Let’s start with an obvious, uncontroversial statement: Working with customers can be really, really hard. As customer support leaders, part of our role is to help team members manage challenging customer conversations, but it’s not always clear how to do that.

Recently, one of our Support Driven community members asked:

“Hi all. Just curious how you would handle a situation where an agent felt attacked by a user, and maybe from the outside looking in, it did not seem that way. We had a situation where an agent felt kind of attacked by a user who was being super direct, but from a management perspective, it did not really seem that way. I don’t want the agent to feel like we don’t have her back, but at the same time we want to have a conversation to help understand her feelings and ours.”

In this case, it wasn’t clear to the support leader that the customer was actually being coarse with her team member – it might just have been the team member’s perception that the customer was being rude, which is a tough situation to lead through on its own. As usual, our amazing #leadership group jumped in with great advice:

“I’m guessing that the agent wasn’t totally comfortable with their level of knowledge, and maybe they felt like they were being ‘tested’? Could be they need more confidence in their delivery and level of understanding…”

“I would take the agent out of the building for a coffee and tell them that I won’t tolerate customer’s abusing my team and be honest that looking at it, I don’t see it the same way, so I want to understand their perspective. I would ask them to really help me understand what the customer did that made them feel this way and dig in…”

“You definitely want the rep to feel ‘heard’ and supported by you… once they have a chance to air their side of what happened, ask what would help next time? More/specific training? A break after the call?”

These are all good suggestions for getting to the root of the team member’s concerns about the conversation with the customer – they demonstrate empathy and a sincere desire to understand the team member better, while at the same time addressing the possibility that there might have been a misunderstanding on the team member’s end.

But how do you lead a team member through a situation where a customer has been unambiguously abusive? My perspective is that there is no room for this in my team’s conversations with customers, no exceptions. We end our relationships with customers who are abusive, and I make it clear that any team member who decides that terminating the conversation is the right course of action has my full support. I’m also sure to follow up with the team member after the difficult conversation, to make sure that they have the time and space they need to bounce back from it.

If you share a similar philosophy but aren’t sure how to end a relationship with a customer, I suggest reading this piece from our friends at Help Scout. It offers really solid, actionable advice. 

What do you think? If you’re not in the community and would like to join in the conversations, please join us!