Managing Caller Hostility on a Customer Complaint Hotline

How to avoid anger spiraling out of control on the telephone.

Angry customer on phoneA customer complaint hotline can be a great tool for businesses to gather intelligence about marketing, measure customer satisfaction, and build or repair goodwill with customers.

However, operating a customer complaint hotline presents a number of unique challenges.

Two of the unique challenges of customer complaint hotlines that can be greatly aided through the effective use of on hold messaging are:

1) managing the perceptions, attitudes, and expectations of callers and

2) preventing burnout of employees handling complaint calls.

The key to managing caller attitude, perceptions, and expectations is understanding caller psychology; and the key to preventing employee burnout is effectively managing caller attitude, perceptions, and expectations. Primarily, it is important to recognize that the psychology of callers to a customer complaint hotline differs significantly from that of other types of callers.

Callers to a customer complaint hotline are generally calling to air a grievance. The significance of this fact is that while the callers are waiting to speak with a customer service representative, their mind is focused on their problem.

The time that callers spend in queue provides them with the time and opportunity to rehearse their complaint; practicing and refining the grievance in their mind and preparing to counter whatever excuses or hostility they believe they will receive from the customer service representative.

As they rehearse, callers further convince themselves of the merit of their complaint and they become angry. As their anger builds, the rehearsed complaint becomes more hostile. The more hostile their complaint becomes, the angrier they become.

This cycle continues as long as the caller remains on hold. When their call is finally taken, these callers often unload on the customer service representative with a well developed, thoroughly rehearsed, and highly motivated tirade. This phenomenon is known as the “Grievance Rehearsal Anger Spiral”, and the result is angry customers that cannot be satisfied and burned-out customer service representatives that take the calls; in other words, a counter-productive customer complaint hotline.

The “grievance rehearsal anger spiral” is real; and, if left unchecked, negatively affects businesses, their customers, and their employees. However, once it is understood, the phenomenon can be managed; and the result is a win/win situation for businesses and their customers alike.

A well crafted on hold program will occupy the caller’s mind with reassurances that their problem is about to be resolved, manage the caller’s mood and state of mind, and reduce the caller’s perception of the passage of time; all of which translate into more pleasant and productive complaint calls, more satisfied customers, happier employees, and a more effective customer complaint hotline.

About the Author

Larry Pfeil has decades of technology development and marketing experience, and has written and spoken on a variety of technology-related topics.

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