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MODULE 5

Strategies for Handling Difficult Customers and Situations



Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. In Module 4, we talked about winning telephone techniques and general techniques for difficult telephone conversations. In this module, we will look at specific difficult customers and situations with customers.

  2. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-1: Difficult Customers and Situations.

What you need to know

  1. This module will take approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete.

Equipment/Supplies

  • Personal computer

  • LCD projector and screen

  • PowerPoint slides

  • Flipchart stand with two pads of paper and/or whiteboard

  • Markers (permanent, dry-erase, and wet-erase)

  • Masking tape

  • Attendance roster and name tents

  • Trainer Guide

  • Participant Guides (including Appendix with handouts)







Handouts

  • 5–1 Role Play – Customer

  • 5- 2 Role Play – Child Support Enforcement Worker

  • 5-3 Security Assessment Tool





  • 5-4 Security Resources

  • 5-5 101 Ways to Cope with Stress



PowerPoint Slides

  • 5–1 Difficult Customers and Situations

  • 5–2 Learning Objectives

  • 5–3 Learning Objectives

  • 5–4 Difficult Customer Situations

  • 5- 5 Difficult Customer Situations

  • 5- 6 Difficult Customer Situations

  • 5–7 Limited English Speaker

  • 5–8 Long-Winded Caller

  • 5–9 Argumentative Customers

  • 5–10 Verbally Abusive Customers

  • 5–11 Threatening Customers





  • 5–12 Hostile/Angry Customers

  • 5–13 Hostile/Angry Customers

  • 5–14 Hostile/Angry Customers– Strategy

  • 5–15 Group Activity

  • 5–16 Saying “No”

  • 5–17 Safety and Security

  • 5- 18 Summary & Conclusions





Module 5:strategies for handling difficult customers


Time: 1 hour 30 minutes



Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slides 5-2 and 5-3: Learning Objectives.

  2. Review the learning objectives for this module.

What you need to know

  1. Throughout this module, or at the end, the trainer should go to the flipchart and check off any sticky notes that have been addressed.

5.1Learning objectives


The learning objectives for this module are:

  • Given a participative lecture, participants will identify methods for diffusing customer anger or hostility.

  • Given a participative lecture and small group activity, participants will develop strategies for handling difficult customers.

  • Given a participative lecture, participants will identify which verbal and nonverbal messages exacerbate a difficult situation and which diffuse a difficult situation.





Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-4: Difficult Customer Situations.

  2. Tell participants that first we will cover some strategies to use overall with difficult customers and/or situations, and then we will look at some specific examples.

  3. Tell participants that in dealing with difficult customers and/or situations, we need to incorporate all that we have discussed in Modules 1 through 4. We will now look at some more specific strategies.

  4. Remind participants of our earlier discussions about listening. It is important to take the time to use active listening skills.

  5. Discuss the fine line between being empathetic and being a therapist. You cannot solve all problems. Remind participants that we discussed what empathy means earlier: It means putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, letting him or her know that you understand the situation and how the customer feels.

  6. Remind participants that it is important not to stray from their area of professional expertise by offering ways to deal with the emotional or other problems that are not directly related to child support.

  • Example: It would not be appropriate to address how to relieve depression, stress, or anxiety that the customer may tell you about or display. Understanding the customer’s concerns is important, but “treating” that feeling or giving advice may be crossing a fine line.

  • Example: Should I sue for custody? Should I keep the kids longer? Should I ask for an increase in support? The agency should stick with what they can do, not with what a customer “should” do.

  1. Discuss the issues regarding giving “advice” and emphasize that participants should not offer legal advice. Workers can get into real trouble if the client gets the impression that they have an attorney-client relationship. This is one very good reason to treat the public as customers seeking service, rather than as clients seeking advice and direction.

  2. Tell participants that empathetic phrases are simple and easy ways to convey that you understand your customer’s situation. Remember empathy. See the world from your customer’s side of the desk/phone. On a flip chart using the title “Examples of Empathetic Phrases,” list the examples below.

What you need to know

  1. Some examples of empathetic phrases participants can use:

  • I can see why you feel that way.

  • I see what you mean.

  • That must be very upsetting.

  • I understand how frustrating this must be.

  • I’m sorry about this.

5.2Difficult customers and situations


To provide effective customer service—especially in difficult situations—we need to deal with the customer’s emotions first, then the problem. When dealing with difficult customers and situations, it is important to use the following strategies.


5.2.1Listen


  • Use active and reflective listening skills.

5.2.2Empathize


  • Empathy means putting yourself in the customer’s shoes, letting him or her know that you understand not only the situation, but also how the situation makes the customer feel.

  • When we empathize, we connect with the person’s feelings in two ways: (1) by making a statement that tells the person we understand the feeling, and (2) by paraphrasing his or her words to show the person we understand the issue, while not necessarily agreeing with him or her.

  • You can get into trouble if it seems to the client that you are offering legal advice. Stick to what the agency can and can’t do—and let the client seek an attorney if he or she is not sure what he or she should do.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-5: Difficult Customer Situations.

  2. It is important to be professional when using someone’s name. Never use the customer’s first name, unless advised to do so.

  • In “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie wrote, “A man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Remembering anyone’s name, for man or woman, is a compliment. This can go a long way toward diffusing anger.

  1. Remind participants of our earlier discussions regarding body language. Body language can be a critical factor when one is involved in a difficult situation. It can either exacerbate that situation or create a calming influence.

  2. Ask participants if they can name any other negative emotions. Remind participants of the feelings that were evoked when we did the exercise with the Talker, Listener, and Critiquer. One of the feelings evoked may have been hurt at not being listened to. Many people don’t show that they are hurt, but mask it with other emotions such as anger or hostility.

  3. Tell participants that the most effective way to handle a negative conflict situation is to listen. Only when people feel that they have been heard will they be ready to hear what we have to say.

  4. Tell participants that we need to remember: Customers are not always saints, nor are they always right. But they are always customers and it’s our job to provide courteous and professional service.

  5. Remind participants of the listening exercise we completed in Module 3 and how using good listening skills may help with negative emotions.

What you need to know


5.2.3Respond Professionally


Don’t take the anger personally. As a professional, recognize that customers may have legitimate concerns buried somewhere in their anger and venting. They may be overreacting, but you need to remain objective, assess the problem, and focus on solutions.

  • Whenever possible, use the customer’s name. This personalizes the conversation and makes it difficult for the customer to attack you.

  • Maintain a friendly manner. Show the customer respect, even in the face of disrespect. Demonstrate no reaction in the face of difficult behavior.

  • Use appropriate body language. Move closer to the customer and maintain eye contact. Listen for the unspoken message. Focus on subtleties in a caller’s voice—inflection, pacing, and the overall tension level.

5.2.4Recognize Underlying Factors


  • Customers may act angry, upset, demanding, impatient, abusive, and threatening for any number of reasons. These behaviors occur as a result of one or more negative feelings that have been aroused in the situation.

  • Negative emotions, such as:

I’m frustrated

I’m powerless and a victim

I’m not important

I’m stupid

I’m incompetent

I’m guilty

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-6: Difficult Customer Situations.

  2. Tell participants that it is important to try to reach a mutual agreement with the customer. Remember, as we have discussed earlier, it is very important to under-promise and over-deliver.

  3. Remind participants that good listening skills lead us to ask the right questions.

  4. Tell participants to remember our earlier discussions on verbal and nonverbal communication as well as inflection of your voice when you are conveying empathy.

  5. Tell participants to end conversations with a summary—if you don’t cover all the issues raised, the customer may come back.

  • Create an action plan when you summarize with the customer. For example, I’ll do . . . or You’ll get . . . and specify the action, so that there is no misunderstanding of the next sequence of events.

  1. Tell participants we are now going to look at some specific examples of difficult situations and/or customers.

What you need to know



  • Ask questions

  • As you ask the customer questions, be sure to listen to everything he or she says and don’t jump to conclusions. You might miss details that are specific to this customer’s situation.

  • Treat the public as customers seeking service, rather than as clients seeking advice and direction.

  • The tone of your voice goes a long way toward helping you convey empathy. If you say all the right words, but deliver them with coldness in your voice, you will sound insincere.

  • Summarize

  • Clearly communicate what you will do and when you will do it. Reach a full understanding of what you will do and what the customer needs to do. Discuss any reasonable future contingencies and what can be done about them. Determine to follow up!

  • Remember to under-promise and over-deliver.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-7: Limited-English Speaking.

  2. Ask participants for strategies that have worked for them in the past when handling limited-English speaking customers.

  3. Tell participants it is a good idea to set up for or advise customers to bring an interpreter with them.

  4. Write responses on a flipchart. Flipchart title: Limited English.

What you need to know

5.3Limited-English Speakers/People With Heavy Accents


Find a translator if necessary and if one is available.


5.3.1Strategy


  • Be patient and concentrate. Remember, the customer is just as frustrated as you are. If you are patient and concentrate on the conversation, you will be better able to understand what the customer is saying.

  • Speak slowly and distinctly. Don’t speak so slowly that it appears to be an insult, but speak slowly enough that the customer can follow what you are saying. Also, if you speak slowly, the customer will do the same.

  • Be extra courteous. This shows that you really do care and want to help. It allows customers to relax and eases their frustrations.

  • Avoid using slang or industry jargon. Use plain, simple English. Don’t use terms or phrases that will only add to the confusion.

  • Speak in a normal tone of voice. Don’t shout. Speaking loudly won’t help—it will probably only cause more anxiety. And if you speak loudly, the customer will speak loudly.

  • Don’t try to listen to every word. Listen carefully for key words and phrases.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-7: Limited-English Speaking.

  2. Continue to write responses on the flipchart entitled Limited English.

What you need to know




  • Reiterate what has been said. Once the customer has told you what the problem is, summarize. State your understanding in the form of a question that can be answered “yes” or “no.” For example: “You received this statement. It says you owe money. You don’t think you owe money. Am I correct?”

  • Don’t ask, “Do you understand?” The customer may feel you are insulting him or her.

  • Avoid humor. Stick to the problem. Different cultures view humor in different ways.

  • Write it down. Many times, foreign-born people can write and read English better than they can speak or hear it. Use simple, short sentences.

  • If you speak another language, try using it. The client may understand the other language better than English. (Example: Some Vietnamese people speak French. Spanish is very close to Italian.)

  • Develop a list of employees who speak foreign languages. Use this as a resource for helping non-English speaking customers.

  • Listen to foreign-language tapes. If you serve a lot of clients of a particular national background (such as Hispanic or Vietnamese) pick up some tapes and listen to them. You don’t have to learn the language, but it does help to get accustomed to how it sounds, how accents differ, how certain letters are pronounced, etc.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-8: Long-Winded Caller.

  2. Ask the class to provide strategies they have developed for getting a long-winded caller off the phone in a graceful and tactful way.

  3. Write responses on a flipchart. Flipchart title: Long-Winded Calls.

What you need to know

5.4rambling or long-winded callers


Everyone loves an audience, and, because it’s rare to find someone who will listen, some people will monopolize another’s time on the telephone as a break from their hectic day or just to combat loneliness. Most of these people don’t realize how they inconvenience others. You need strategies to deal effectively with the “rambling” caller.


5.4.1Strategy


  • Don’t think silence or giving short answers will work, under the assumption the caller will “get the hint.” On the phone, silence is like a vacuum—it demands to be filled. If you don’t respond, he or she will keep talking.

  • Do ask questions. Don’t be afraid to interrupt the rambler with a question. They won’t be offended as long as you appear interested in their response. Use their responses to begin moving toward a conclusion.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-8: Long-Winded Caller.

  2. Write responses on a flipchart. Flipchart title: Long-Winded Calls.

What you need to know



  • Set the course of the conversation, using statements such as:

  • Mr. Smith, I need to ask you three questions concerning. …”

  • I understand you are having trouble understanding your billing statement. Let me take a few minutes to explain it.”

  • Refocus the attention by stating a relevant point

  • Use the “PRC” technique: Paraphrase, Reflect, Close

  • Paraphrase: “I need to make sure I understand what you’ve said.” Emphasize the key points and then shift to addressing just these points.

  • Reflect: Allow the caller to argue, disagree, or add to what you just said.

  • Close: Express appreciation for the caller’s time, mention any action you agreed on, and then end the call.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-8: Long-Winded Caller.

  2. Continue adding to the flipchart entitled Long-Winded Calls.

What you need to know




  • Budget time to listen. Callers often ramble because they are lonely and need someone to talk to. When you talk to customers, you have two conflicting desires: To create a positive image of your agency and to get off the phone in a reasonable time frame. You can do both by investing a specific amount of time listening. Budget what you can afford—but don’t tell the caller you are doing this! As the end of the budgeted time approaches, segue to the subject at hand, interrupt with a question, or give the caller feedback to show that you heard him or her, and then get on to business, or wrap up the call.

  • Establish mutual time limits. When you pick up the phone and realize you have a rambler, take control of the conversation before it gets too far. “Mr. Brown, I need to be in a meeting in 5 minutes. Can we cover what you need now, or can I call you back?”

  • Patience: Give the extra minute or two. To protect your agency’s reputation and image, use a good technique for closure, rather than being abrupt or rude. Seek a smooth transition. Summarize the conversation. Repeat action steps on which you agreed so both parties know what they are responsible for, and what comes next. Let the other party go gracefully with statements such as:

  • I know you are busy. I appreciate your help.”

  • Thanks for your time. The information you have provided is very helpful. I’ll be back in touch as soon as. …”

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-9: Argumentative Customers.

  2. Ask participants for strategies that have worked for them in the past when handling an argumentative customer.

  3. Write responses on a flipchart. Flipchart title: Argumentative.

What you need to know

5.5Argumentative Customers


Some people thrive on arguments. They are aggressive and probably will disagree with or question everything you say or propose. Your first instinct may be to argue back. Don’t fall into this trap.


5.5.1Strategy


  • Speak softly. If you speak loudly, then the customer needs to speak loudly to be heard over you, and then you speak louder—and before you know it, you’ll be shouting at each other. Speak softly so the customer must be quiet in order to hear you.

  • Ask for their opinions. Argumentative people like to feel they are in control. If you try to rob them of their control, they become more argumentative. If you give them some control by asking a question, they are liable to ease up.

  • Take a break. If you allow yourself to be drawn into the argument and become angry, excuse yourself briefly, count to 10, or get a drink of water. Allow yourself a minute or two to regain your composure.

  • Concentrate on the points of the argument and list them for both of you to see. Deal with these points one at a time.

  • Take notes on the points of the argument. Number each problem so that it can be addressed.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-10: Verbally Abusive Customers.

  2. Ask participants for strategies that have worked for them in the past when handling an abusive customer.

  3. Remind participants not to take what the abusive customer says personally. This is also a good time to call the customer by his or her name as we discussed earlier.

  4. Write responses on a flipchart. Flipchart title: Abusive.

What you need to know

5.6Abusive Customers


Abuse may be an attempt to intimidate you. Your most powerful position is to stick to the fundamental issues. Remain calm.


5.6.1Strategy


  • Remember, the customer isn’t angry at you. The customer isn’t angry with you personally, but at the agency, the situation, or something else completely unrelated.

  • Talk quietly. If the customer is yelling, talk quietly so that he or she has to be quieter to hear you.

  • Talk at a normal pace. If you begin to talk quickly, it will only make matters worse.

  • Be direct. If the customer uses abusive language or makes threats, be direct. Address the client by name and say, for example, “Mr. Smith, I understand that you are upset, but do not use that language/threaten me.”

  • Let the customer know the consequences, calmly and objectively. “When you use this language, it makes it impossible for me or anyone to assist you. We’ll have to reschedule your appointment/postpone the resolution of this problem until we can talk about it rationally.”

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-11: Threatening Customers.

  2. Discuss office policies regarding threatening customers.

  3. Tell participants it is important to determine if the threat is “real” versus an attempt to intimidate. Before or during the interview, it is recommended that the Child Support Enforcement worker:

  • Determine if the automated system indicated a prior history of threats or violent behavior.

  • Determine how serious the threat is.

  • Determine if police involvement is necessary (follow office procedures).

  1. Ask participants:

  • Do you have set office policies for handling a threatening customer?

  • Are there agency limits to what types of threats will be tolerated?

  1. Write responses on a flipchart. Flipchart title: Threatening.

  2. Tell participants that we will review safety and security measures that should be considered at all times, but especially with difficult situations, later in this module.

What you need to know

5.7Threatening Customers


Threats are an attempt to intimidate you. Your most powerful position is to stick to the fundamental issues. Keep calm and keep your responses focused on the issues.


5.7.1Strategy


  • Try to avoid getting into a discussion of the threat. Lead the conversation back to the fundamental issue in dispute. Remind the customer that you are equally interested in finding an equitable solution. Offer to get a third party involved who can evaluate the problem and options. Admit that someone else might have another option that the two of you haven’t come up with.

  • Evaluate the customer’s ability to make good on the threat and decide what to do from there. Don’t overreact; however, there may be occasions when you fear, deep down, for your safety. Look for signs of drug or alcohol use—they may impair the customer’s ability to be rational, and may necessitate taking steps to ensure your personal safety.

  • Advise the customer of the repercussions. Before the threats escalate, calmly advise the customer of the repercussions of the threats, of the fact that threats are taken seriously and treated seriously, and suggest that the customer may want to reconsider.

  • Terminate the interview. If the customer continues the threats, terminate the interview, document the threat, warn/alert the appropriate people (supervisor, reception staff, etc.), and, if necessary, contact the police.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-12: Hostile/Angry Customers.

  2. Discuss the common mistakes to avoid when dealing with an angry customer. To aid discussion, you may want to list on a flip chart the ideas highlighted below:

  • Don’t get angry in return or correct, disagree, or point out where the customer is wrong—this will just lead to increased anger and a greater tendency to fight.

  • Don’t blame the customer. Pointing out errors or omissions of the customer as the cause of the problem arouses multiple negative emotions and may also escalate the situation.

  • Avoiding blame and giving extensive details of responsibility are a type of run-around and escalate frustration.

  • Dominating the conversation, refusing to deal with the problem, and/or forcing submission can inflame the situation.

  1. Tell participants that it is important to let your customer vent. Do not tell him or her to calm down, as this will make things worse. Learn to “zip your lip” and to not take what he or she is saying personally.

  2. Advise participants that on occasion, the hostile customer may be angry with you directly for an action you did or did not take. Again, it is important to let the customer vent and the real reason for the anger will become apparent. Do not take it personally.

  3. Advise participants to try not to get trapped by the negativity coming from the customer. Focus on asking yourself, “What does this person need and how can I provide it?”

What you need to know

  1. This section on Hostile/Angry Customers is long and detailed. Many concepts can and should be carried forward for all difficult customers and situations.


5.8Hostile/Angry Customers


Remember: An angry customer is most likely not angry with you. He or she may be angry at the situation, your agency, or something completely out of your control. Because angry customers often have misdirected aggression, you need methods that effectively diffuse their anger. Do not:


5.8.1Strategy


  • Detach Yourself from the Customer’s Hostility.

  • Remain professional. Don’t be defensive. Maintain control of yourself and the situation by viewing it objectively. Don’t listen to the personal attacks, untruths, etc.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-13: Hostility Curve.

  2. Tell participants that people usually exhibit negative behavior because they are afraid of loss or of being hurt. Usually, the most effective way to handle this situation is to listen. Only when people feel that they have been heard will they be ready to hear what we have to say. This is because when people are upset they are not being rational and cannot begin to problem-solve. They have to wait until their hostility peaks and begins to cool.

  • Supportive comments such as "I can tell you've been through a lot," can help to cool the customer down so that he/she becomes rational again and can begin to problem-solve. If you try to help solve the problem before the customer starts coming back down the curve, you may end up frustrating the customer and yourself.

  1. Tell participants to try not to resist, refute, argue, defend, etc. This will only inflame the emotions of the customer.

What you need to know

  1. Note again the recurring theme of empathy.





  • Hostility Curve

Let the customer vent. The fastest way to diffuse a customer’s anger is to let him or her blow off steam. Don’t interrupt.

  • Remember, it takes two to sustain a conflict. If you begin responding to the customer’s points while he or she is venting, the customer has engaged you in the argument. If you respond, it will be seen as a rebuttal. The customer will think you disagree, and the situation will escalate. Wait. Hear him or her out.

  • Sometimes it seems that letting the customer vent takes too much time. What is your alternative? Until the customer gets through his or her anger, he or she won’t be able to listen or work toward solutions. Try to listen for and focus on the real problem. Don’t say anything during the customer’s “venting” -- except maybe “I see,” or “I understand”-- to let him know you are attentive. Let the customer vent until you hear silence.

training Notes

What you need to say/do

    1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-14: Hostile/Angry Customers – Strategy.

    2. Tell participants that it is important to apologize when the agency is at fault. Don’t make excuses or reply sarcastically—show appropriate regret. Many times participants may feel a need to justify an inappropriate action.

    3. Instruct participants that if an error has been made, they should try to overcompensate so that their follow-up with good customer service can overcome the original bad service.

  • Acknowledge the error.

  • Find out what will satisfy the customer.

  • “Kill ‘em with kindness.”

  • Resolve the problem within the customer’s timeframe (if possible), not yours.

  • Demonstrate that substantial efforts have been or will be taken to resolve the issue.

  • Ensure that all actions are actually taken—follow up!

    1. Remind participants of what we discussed earlier—that is, giving “a little something extra.” Make a real difference by providing personalized, responsive and “extra-mile service” that stands out in a unique way those customers will appreciate and remember.

What you need to know



  • Listen – Give Feedback

  • When the customer stops talking, start giving feedback to indicate you heard his or her key points. Don’t agree or disagree, just summarize. Ask questions to verify the facts.

  • Empathize

  • Communicate that you understand the situation from the customer’s perspective. Express empathy for the feelings expressed or demonstrated.

  • Apologize

Apologize when the agency is at fault. Express regret when something happened over which your agency has no control.

  • Apology: “I’m sorry we neglected to mail you your statement.”

  • Regret: “It’s unfortunate that the weather conditions resulted in our office closing yesterday, which is why we needed to reschedule your appointment.”

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-14: Hostile/Angry Customers – Strategy.

2. Ask participants for strategies that have worked for them in the past when handling an angry or hostile customer.

3. On a flipchart, have the meaning of the acronym SERVICE (just the main points) written out. Discuss with participants and ask if they have any examples to add.



4. Prior to the group exercise on the next page—or to get the exercise off to a jump-start—share the following experience from a prior training session where one participant shared how she dealt with an irate/hostile caller.

  • As you very well know, in 2001 the government issued tax “rebates.” One NCP called extremely irate, as he received a rebate check of only $1. He should have received the full $300. The certification for his debt had gone in a while back and he no longer owed the money. Instead of antagonizing the NCP further with explanations, blame or whatever, the worker took a positive approach. She congratulated the NCP on satisfying the long-standing debt (she had been working with him awhile) and told him how proud she was of his achievement. This took the wind right out of his sails. Instead of anger, the emotion was replaced with pride in accomplishment. The worker was then able to tell the NCP that he would indeed be refunded the $299 as his debt was previously satisfied. The NCP hung up happy and satisfied and the worker took what could have been a very explosive situation and turned it into positive customer service.

What you need to know

  1. Tell participants that a good rule of thumb to remember in situations where the agency may be at fault is SERVICE.

  • S = Say you are sorry. There is nothing like a sincere apology, delivered right away so that the customer knows you care. There is no need to grovel, nor continuously apologize. One honest and sincere heartfelt apology will suffice.

  • E = Expedite solutions. The faster you can fix the problem, the better.

  • R = Respond to the customer. Remember, people are involved. Take the time to empathize. Be a listening ear.

  • V = Victory to the customer. Build higher levels of customer satisfaction by giving more than what they expect.

  • I = Implement improvements. Look at your processes and determine what caused the problem initially. Institutionalize or suggest improvements.

  • C = Communicate results. Spread the word so that everyone can learn from what happened.

  • E = Extend the outcome. Don’t stop working when the customer stops complaining.



  • SERVICE

  • S =Say you’re sorry.

  • E = Expedite solutions.

  • R = Respond to the customer.

  • V = Victory to the customer.

  • I = Implement improvements.

  • C = Communicate results.

  • E = Extend the outcome.

  • Summarize. Clearly communicate what you will do and when you will do it. Reach a full understanding of what you will do and what the customer needs to do. Talk about any reasonable future contingencies, and what can be done about them. Determine to follow up!

  • Close positively. Express confidence in a positive resolution. Thank the customer for working with you to resolve the problem.

  • Don’t let the angry customer ruin the rest of your day. If you do, it will make it more difficult to deal with subsequent customers and it may affect your overall attitude toward the public, your job, your boss, your agency, your co-workers, etc. Hanging onto the anger also reduces your efficiency.

  • When you hang up the phone after an angry call or leave an unpleasant face-to-face interview, remember the saying “out of sight, out of mind.” When a customer says goodbye (or hangs up on you in anger) he or she is gone. You can go on to the next caller or next task and leave the previous caller’s anger behind.



Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-15: Group Activity.

  2. Discuss the purpose of role-plays with the participants.

  3. Instruct participants that we will now do a Role Playing Activity. Ask the group to break into groups of four. They will take turns being the “customer” and the “worker.” Have them review their respective roles. Ask them not to share their roles with the other participants. Use Handout 5–1, Role-Play – Customer Scenario and Handout 5-2, Role-Play – Child Support Enforcement Worker Scenario. In each group, two participants will be the role players, and the other two will be the observers.

  4. Once you have finished discussing role-playing and are ready to begin the exercise, pause or cover the LCD projector while the role-play activity is going on.

  5. Instruct participants to start the role-play. (Allow five minutes.)

  6. Once the role-play has been completed, solicit feedback from the participants not involved in the role-play. Ask:

  • How did the customer’s gestures and body language affect the interview?

  • Did the Worker maintain a friendly, professional manner? What exercises could you perform to remind yourself to do this?

  • Did the Worker acknowledge the situation? How could you do this?

  • Did the Worker focus the customer on the problem? What exercises would help you to remember this step?

  • Did the Worker engage the customer in problem solving? Remember the hostility curve.

  • Did the Worker summarize? Did the Worker close positively? What might you say to end any angry conversation on an up note?

  1. Thank the role-play participants for their involvement.

  2. If time permits, an additional exercise can be done in the same manner as above or using this role-play model:

  • Ask each participant to write a brief description of a situation they have experienced and would like to practice and get feedback on the other participants. Allow approximately 5-10 minutes for them to write down their experience.

  • Once the participants have written down their experiences, ask for a participant who is willing to present his or her situation to the group. (He or she will be the Worker). Ask for a participant to role-play the Customer in that situation.

What you need to know

  1. Role-playing can cause participants stress if they think they “have” to participate. Make sure you explain this will be on a volunteer basis (hopefully). To reduce the stress that can occur in role playing exercises, try making participants comfortable with the idea by sharing role playing exercises you have been involved in and how they affected you.

5.9Group activity



5.9.1Role-Play


Role-playing can be a valuable training and learning experience. It helps you to:

  • See that what you have learned does not exist in a vacuum.

  • Build skills in a "safe" environment.

  • Do something out of your comfort zone and experiment in a place where you can make mistakes without repercussions.

  • Get immediate feedback on your behavior and whether or not it helped communication.

  • Integrate what you learn in training into situations you may encounter on the job.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-16: Saying “No.”

  2. Tell participants that we will now discuss a situation that tends to be difficult -- saying no.

  3. Remind participants of our earlier discussion on “going for the thank you.” It is important to remember that when you have to say ”no,” you need to do it tactfully.

What you need to know

5.10Saying No


Work for a “thank you.” Sometimes—often—you have to say no, but if you do it right, you can still get a “thank you” for your service.


5.10.1Strategy


  • Explain why it can’t be done. Give details, but concentrate on the positive and don’t dwell on the negative. Instead of saying “I can’t help you,” say, “We can’t do that, but we can do this.”

  • Don’t quote policy. Don’t say, “Because it’s the law.” Give the customer some background and some explanation.

  • Don’t be patronizing. Don’t talk down to the customer. Keep comments on a professional, adult level. Don’t use the phrase “of course.” (Example: “Of course you don’t understand. You didn’t read my letter.”) It sounds patronizing and sarcastic.

  • Offer alternatives when you can. Don’t just say no, or “You have to.” Try to help the customer find solutions to the problem. “I apologize for not being able to find the form and having to ask you to fill it out again. Would it be easier for you to come in and do it, or should I drop it into the mail for you?”

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-16: Saying “No.”

  2. Continue discussing tactful, appropriate, and helpful ways to say “no” to a customer.

  3. Tell participants that we have been discussing some very emotional scenarios that are commonplace in the Child Support Enforcement community. Due to the nature of this business, it is always important to be mindful of one’s safety and security. The next section will provide barriers, both physical and psychological, which can increase our safety and security.

What you need to know


  • Avoid making excuses. Instead of saying “I’m sorry your case hasn’t been processed yet, but everyone has been on vacation and we’re pretty backlogged,” say, “I’m sorry your case hasn’t been processed yet. Let’s see how we can expedite the matter, and what you can expect in the future.”

  • Eliminate negative phrases such as “You have to.” Instead of “I can’t do that. You have to talk to Bob,” say, “Let me see if I can transfer you to Bob, who is the one who can make that decision.”

  • Don’t mention other/similar complaints. “You know, a lot of people don’t like that law,” or “You know, our computer has been doing that a lot lately.”

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-17: Safety and Security.

  2. Tell participants that their safety and security must always be a priority. This is especially important when you are dealing with a difficult situation.

  3. Tell participants that child support offices are also prime targets of other acts that also fall under the heading of security. These can include bomb threats, verbal and physical abuse, unauthorized entry or access, theft, etc.

  4. Tell participants that security measures should include:

  • Door Codes—combination locks on doors (as in the video; also known as cypher locks) are convenient and secure. Discuss when to change the combination.

  • Physical arrangement of furniture—make sure there is a clear path between you and the door/exit. Do not create a path in which you must pass or climb over the interviewee to exit the room.

  • Move the Child Support Enforcement office to a higher floor—which will provide less access to employees and will be more secure.

  • ID Badges—do the employees wear them and are they a procedural requirement? Consider using visitor ID badges.

  • Panic or SOS buttons—do you have them? What about procedures for all to follow when the button is utilized?

  • Bulletproof glass—are the employees who greet visitors protected?

  • Parking lot lights/security—are employee and visitor lots well lit?

  • Metal Detectors—must all visitors pass through secure entranceways?

  • Closed circuit television cameras—are they routinely viewed and clearly visible?

  • Single public entrance—keeps control of comings and goings of customers.

  • Window in supervisor’s office from which the supervisor can view the customer service area—allows for visual contact for protection. All interview rooms should contain windows as well.

  • Security guards—active and aggressive in security procedures.

What you need to know

5.11safety and Security


Child Support offices can be targets for theft, unauthorized entry and access, threats, and physical abuse and harm. Effective barriers, both physical and psychological, can reduce the likelihood of these threats.


5.11.1What Can Be Done To Protect Your Environment


  • Use of Door Codes

  • Physical arrangement of furniture in interview rooms and offices

  • Always leaving yourself an escape route

  • Constructing “natural” barriers to separate employees from customers and visitors (e.g., desks, countertops, partitions)

  • Moving the child support office to a higher floor

  • ID Badges

  • Assigning temporary badges to visitors

  • “SOS” buttons in the interview rooms

  • Bullet-proof glass

  • Parking lot lights/security

  • Metal detectors

  • Closed-circuit television cameras

  • Single public entrance to the customer service area

  • Window in the supervisor’s office from which the supervisor can view customer service area

  • Security guards


Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Continue to display PowerPoint Slide 5-17: Safety and Security.

  2. Briefly discuss the bullet items on the next page. Ask participants if there are any other recommendations.

  3. Refer participants to Handout 5-3, Security Assessment Tool. Tell participants that this assessment was designed by the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OCSE) to help you assess an agency’s strengths and weaknesses with respect to security issues. This tool is to be used to evaluate each area of an office. This should be taken back to your office for further review.

  4. Refer participants to Handout 5-4, Security Resources and briefly discuss the security resources available through OCSE.

What you need to know

5.11.2What You Can Do To Protect Your Environment




  • Challenge wandering or “lost” visitors and escort them to the right office.

  • Watch for “head poppers” who open wrong doors.

  • Lock all offices, conference rooms, or storage rooms.

  • When you must work after hours, keep your doors locked.

  • Make sure to close and lock all windows, and activate alarms.

Training Notes

What you need to say/do

  1. Display PowerPoint Slide 5-18: Summary & Conclusions.

  2. Summarize the material that we have covered in this module. Solicit feedback from participants for each bullet on the participant page.

  3. Ask if there are any further questions about this module.

  4. After answering the participants’ questions, you can transition to the final module, Module 6: Summary and Wrap-Up.

  5. Allow a few minutes for participants to look at Handout 1-1, the Customer Service Training Evaluation Form and evaluate Module 5 at this time (or remind them to do so at the end of the course).

What you need to know

  1. The learning objectives for this module are:

  • Given a participative lecture, participants will identify methods for diffusing customer anger or hostility.

  • Given a participative lecture and small group activity, participants will develop strategies for handling difficult customers.

  • Given a participative lecture, participants will identify which verbal and nonverbal messages exacerbate a difficult situation and which diffuse a difficult situation.

  1. Throughout this module, or at the end, the trainer should go to the flipchart and check off any sticky notes that have been addressed.

5.12Summary and Conclusions


In this module we covered:



  • Methods for diffusing the anger and hostility of customers.

  • Strategies for handling difficult customers.

  • Methods for dealing with stress.

  • Techniques for using nonverbal and verbal messages effectively to diffuse (rather than exacerbate) difficult situations.





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