Deploying Strategies to Manage Frustrated Customers in the Utility Sector

Deploying strategies to manage frustrated customers in the utility sector via the contact centre Echo Managed Services

Dealing with frustrated customers is an inevitable part of working in customer services but in some cases, customer emotions can boil over. Research shows that more than a third (36%) of service professionals have experienced hostility in the last six months. Customers can become upset or, even angry, for many reasons including higher than anticipated bills, service disruptions, or they may simply be having a bad day.

While employees should not be made to endure customer behaviour that makes them feel unsafe, there are skills and processes that water providers put in place to help their teams deal with frustrated customers. This includes de-escalating situations before they become unpleasant all while protecting the employee’s wellbeing.

Effective training

Employees need to be equipped with the skills to handle customers effectively in a way that provides good quality service and helps to protect the organisation’s reputation. Customer service representatives need to have initial training covering both knowledge and required soft skills delivered in even measures. Service professionals should communicate simply, using non-technical language, and ensure they have a good understanding of the soft skills and personality attributes that customers respond well to. Ongoing coaching and development of customer service agents is essential to fine-tune these skills and helps build agents’ confidence to handle every customer they interact with. The use of knowledge software can also help guide agents or embed learning.

Active listening

Listening in a way that makes customers feel heard is vital. Customer service representatives need to be present and give the customer their full attention without interruption or judgment. They should show empathy and engage with the customer using verbal prompts and assurances at appropriate points to let them know they’re listening. Using clarifying questions and summarising then repeating what the customer is saying back to them, demonstrates engagement and understanding. It shows customers that the representative is trying to get all the facts straight to resolve the case as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Expectation setting

Setting clear expectations is key to avoid frustrating a customer further, for example, let customers know upfront if call wait times are longer than usual and always tell customers how long they can expect to be on hold. If it’s not possible to resolve your customer’s query while they’re on the call, communicate that to them: let them know what you can do right away, the next steps, and when they can expect a follow-up or resolution.

Verbal de-escalation techniques

 If a customer is already agitated, it’s important to remain calm, composed, and professional, with an even tone to help diffuse any tension. If the customer doesn’t seem to be responding well, employees could consider seeking assistance from a more experienced colleague, coach or leader. Technology can also be used to track the sentiment of calls and enable others to step in remotely for example, through call listening and prompting, or using next best action technology. Combining technology with the human touch ensures the customer receives the best outcome possible.

Escalation process

 If steps to diffuse the situation don’t appear to be having the desired effect, service representatives should not have to put up with unreasonable behaviour or abuse. Organisations should introduce a set process for severe cases and escalation. Team leaders should ensure that employees know when to involve a supervisor or manager or ultimately when and how to end abusive calls.

Taking the next steps

As the cost-of-living crisis continues, and customers continue to face financial pressures, the likelihood of customer service representatives experiencing fraught communications is increased. However, with effective training, active listening, the use of smart technology and the use of de-escalation techniques, customer service representatives are better equipped to handle difficult situations.

As the water sector continues its collective journey to improve and refine its levels of customer handling, providers can make sure they are safeguarding their staff and setting the standards for managing frustrated customers. An increasing number of companies are also adopting a zero-tolerance policy for customer abuse as part of the Service with Respect campaign. Therefore employing effective de-escalation processes is important for diffusing situations before they become abusive. Customer service functions’ wellbeing must be looked after when they are supporting the wellbeing of members of the general public.



Rachael Merrell is customer service director at Echo Managed Services

Echo Managed Services is a specialist outsourced provider of complex multi-channel customer contact services, comprehensive debt recovery solutions, revenue protection services and the developer of the multi-utility, Salesforce-native billing software, Aptumo. Echo combines best-practice technology and processes with highly skilled and knowledgeable people to provide public and private sector organisations with end-to-end customer contact capabilities.

For more information on Echo Managed Services visit their Website


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