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4 Words for Customer Service Reps to Live By

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As a call center customer service representative, you’re an expert problem solver. It’s your job to figure out why a present didn’t get delivered in time for Junior’s birthday, or explain your company’s return policy on 25-year-old appliances.

Here’s the catch: People typically call you when there’s a problem. No one goes out of their way to thank you for adjusting an insurance claim or setting up direct deposit — it’s what they expect nowadays. Even if you believe the customer is always right, that doesn’t mean the customer is always patient. Or polite. Or in a good mood.

How can you focus on solving the problem at hand when your caller is frustrated — and frustrating? Here are four words to keep in mind — and keep you cool — when the going gets tough. 

1. Listen

People call for help with a specific issue, but they also call to be heard. Something’s not right, and they want you to know about it.

It’s tempting to tune out when you already know the solution — “Sure, I can help you reset your password” — but many callers are simply looking to share their frustration with someone. Allowing them to tell their full story can help them let off steam and shift toward productive problem solving with you.

Taking the time to listen can also help to reduce your own frustration: Use the time you’re not talking to focus on your breathing, one of the proven ways to reduce stress on the job.

Add customer service rep to the list of jobs, along with psychologist and bartender, where listening matters.

2. Repeat

When your caller is done talking, repeat what you’ve heard. Demonstrating that you understand the caller’s problem will signal they’re in good hands — and often help them relax.

Repeating the situation in your own words shows you care, you want to make things right and you empathize with your customer’s situation. It’s also an opportunity to apologize. “Let me make sure I understand everything. You ordered a size medium and received a large. I know how frustrating that is, and I apologize for the inconvenience.”

Then move on to resolve the issue.

3. Move

A lot has been written lately about the dangers of sitting at a desk all day. In fact, some experts consider sitting to be the new smoking. Whether that’s true or not, it’s hard to argue that sitting for eight hours a day is good for you.

"We weren't designed to sit,” says Dr. Joan Vernikos, author of “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals” and the former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division. “The body is a perpetual motion machine."

Standing not only provides physical benefits — you burn more calories and keep your muscles active — but it’s also been proven to improve your mood.

If your workplace has standing desks, try one out. If not, experiment with getting up on your own, either between or during calls, if possible. Take advantage of your break to take a walk, especially if you can go outside. If it’s possible, eat lunch outside in the good weather: fresh air and sunshine are known to reduce stress and enhance your mood.

Being in a good mood will help when you’re dealing with a customer who is anything but.

4. Smile

Wait a minute. We’re talking about call centers, right?

Right.

Research shows we can tell a speaker is smiling even if we can’t see them. As it turns out, “smiling voices” are contagious. They also indicate empathy, which is exactly what you want to convey to your customers.

Additionally, smiling can boost your mood. As a Psychology Today article notes, “Each time you smile, you throw a little feel-good party in your brain. The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness.” A grin is not only good for your customer, it’s good for you, too.

If smiling for no reason seems awkward — or the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” approach isn’t your style — try putting pictures on your desk that make you happy. The worst that can happen? People will think you’re happy.

Maybe you have your own mantra for dealing with challenging customers. Customer service rock stars, what words do you live by?