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Practical Application: Resolving Conflict in Call Center Customer Service

Instructor: Scott Tuning

Scott has been a faculty member in higher education for over 10 years. He holds an MBA in Management, an MA in counseling, and an M.Div. in Academic Biblical Studies.

Conflict in the call center is unavoidable, but manageable. In these three scenarios, you will apply what you know about conflict resolution in the call center by helping three agents find strategies for resolving specific, common conflicts.

Resolving Conflict in the Call Center

Human communication relies on interpreting non-verbal cues. This puts a customer service agent interacting with a customer in a call center at an immediate disadvantage. They must resolve conflict using words alone. To succeed at resolving conflict without face-to-face contact, call center agents must rely on time-tested methods that use words to diffuse and ultimately resolve conflict.

You can review some of the basic conflict resolution concepts in the lesson Resolving Conflict in the Call Center Customer Service. Then read these three scenarios that involve call center conflict. You'll be asked to formulate a plan for resolving the conflict.

Scenario 1: Preventing Conflict

Tara is an agent in a call center for a large disaster mitigation company. Her company specializes in recovery from damage caused by fire, smoke, and water. She frequently takes calls from customers who are upset about a technician being late to an appointment, or sometimes even missing an appointment altogether.

In many cases, there is a perfectly valid reason for the occurrence, but the caller is either unaware or unimpressed by this fact. As a result, Tara must resolve the conflict created by the scheduling snafu.

Tara doesn't control what happens in the field. Can she still help resolve the conflicts created by technicians? If so, how?

Cause of conflict How Tara could resolve it
Poor communication Tara could take an active role in notifying customers of a schedule change.
Inconsistent expectations Tara could suggest that the company use time windows rather than fixed times so that customers don't feel that a technician was ''late'' because they missed the precise appointment time.
Personal style differences Tara can speak to each caller in a uniform way, even if the caller has an aggressive or forward style of confrontation.

There are other causes of call center conflict that, like the examples above, can be mitigated by fixing the root causes of the conflict.

Scenario 2: Using an Appropriate Style

Ted is a customer service specialist in a call center for a large retailer. His call center is responsible for tier 2 issues - issues that cannot be resolved at the first level of customer contact. Because only escalated issues are sent to Ted's call center, most of his callers already have a degree of frustration before he even picks up the phone.

Ted and his callers often perceive his role in polar opposite terms. He views himself as a fixer - someone who has the authority and resources to bring resolution to tough cases. His callers, on the other hand, often perceive a transfer to Ted as ''getting the run-around.''

  • Which style(s) of conflict resolution is likely to be most effective for Ted?
  • Which style(s) would likely make Ted's callers escalate the conflict rather than resolving it?

Resolution style Style definition How Ted can use it
Collaboration Customer and agent work together to solve the problem. Ted looks carefully for solutions that are acceptable to both the caller and to his company.
Accommodation Letting the customer win even if they don't ''deserve'' to. If a customer demands a refund but doesn't have a receipt, Ted simply overrides the system's rules and processes the refund anyway.
Competition Sometimes referred to as ''picking winners and losers''. Ted views some callers as a lost cause. Once a caller reaches that point, Ted simply says ''no'' and moves on to his next caller.
Compromise Both sides resolve the conflict by giving up some of their position. Ted can offer an angry customer a store credit, but not a cash refund.
Avoidance Intentionally avoiding conflict in the hope that the issue will fade away. Ted tells a customer that he will research a complaint and then discuss the issue. Instead, Ted doesn't investigate and does not communicate with the customer again.

In this scenario, avoidance and competition are terrible conflict resolution styles. Collaboration, accommodation, and compromise likely represent better stylistic options.

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