Training Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) to handle angry and abusive customers is a tough challenge. Effective communication with an angry customer requires a combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. As a part of our training session, we use this rapid roleplay activity.
Conduct an effective conversation with an angry customer.
Brief the participants. Explain that all participants will alternate between team discussions and one-on-one roleplays to increase their ability to conduct an effective conversation with an angry customer.
Form groups. Divide participants into two equal groups and identify them as Group A and Group B. If one group has an extra person, make her an observer or you join the other group so both groups have equal number of participants. Place different colored dots on the nametags (or foreheads) of members of each group to make it easy to identify the group to which each participant belongs.
Get ready. Ask members of the two groups to move to opposite sides of the room. Ask members of Group A to take on the role of a frustrated customer and brainstorm a set of provocative statements, questions, and demands. Give examples such as these:
- This is the fifth time I am trying to get someone to fix my problem.
- Your salesman cheated me. He did not tell me that I have to buy a monitor separately.
- I don't like your attitude. Can I talk to your supervisor? I am not leaving until I talk to someone who cares.
At the same time, ask members of Group B to take on the role of CSRs and brainstorm effective statements for defusing an angry customer and empathic reactions to provocative statements.
- It's clear that you are frustrated. Let's try to reduce your frustration by solving your problem.
- You are right. It's our fault and let's get it straightened up.
- Sir, I am sorry you feel that way. If you insist, I am can set up an appointment for you to talk to my supervisor tomorrow. We can save your time by fixing your problem right now.
Announce a 3-minute time limit.
Conduct the first rapid roleplay. After 3 minutes, blow the whistle. Explain that you are going to conduct a series of one-on-one conversations between an angry customer and a CSR. Ask each participant to pair up with a member of the other group. Explain that the person from Group A will initiate an angry conversation by asking a question, making a provocative comment, or demanding an outrageous concession. The person from Group B will respond to it in a calm and empathic fashion to defuse the hostility. The two people will continue their conversation.
Also explain that once every minute you will blow the whistle. Participants must stop the conversation immediately (even if it is in the middle of something) and pair up with a different member of the other group. Instruct them to begin another angry conversation with this new person.
Blow the whistle to start the first conversation. Blow the whistle once every minute or so. Conclude the activity at the end of about 5 minutes.
Getting ready for role changes. Explain that participants are going to switch their roles and conduct more rapid roleplays. Before doing that, invite everyone to get ready for their changed roles by reflecting on what they experienced during the first round.
Ask members of Group A to think back on what happened during the earlier one-on-one conversations. What did the CSR do to listen empathically, focus on solving the problem, and reduce the level of hostility? What best practices can you borrow from your interactions when you are playing the role of the CSR?
Ask members of Group B to think back on the provocative statements and sarcastic questions used by the angry customers. When you play the role of an angry customer during the next round, what kinds of hostile statements and questions can you come up with?
Invite participants to work with members of their group to get ready for the next round of rapid roleplay. Announce a 3-minute time limit for this preparation activity.
Conduct the second rapid roleplay. Explain that you are going to conduct another series of rapid roleplays as before with the same rules but with different roles: Members of the Group B will pair up with members of Group A. Group B members will initiate the angry conversation. Group A members will respond to it in a calm, reassuring, and business-like fashion. Whenever you blow the whistle, participants will stop the conversation and pair up with a different member of the other team.
Blow the whistle to start the first conversation. Blow the whistle once every minute or so to change partners. Conclude the activity at the end of 5 minutes.
Conduct a debriefing discussion. Thank everyone for their enthusiastic participation. Invite the participants to discuss what they learned from the two rapid roleplay sessions. Ask them to forget all about making provocative, angry, and sarcastic comments. Instead, focus on the techniques for disarming angry customers.
Get the discussion rolling with these types of open-ended questions:
- What are some of the techniques and statements that worked effectively for defusing and calming down an angry customer?
- Let's focus on different types of statements used with angry customers. Empathic statements demonstrate your understanding and sympathy. Can you give some examples of empathic statements?
- How do empathic statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
- Apologetic statements involve regretting personal inconvenience—without accepting unrealistic responsibility for the situation. Can you give some examples of apologetic statements?
- How do apologetic statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
- Reassuring statements promise specific action on your part. Can you give some examples of reassuring statements?
- How do reassuring statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
- Limit-setting statements prevent the angry customer from abusing you and making unreasonable demands. Can you give some examples of limit-setting statements?
- How do limit-setting statements help you in dealing with an angry customer? When will you use this type of statement?
- What are some common elements among different types of statements?
- When you listened to angry statements from the customer, how did you react to them? How would you have reacted if this were a real-world situation?
- Did you observe the behaviors of the angry customer—or did you absorb them? Did you take the customer's rude behavior personally? How would you have felt about these types of customer behaviors in a real-world situation?
- What one piece of advice would you give to an inexperienced CSR who is worried about her ability to handle an angry customer?