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“We need to learn and to show others that there are tried and tested, powerful ways of containing and resolving conflict which do not require the use of force”. – Scilla Elworthy

The role of customer service agents is known to be an entry-level one. However, anyone who works in this realm will tell you that the skills required are anything but entry level. Interacting directly with customers – some really tough and unreasonable ones, ensuring that this first point of contact is the start of a business relationship and being in command of communication, emotions and product knowledge at all times. Amongst these myriad tasks expected of this set of personnel, conflict resolution skills come out tops. More often than not a customer query when not answered ‘the way the customer wants it’ often spirals out of control and becomes reason for a conflict between customer and company. A customer service person lacking in conflict resolution skills can become easily unnerved in the face of such a situation and would be more likely to commit a blunder. An even slightly frustrated customer could easily becoming disgruntled making it tougher for the agent to manage the situation.

Conflict resolution skills must be one of the basic skills for your customer service team. These skills will allow them to manage the toughest and most difficult customer with calmness and confidence. It is important for the agents to remain in control of their own emotions so that they do not appear non-threatening, intimidating or rude to the customer. Conflict resolution actually requires a great deal of personal courage and should be one of the traits for which a person is hired as an agent. While working in customer service or in any other team – at whatever level – the way out of conflicts is to resolve them. It is impossible to wish them away or ignore them as the more time elapses, conflicts, especially the ones with customers can become ugly. Conflicts are best resolved soon as they have a tendency to simmer below ‘the surface’ and then suddenly erupt when you least expect it.

In the realm of customer service especially the people working cannot be afraid of conflicts and must rather work towards continually honing conflict resolution skills. Without this skill, even the slightest ‘upheaval’ would cause discomfort and stress resulting in poor efficiency and low work output. Companies must constantly monitor their customer service team’s ability to resolve conflicts and deal with them in an efficient manner. They must invest in on-going training and coaching to help their customer service staff better manage conflicts and hone their conflict resolution skills. Not just with customers, but managing conflicts and better still preventing them in the workplace is extremely crucial since an unhappy workplace would drop the overall efficiency of the team leading to poor customer service.

As we have discussed earlier, with the onset of technology and the rise of several new companies, the marketplace has become fiercer in the recent past and continues to be. These dramatic changes have put everyone on edge. Also as companies broaden their horizon and have customers from around the globe, they are now recruiting people of hugely varying demographics. These changes and differences are potential causes of conflicts within the workplace. If the leaders, managers and other influencers within the company lack conflict resolution skills it would be impossible to manage the everyday small and big conflicts that arise as a result of differences based on culture, language, ethnicity and other such dissimilarities. Matters take a turn for the worse, when these internal differences are reflected in the behaviour and treatment meted out to external people – customers and others that interact with the company. This behaviour has the potential to destroy businesses by making customers sorely disappointed with the company and eventually leaving.

Conflict resolution skills allow people to be more amenable to another person’s thoughts and actually take the time to listen to their views. A person who has these skills is more flexible and is able to swiftly move between the best options that would make the resolution easier and quicker. Also conflict resolution skills increases group participation, increases ownership of issues and lends determination and commitment to keep problems at bay. Teams that are adept in conflict resolution soon also become adept at conflict management which results in a healthier work environment. In a function like customer service, conflicts are an inevitable part of the scope of work and must be recognized as so. It would be foolish to assume that customers will never get annoyed – reasonably or without reason – and therefore it is best that conflict resolution skills are honed and put to good use when required.

Within the realm of customer service, another thing that cannot be expected is that customers make the first move to resolve conflicts even if they realize that the conflict is created by them. It will always be the onus of the company and in particular the responsibility of the customer service team / member to ensure that the conflict is resolved as quickly and smoothly as possible. Armed with conflict resolution skills the customer service person is more likely to be able to see what the end result should be and would be able to explain this to the customer in most respectful and courteous manner. The agent would be focused on understanding the customer’s needs and expectations rather than on why the conflict happened and who created it. All discussions would be based on facts and the customer service person would, through a calm demeanour, be able to show the customer what the best solution is in the current situation. A polite and confident approach would draw the customer in and make them more likely to listen to what the agent has to say.

Under no circumstance must the customer feel that they are being told that they are wrong. Doing so will only make them more negative and possibly vengeful and anyone in business knows that even one angry customer out to get you has the potency of a devastating hurricane. Ensure that your words and tone of voice convey your desire to resolve the issue for the customer and also provide solutions that will do away with similar problems in the future. Not finding the right solutions and being unable to put a customer’s mind at rest is not a situation that any company wants to find themselves in. It is therefore the company’s onus to create a happy workplace for their employees by ensuring that internal conflicts are resolved immediately and co-workers do not harbour resentment for each other. No work related conflicts must be allowed to remain and must be dealt with seriously if they take on a personal nature. Remaining inactive or silent in such potentially serious situations is not an option for any manager or leader since this is what your employees will emulate and use it with your customers. Can you afford that?

More often than not conflicts with customers happen when their emotional needs are left unmet. For example – if they feel unwelcome, treated badly, not listened to or simply not made to feel valued – these feelings very soon make the customers find fault with your service and products and eventually a small issue takes the form of an ‘angry tidal wave’ set to destroy all in its path and very often many of the ‘big’ customers have this potential. Imagine what will happen if even one were to decide to go vocal on social media? Scary right – and all because your company lacks conflict resolution skills!

As people become more adept at resolving conflicts, they will display more confidence and would pro-actively be able to prevent conflicts to start with. This would be a very positive outcome. As co-workers are happier with each other and confident of managing customers, they would be able to keep the focus on what the company requires the most – profitable and loyal customers.

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