As every book, movie, and TV show knows, conflict is what fuels drama. Without some kind of conflict there’s no plot. A character has to defeat their enemy or get away from a haunted house or find a buried treasure. There are obstacles to overcome, fears to be conquered, ghosts to bust. Conflict is the goal of drama.
But conflict should never be the goal of the customer experience. Conflict resolution is one of the most important skills for customer service agents. Helping customers or sales targets feel safe and respected is the best way to create better experiences, solve problems, and build long-term loyalty.
These skills can also be among the trickiest ones to train. Conflict resolution strategies can be trained, but employees also have to feel comfortable deploying them in stressful situations. Being able to practice conflict resolution skills in safe situations is the best way to make them work in real life.
Conflict might be the heart of drama, but a great customer experience should be as drama-free as possible. That’s why conflict resolution training is so important.
Why Conflict Resolution Matters for Customer Experience Professionals
Conflict in movies and TV is always heightened. Think of the famous scene in 2001, where one ape-like ancestor discovers that he can use a club to wallop another ape. So we tend to think of conflict as being inherently intense and scary.
But really, every customer experience has an element of conflict, in its most basic form. Think about it like a plot.
The Problem: The device they bought isn’t working right.
The Goal: To get it to work right or to get their money back.
The Obstacle: They don’t know if their warranty covers this specific situation.
The Journey: Interacting with a customer experience agent.
The Plot: Their experience with customer service
The Resolution: They’re going to get a new device
Now, there’s nothing you and your team can do until we get to the plot. That’s where you enter the story. They might be upset. They might be frustrated. They might just be impatient. Almost no matter what, they’d rather be doing something else.
Your agents are key to this drama. They can resolve the conflict quickly and easily, and be heroes. They might not get a movie, but the customer will feel like it was all worth it.
So how do we get there? Basic conflict resolution skills.
Four Steps Toward Conflict Resolution
How do we resolve conflicts? By practicing basic problem-solving skills.
This one seems obvious enough to be redundant, but it isn’t. While we can’t avoid issues – people are calling or chatting with an agent for a reason – we can avoid making things spiral into a bigger conflict. The way to do that is fairly straightforward. It involves:
- Identifying their core problem — i.e. they are confused about their warranty.
- Identifying their secondary problems – have they been getting the runaround? Are they already unhappy? Is this a frequent experience for them? Identify their emotional state can be key to avoiding conflict.
- Repeating their problem back to them – show them they are understood. This is a great way to make people feel like they don’t have to fight to get their problem solved, and that immediately cools temperatures.
What your CX agent is doing there is establishing rapport. They immediately set the stage for a lower probability of conflict.
Finding Common Ground
Your agent has established their rapport. They have identified the problem. They feel comfortable with the customer. Now it is time to find common ground. That is to say “you have a problem, I recognize that, and am prepared to help.”
Common ground here isn’t “you are going to get exactly what you came for.” Maybe the warranty is expired. Maybe they didn’t meet the terms. Maybe you aren’t even the right department to help them. But that’s ok.
Your field of common ground is that you both want the experience to go well, and that means you are going to work with them to understand the situation and the path forward. Some examples of “common ground statements” could be:
“OK, I am sure we can figure this out.”
“I had a very similar call recently, so don’t worry – you’re not alone in this.”
“I am going to have to transfer you to my manager. They are authorized to help here. I’ll explain the issue to her, so you’re not starting over.”
The last one shows that your CX agent cares about the customer and even if they can’t help, they want the experience to be as simple as possible. That’s common ground.
Effective Conflict Resolution
The most effective method of conflict resolution is solving problems for your customer. Remember that there are multiple problems: the primary one, and the orbiting emotional problems. So when resolving the conflict, there are some questions your employees should ask themselves.
- Is this a problem I can actually solve? (Is it covered by the warranty)
- If so, what is the quickest way to get the issue settled? (This is handled by practical training)
- If not, is there anything else I can offer them?
- What will they need to come away from this feeling heard and respected?
The truth is, you can’t always solve the primary problem. When it can be solved, things can be resolved very quickly. When it can’t, you have to talk them through why it can’t, and what to do instead, and how to avoid this the next time. And your agent might have to deal with their frustration.
Regardless of the practical outcome, if a customer feels that they were listened to and treated with respect, that’s a win. That makes them feel less like it was a conflict and more like a conversation. And that is crucial for establishing positive outcomes.
Create Long-Term Relationships
The best part of successful conflict resolution is that it helps you create real long-term relationships. After all, you want this person to continue being a customer. Ideally, you’d like them to give you positive CSAT scores and maybe even be an advocate or brand evangelist.
The best way to do that is to never have any problems, but that’s not realistic. So when problems arise, the way the conflict is resolved shapes the perception of your brand. Being helpful, friendly, concerned, and – most importantly – geared toward making their problems go away is key to the experience.
Your CX agents are often the face of your business. The right training is how they make conflict resolution one of your key principles.
How To Train for Conflict Resolution Skills
Training for conflict resolution is both straightforward and very complicated. There are straightforward ways to do things when the problem is simple. “If issue X is covered by warranty, send them a new product.” That’s the straightforward way to do things.
The tricky aspect of conflict resolution happens when there are secondary problems, such as the lack of a straightforward resolution, and having to manage heightened emotions.
That’s where conflict resolution training comes in. The best way to successfully solve complicated logistical and emotional problems is to have experience doing so. Experience gives the agent to ability to recognize patterns and place unique situations in context. “I have done something like this before, I can do this as well.” Experience gives them the confidence to move ahead.
Getting that experience without risking a bad customer experience requires immersive training methods. This means being able to practice various scenarios so that even if they never get an exact match, they have enough experience dealing with conflict to resolve it.
The AI coaching platform from Zenarate gives employees extremely realistic customer experiences in a risk-free environment. They learn how to handle unique conflicts without the unreal experience of play-acting with a manager or colleague. The AI platform is, to them, no different than interacting with a customer. Managers get feedback so they know where they employee excels and where they need to improve.
Conflict is an inevitable part of the job. But by deploying immersive AI-based training, CX agents can learn to identify problems, move towards a resolution, make customers happy, and leave the drama to the movies.
Contact us today to schedule a demo to learn more about how you can incorporate Zenarate AI Simulation Training into your agent training program. We will answer your questions and show you how you can help your organization develop confidently prepared agents while delivering exceptional experiences to the ones that matter most – your customers.
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