Monday, July 21, 2014

Is it Ever OK to Hang Up on a Customer?

I am certain every contact center agent has encountered a customer that raised their stress level. For the most part, the vast majority of customer service personnel can effectively handle upset customers. That is a part of the job. However, there is a difference between an upset customer and a rude, insensitive one.

Irate Customers Expected

How does an agent respond in situations in which a customer is being obnoxious and mean spirited? I encourage agents to walk away from their desk briefly and regain their composure after such calls. But I also recall some years ago, a customer threatened to harm an agent. I have been called hateful names and cursed out on more occasions then I care to remember. I’ve had customers find me on Facebook or LinkedIn and turned a business matter into a personal assault. Over the years, I have seen it all. Because of that, I have always felt a need to protect the dignity of those I manage.

My grandmother had a saying, “all money is not good money.” What she meant was this; there are some things you should not be willing to do regardless how much money you could obtain. As a passionate advocate for customers, I am just as passionate for the contact center staff. There are things I will not allow anyone to do to them. As their leader and manager, I owe that to them.

For many years, I have had a standing order that allows agents to disconnect a call – it sounds better than saying hanging up – with a customer. The way I see it, they are not employed to take such abuse. Any suggestion that they endure such treatment implies the customer’s money is more important than the well being of employees. Again, all money is not good money!

However, I only allow agents to disconnect when the customer is using:

    1. Racial slurs
    2. Sexual or sexist comments

Advise and Consent

Now, to be fair, the agent must advise the customer that their comments were offensive and warn that if they continue, the call will be disconnected. The goal is not to end the interaction. Rather, the hope is for the customer to receive the assistance they need while ensuring the agent is given the respect they deserve.

My belief is that upset customers have a right to be upset. One should never mistake their justified anger with a lack of sensitivity. Empowering agents to disconnect a call should be done with proper training and a full understanding that the call will be reviewed. The service agent should utilize empathy and sympathy in an effort to bring effective resolution. They should not feel they have carte blanche to disengage a conversation simply due to the customer being frustrated. So, while I do feel there are instances in which it is okay to hang up on a customer, there must be significant training and understanding by staff of what is and is not acceptable.

Sean is a Contact Center manager with over 13 years of experience. He has a terrific pulse on incorporating innovation into the contact center. He's implemented social, outsourcing partners, new technology, and new products, while maintaining an award-winning contact center.

His contact center is a past winner of the ICMI "Global Call Center of the Year" award for Small to Medium-Sized Centers.

Follow on Twitter @SeanBHawkins

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