. Jones, could you call back when you are not so upset?” You could also advise the person that you will have to hang up if his language continues to be abusive. You could also appeal to the person’s sense of decency by explaining that you are truly trying to help him and that such anger makes the situation even more difficult.

If you’ve taken notes, you should be able to paraphrase the main points the customer is concerned about. Preface your “mirroring” with an explanation of what you are doing and why. If the caller tells you that you didn’t fully understand the problem, keep at it until you do. Provide a succinct summary of the essence of the problem or need. Assure the customer that you have truly understood what she expects or hopes will be done.

With your colleagues, determine three questions you can use to reflect your understanding of the caller’s concern.

If you need to direct the customer to someone else, tell her who that is and what that person’s number is (or where the office is). If your customer is a caller and you learn the other person is busy, ask the caller if she would like to wait or if she’d prefer to call back. If you do manage to connect with the other person, give him all the information he’ll need to deal with the caller’s problem.

Write out three statements that will make the caller feel her expectations are being met, that she is getting the help she needs. Then, share your ideas with others who frequently interact with the public at large.

When appropriate to do so, make another appearance in the customer’s life. Certainly not with every encounter, but with those that warrant further attention, call or e-mail to ensure the problem has been solved to the customer’s satisfaction).

This four-word rhyme will serve you in dialog-situations that go far beyond serving customers.

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