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What Every Manager Should Know About How to Prevent Customer Service Conflicts

There are five techniques that have been proven to be effective in resolving, minimizing, and preventing conflicts. And by conflicts I am referring to any of the following that may take place between two or more people: misunderstanding, miscommunications, arguments, disagreements, mixed messages, fighting, etc.

A. Active Listening: Use this approach when you want to let the customer know that you're truly paying attention. Do so by totally involving your eyes, ears, and body. Pay attention to his body language, move close, cup your hand over your ear, lean forward, etc. Be patient to let the customer fully explain himself. Avoid interrupting and asking questions in a rapid spitfire fashion. (Doing so might cause the customer to feel like a crime victim being interrogated by the Police.) If you do have to interrupt (sometimes this is necessary to take charge of a rambler), do so politely and professionally by asking permission first. Say, for example, "To better serve you, would you mind if I ask a question or two?"

B. Paraphrasing: Use this approach when you want to make sure you did not miss what was said. "So, if I understood you correctly, you said there were only 5 spaces." (This works extremely well with the next technique, but can be extremely effective if not overused.)

C. Summarizing: Use this approach when you want to break up lengthy complaints into smaller pieces that you can remember and understand. Rather than let the customer ramble on about what is wrong with the product or service he bought, take control by asking him to tell you about each portion/phase/section of the complaint before moving on the next.

D. You-Message: Use this approach when you want to reflect to your customer what you're observing.

* Reflect the customer's emotion. (Identify and name the emotion you are observing.) Say directly to the customer with a smile and pleasant tone of voice, "Mr./Ms Customer, you seem rather angry, mad, provoked, etc. about your situation." (This puts the customer at ease. It defuses his/her emotions from escalating into angry shouting matches or something worse. Be patient and wait for his response that might be an angry agreement with you: an A-HA Moment! You've connected!)

E. I-Message: As a last resort, use this approach to communicate with the customer when:

* your communication and that of the customer might become hostile;

* the communication might become a shouting match; or

* the words might turn to physical confrontation.

Now put you I-Message into action by following these sequences of steps:

1. Get his attention. (Address the customer in a positive, polite, and professional manner.)

2. Identify your emotion. (Identify and name the emotion you are feeling.) "I feel happy/am excited to serve you, etc. when you approach me . . ."

3. Name his misconduct. (Identify the behavior that is offensive.) "... however when you call me names, throw things at me, spit at me, etc."

4. State the consequence(s). (Identify the consequence that you wish him/her to change. And stop! Be extremely cautious not to ramble because by doing so you run the risk of throwing a spark on the cinders.) "... it makes me feel disrespected, etc."

Put it together and it should sound like this: "Mr./Ms, I feel happy/am excited to serve you, etc. when you approach me; however when you call me names, throw things at me, spit at me, etc., it makes me feel disrespected and incapable to serve you, etc." (Stop! Wait for a response!)

Research has shown that the response is 95-98% non-confrontational or non-aggressive. Remember: This approach lets the customer know that, although you disapprove of his (or her) conduct, you still care to help and serve him.

Now put the five techniques together by SOARING to the top of the Mountain by:

* Summarizing a conversation that is becoming too lengthy.

* Observing to see if the customer's body language matches the words spoken.

* Actively listening to what is being said by making eye contact.

* Reflecting on what you thought you heard.

* Indicating that you truly care about the customer and not his deed.

* Naming the misconduct to bring it out into the open.

* Going beyond the emotions to get to the facts.

Remember: When you maximize your potential; we all win. When you don't, we all lose.

? Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW

PERMISSION TO REPUBLISH: This article may be republished in ezines, newsletters, and on web sites provided attribution is provided to the author, and it appears with the included copyright, resource box and live web site link. Although advance permission is not required, please notify us at execandgroup-consulting@yahoo.com when you use this article.

Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW, Management Consultant and Trainer, conducts seminars, lectures, and writes articles on his theme: ... helping you maximize your potential. He offers management, marketing, and parenting resources at his Maximizing Your Potential blog.

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