It’s a day like any other. You are walking back to your desk and one of the new guys on your team flags you down for advice. You walk over to his cubicle and he hands his headset to you. “She wants to speak with a supervisor.”

Your schedule for the day shakes itself empty like an etch a sketch. At least an hour of screaming and yelling, pleading and begging, and then a large credit/free offer that you are forced to give to shake the screaming banshee off the phone, an offer you will have to justify to your boss. What do you do?

The first step: calm down. You’ll do fine, cowboy. As long as you follow this sequence of steps, you can’t lose. Remember, 87% of supervisor calls just require you to restate or explain a policy that upset or confused a customer; often you are able to find a resolution without even sitting down. That’s where the first step comes in: Research.


They don’t give out that corner cubicle to just anyone, bucko. Obviously, you must be savvy in the computer systems and applications that your employees navigate on a daily basis. Use them! Take time to review the account completely, refresh yourself on any policies that you might be rusty on. History notations can be invaluable; they let you know what kind of track record this customer has with your company. Is he an Agreeable O’Niceguy or a Bitchy McComplainsALot? While you do this, make certain to get the full story from the person who took the call, but always treat their version with suspicion.

Research just enough to feel certain you know how long the call should take, and give yourself a time limit. If the issue is something upon which there can be no discussion1, you might find it helpful not to sit down to take the call, or to stab yourself in a major artery. Both of these create a sense of urgency. Have all of the policies and procedures at hand, to give yourself the strength of your convictions. Now you are ready for the most frightening part: The first 30 seconds.

The Beginning

Give a friendly greeting, letting the customer know that you are their chum. Use the customer’s name, thank them for holding, and ask them what you can assist them with. Use a pleasant tone, but establish ownership of the phone call within the first minute. Be very confident, understanding, and thorough. Make certain that you apologize for any misinformation while also summarizing what the agent has already told you.

A sample summation:

“James, as I understand it you recently missed a very important football match because our service wasn’t working for you like it should have. I know that would frustrate me to high heaven! {Agent Name} told me you were wondering if you could get three free months of service because of this, and I wouldn't be able to do that for you. But what I can do-“

In the beginning, try your best to hear them out, no matter what the agent said. If they have been seriously wronged, correct it to the best of your abilities2, and you might make a friend. Let them know you care about their issue, explain what you can't do for them and then move on to what you can. This makes for sign posting; you have now defined the terms of the conversation clearly, and this will become very important later on.

Some customers will not allow you to get out even half of that. They will shout, curse, and contradict every thing that comes out of your mouth. They are, in a word, ornery. The only way to deal with these people is to be excessively nice to them3. Explain to them that you would relish discussing4 this with them, but you would need a chance to speak. If they honor your request, they are actively working towards a resolution and are simply frustrated. If they do not, everyone’s time is being wasted, because they can not have ownership of the call. Nothing will ever get done if they do. They understand this transaction in a very limited way, and you, as an employee of the company with which they do business, understand the situation in much larger terms. You are the expert.

The Middle

Once you have summarized and have agreed to a modicum of civility, you will go about discussing the facts of your summation. James will tell you that it wasn’t just one game, it was an entire evening that he had to spend without television. That he had 400 dollars riding on the game. That he skipped his own mother’s funeral to watch this game. He will tell you why he deserves the thing that he is demanding, may ever threaten to cancel if his demands are not met. At this point, shelve your natural human instinct to call his bluff, and begin explaining the policy. Explain your decision making process and tell him what you can do for him.

The End

This can be longest part of all, if you let it. You will restate what you are willing to do, which may have changed over the course of the conversation. The customer will employ one of several techniques to prolong the call unnecessarily and force you to give up out of exhaustion (Remember, only one of you is being paid to argue.):

  • Other problems with his service: The customer will catalogue every minor annoyance they have ever had with your company, and sometimes, for added fun, will just start making sh*t up. Empathize with every single instance, and insist that when this issue is resolved another agent will take over the call to redress these concerns. Refocus the call back to the issue at hand at every available opportunity.
  • Gauntlet Questions: The customer will unnecessarily personalize the situation and/or make you personally responsible for any consequences of these decisions5. These questions take the blame off of them and place it squarely on you. You must find a tactful way to put it back on them. Use the word “we” instead of “you” while you do this6, as in “It is unfortunate we didn’t know how much was in our account before making the last five purchases, but what we can do in the future…
  • My Friend Got This For Free: The mother of all bunny trails that a customer will lead you on. They will state that their friend/aunt/paper boy went through the same thing, and they were given a brand new car and a lifetime supply of butterfly kisses. Tell them that that amount of compensation seems unlikely and tell them you cannot discuss another customer’s situation with them.

At that point hit them with two of your time shortening techniques:

  • Deadline: Constantly refer to not wanting to waste their time. Start sentences with things like “In the interest of not wasting your time” and “I wouldn’t dream of disrespecting your time by explaining that policy for a third time...”
  • Broken Record: Every new thing that they say is met by the same short, terse explanation that you have already explained that issue to them, and asking if they have any other concerns. They will either hang up, threaten to cancel or start shouting. No one can handle broken record for more than 2 minutes. When they finally tell you that have nothing more to add, thank them for calling and wish them a pleasant evening.

...or IS IT?

Fully notate the account with the conversation you just had, and clearly state any offers you may have made. Make certain to explicitly notate any offers you didn't make, in case the customer calls back with a different version of the story. Reference any relevant policies and C.Y.A.. Assume that, even now, the customer is calling back again to get a different answer. Save the next representative time by covering all the necessary points.

Before you go back to your desk, or to the break room to vent, explain to the agent techniques that will prevent your involvement in the future. Coach them on any misinformation they might have given the customer, and make your job easier by nipping the next supervisor call in the bud.

  1. Example: Customer calls in, wanting information about a credit card that is registered in his wife’s name. He cannot provide the password she set on the account, and wants the card cancelled.
  2. And if they are polite and reasonable, bend the rules a bit, waive the shipping on this or that, let them know that kindness is rewarded.
  3. Kill 'em with kindness, 'cause dead people don't call back.
  4. Your vocabulary during a supervisor call needs to soften. If a customer is arguing with you, you refer to it as a discussion. Their insane demands are requests, their outright lies are just them being mistaken.
  5. Example: Tanya, a 31 year old waitress with a bank account that is overdrawn, calls in because her debit card was declined while she was trying to buy antibiotics for her sick son. She will call, asking “So my son might die because you motherfuckers didn’t give me overdraft protection?”
  6. The implied first person might be preferrable to the third person; the consensus seems to be the the third person sounds condescending or slightly crazy. As insane as it sounds, it is impolite to directly blame the customer for their own actions. This construction would yeild a sentence like "It is unfortunate that the balance on this account wasn't checked before purchases were made, but..."

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