Exploring Difficult Customer Situations

Kate Marshall (NTU)

Kate Marshall reports on a recent online event aimed at supporting frontline staff in techniques and approaches for handling difficult customer situations.

Organised by the Mercian Staff Development Group (MSDG), and facilitated by Diana Edmonds and Sue Daly from Bridgford Consultancy, the virtual workshop aimed to enable delegates to explore tools and techniques for handling the awkward and sometimes emotional customer situations dealt with by those in frontline customer service roles within library teams.

Working in frontline customer service within academic libraries inevitably includes times where it is necessary to communicate difficult messages and handle objections. The changing landscape of service delivery during the global pandemic has also meant that norms have shifted, and frontline staff are required to support users to operate within new policies and procedures, which can sometimes lead to friction and so it was felt to be a timely point to provide an opportunity for staff across the region to come together to explore strategies to increase staff confidence in dealing with difficult situations The event provided opportunities for reflection, with interactive activities and break-out sessions to stimulate discussion and provide participants an opportunity to exchange thoughts and experiences on shared problems with frontline colleagues from across the region.

The session commenced with activities to encourage delegates to explore some of the causes and triggers of disagreement and to consider how differences in perception can lead to conflicting views of a situation. Activities and discussion enabled delegates to explore their thoughts, feelings and behaviours in such interactions, and to consider how stress may impact a difficult situation, particularly during the present pandemic. Opportunities were then provided for delegates to share their own strategies for managing personal emotions and reactions before, during and after difficult customer interactions. Delegates were supported to explore effective communication strategies, with an emphasis on remaining assertive and confident, and reframing a difficult message to move the interaction forward to a more positive outcome.

The session moved on to explore tools and strategies for delivering a difficult message and handling objections, with consideration given to style and technique, with a focus on showing empathy, using positive and clear language, finding hooks to emphasise benefits or address customer concerns, and strategies to stand firm in the face of objections.

The learning gained from the session did not end with the webinar itself. Delegates were provided with a learning log to consider how they might implement the learning from the session on a personal level, and were encouraged to further explore the possible difficult situations and objections which may arise in customer interactions with their own customer service teams, to share best practice and standardise responses for consistency of approach.

The well-attended and interactive session provided both a useful opportunity for personal reflection and a timely reminder that others across the sector are facing similar situations, and that in sharing experiences and good practice, we can learn from each other and find solutions to common issues in frontline customer service.