Violence and Agression

by Darren Good and Liz Hudson

Conflict on the phone

A lot of people dismiss the idea of a conflict situation arising when talking on the telephone because there is no immediate danger of being physically attacked. However, in the interests of professionalism and to avoid being verbally assaulted, it is important to learn how to handle and control conflict on the telephone.

First of all, let’s try to understand why someone on the phone might be annoyed and consider what we can do to help them dismiss this annoyance. Below are just some examples.

Trigger What can I do?
The cost of the call. Perhaps your client is worried about the cost of the phone call to your company, especially if they’ve been kept on hold or in a virtual queue, or it’s a premium rate line. You can help put their mind at ease by being prepared and as efficient with their time as possible.
You client has been on hold or in a virtual queue. Let’s face it, no one likes being kept on hold for an hour, listening to repetitive music. When you start to talk to your client, perhaps you might thank them for waiting or apologise for the wait. Be friendly and treat your client as an individual, not as just another client in the queue to be dealt with.
Your client is complaining about some aspect of your company’s service to them, for example an incorrect bill. You need to acknowledge that they have a right to complain and that your job is to sort things out. Try to make them feel that at least you as an individual are a friend, even if they believe your company has messed up.

Keep in mind the vital need for you to establish rapport as soon as you pick up the phone as this is inevitably going to make the transaction go much more smoothly – and probably a lot faster as well. It will also present your company in a very good light.

It’s a good idea to ask for a client’s name and number at the beginning of the call. Not only does this make things seem a little more personal, but it also acts as a major inhibitor for conflict as a lot of people don’t like the idea of getting into conflict with someone who knows who they are and how to get in touch with them.

It is also a good idea to have a few pattern interrupts up your sleeve so that, if a client starts to become irate or abusive, you can give yourself a moment to gather your thoughts and strategies and to reset the client’s flow of thought. A pattern interrupt is something that is so different that it interrupts the flow of behaviour that the other person is running. On the phone, you might simply say something like ‘I saw an elephant walking down the high street this morning’.

Sources suggest that where strong emotions are involved, communication on the telephone is made up of 84 per cent tone and only 16 per cent lexis (or words) so, as you can imagine, getting your tone right is very important. Adopting a positive tone of voice is much easier than you think because your body language affects your emotional state. It follows that, while you are on the phone, doing something as simple as smiling or standing up and walking around will automatically put you in a better frame of mind and give you a more positive and genuine tone.

You might also find Telephone Skills, Rapport and Transactional Analysis useful with regards to telephone transactions.