The Sender's Question:
I'm the head of the customer service department at a large Chevrolet dealership in Texas. Our structure is, basically, that of a small call center. We meet on Mondays to review the past week from a proactive point of view (what did we learn?), go over any reading that we've done, and generally bolster morale for the group.
One of the books we're reading is Emotional IQ. One of the chapters focuses on anger. I noticed the section entitled "the Fallacy of ventilation." The discussion pertains primarily to the common assumption that venting helps. The author disputes the premise, especially as a form of diffusing the anger by saying, indeed, ventilation prolongs the anger. What can be induced when trying to resolve a business dispute. Is it counterproductive to "dig out all the messy details?" Your thoughts, please?
Director of Customer Relations
My First Response:
Thanks for your question. It’s so refreshing to see a leader who not only cares about this topic but also does something about it! While I love the EQ topic (is that a Dan Goleman book you’re reading?), I don’t necessarily buy into everything that is written on the matter. From a psychological perspective, venting can be very important for diffusing anger. Have you ever been in a position of feeling angry with someone and not having the opportunity to express yourself? It can be painful. Anger is a normal, human reaction especially if a person doesn’t feel acknowledged, valued or ‘seen’. I think it’s the one feeling that can provide the most information when a person has a chance to share the reasons behind the feeling.
From a customer service perspective, it’s even more important for the angry customer to have a chance to share his/her feelings. Given how most people don’t have solid communication tools and even less so when they are overwhelmed with a strong feeling, the venting of an angry customer may be more challenging for a CS Rep (who must also get a handle on their own defensive reaction); yet I believe venting is still important. Within those ‘messy details’ lurks some important information worth hearing, in my opinion. Now, if an emotionally laden vent session goes on for more than 1-2 minutes and the angry person is ramping up instead of calming down, there’s a risk of the vent turning into rage. Again, it will require the skill of the rep to know what specific tools to employ to bring the angry person back from yelling to a reasonable place of dialogue. Some tools to open dialogue: Dynamic listening (In the new year, I’ll do a post on this topic at www.xtremecustomerservice.blogspot.com), using the person’s name (calmly) once or twice (no more otherwise it will sound mechanical and manipulative) and communicating an I statement such as, “I will be able to help you if you are willing to talk with me in a way that I can best listen to you. Would you be willing to dialogue with me?”
Does that answer your question?
The Sender's Response:
Yes, I am referencing Goleman's book. Part of what I'm hearing is gauging the appropriateness of the venting, time-wise.
Thank you for your prompt response, I hope you enjoy your holidays!
My Second Response:
Yes, part of gauging the appropriateness of the venting has to do with time, another part has to do with content, and yet another part has to do with intuition. From a content perspective, I think gauging the appropriateness of the venting is dependent upon the recipient (your reps) or upon your company guidelines (what your organization tolerates). Usually when I deliver customer service training, I suggest that any personal attacks are automatically put in the ‘abusive’ category especially if they’re adorned with special four letter words. At that point, I suggest each person create a recovery statement that fits his/her individual style and still aligns with the company’s mission. For example, similar to the other statement I mentioned below is a fairly common recovery line, “If you can change your language, I can help you.” I suggest the recovery lines/statements are spoken in ‘ProSpeak’ meaning they are about what ‘can’ be done not what ‘can’t’ be done. So instead of ‘If you don’t stop cursing, I won’t help you’ it’s a more proactive statement ‘I can if you can’. Please let me know if that makes sense.
If the customer is threatening physical harm in any way, then I always tell reps to walk away and get help immediately. In this volatile society, physical harm, while not necessarily common, is a possibility. With call centers there is rarely any immediate threat, but I have worked with call center reps who were accosted in the parking lot when leaving the building or who were confronted in the office by an angry customer who sought them out. While this is rare, it has occurred. When I work with decision makers, I highly encourage them to have a policy and process in place for workplace violence that goes beyond internal relationships.
Whew – that’s probably more than what you wanted!
Thanks for allowing me to use your question. Hopefully others can gain from our interaction as well!
Cheers and have a wonderful holiday season!