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How to Master Positive Positioning When Your Callers Come in Hot

This article was updated on July 6, 2021
Cropped shot of an attractive young female call center agent working late at night in her office

Often I hear from agents whose calls have been escalated that the caller was "angry" or "wouldn't listen to me" or "refused to let me help them." When I was directly supervising agents and taking those escalated calls, I would routinely review the call recordings with the agent, with the hope of helping them understand the active role they played in the call's negative direction. 

Often, in the heat of the moment of a difficult call, it's hard to remember what was said, and even less likely your agent will remember their tone. But once emotions have calmed, reviewing the call will better equip your agents to defuse difficult callers and help prevent future calls from getting escalated in the first place.

In customer service, all contacts to your center stem from an issue: a service failure, a defective product, a marketing effort gone askew. I wish people called our organization just to say, "I love you guys," but if we're being honest here, all callers are "coming in hot." Some agents handle those "coming in hot" calls better than others. But all such calls have the potential to go south, quickly – especially when the news the agent has for the customer isn't what they want to hear. Positioning information positively will minimize conflict and confrontation.

To master the skill of positive positioning, your agents need to:

  • Deliver information in a pleasant, confident manner without judgment
  • Eliminate all negative tones, language and innuendo from the interactions
  • Maximize positive language while minimizing negative language
  • Provide the caller with options when possible
  • Ensure the caller feels well-informed, validated and satisfied with the next steps at the end of the conversation

Positioning information positively is not only about making positive word choices; it is about phrasing those words in a way that is intentional. Think about it in terms of building a house.  How you “frame” that house builds the foundation for its success. By making specific language choices you build a strong foundation for a successful customer interaction.

"It takes an average person almost twice as long to understand a sentence that uses a negative approach than it does to understand a positive sentence"  
– John H. Reitmann, Psychiatrist

So what is positive vs. negative phrasing? It sounds something like this:

"I want to help you, sir, but unfortunately you didn't register online correctly and therefore your request never processed.”

Versus this:

"I understand you're looking to confirm your registration. I just need a few additional pieces of information for me to be able to process your registration for you, and then I'll send you the conformation you’ve requested right away."

See what happened there?  Using words like "you" put blame and can cause the call to escalate quickly. The caller doesn't need to know what went wrong; they just want to know it will be resolved. Sounding helpful and encouraging, removing bureaucratic language and blame reframes the interaction in a whole new way.

Even when the answer is "no," positive positioning is powerful. Compare this:

"I know you're angry, and I am very sorry, but you are out of warranty, so there is nothing I can do."

To this:

"I understand your frustration. While the item is not eligible to be covered under our warrantee program, we do offer a buy-back program if you'd like to upgrade to a newer model, or I can provide you with a list of authorized repair shops in your area.”

When dealing with a "no" it is better to avoid apologizing (it sounds insincere). Instead, focusing the conversation on what you can do. Ultimately, you want the person on the phone to feel heard and their emotions validated but then quickly move the call and the caller from a place of anger and resistance to a place of resolution or acceptance.

I encourage your organization to spend some of your training resources and attention on positive positioning. It is also a great metric to put on a quality scorecard. And I have found, regardless of the role you hold in your organization, you will discover that all of your business and personal interactions will be improved with a bit of positive positioning.

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Becky Levy
Becky Levy

Becky Levy currently serves as associate director of member services & development at WGBH where she implemented Salesforce and NewVoiceMedia for the Boston-based public media powerhouse's member services group. Becky has over 16 years' experience of improving customer services processes, implementing new technology and delivering training.

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