Question: How do you cope with awkward situations?

Answers from frontline reps —


It can be awkward when a customer remembers you, but you don’t remember them. In the past, I felt annoyed when this happened — “Does she think she’s my only customer?” — then a coworker pointed out that we must give really personalized service if our customers think we know them so well. Now, instead of feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed, I simply ask the caller to refresh my memory. For example I might say, “Ms. Morris, before we go any further, would you just remind me of our last conversation.” Customers seem happy to slow down and fill in the blanks and when we are on the same page, I can provide the best support possible.

— Kim Shapell, Welter & Kreutz


One of the most difficult situations call center employees encounter is the talkative caller. Trying to find a way to redirect the conversation and refocus on the caller’s request (or simply end the call) can be challenging. I received a call one day from a woman who wanted to apply for a loan. Throughout the loan application, she constantly veered off-topic; I politely listened to her speak and commented where appropriate, but I noticed that calls were backing up in our queue.

There is a delicate balance between taking time to provide excellent customer service and being efficient in order to help as many customers as possible. In this case, I waited for the opening in the conversation and tried to regain control of the call — “Ms. Smith, I am enjoying our conversation and appreciate your sharing your experiences with me today. I also want to make sure I am able to provide the best possible service to you, as well as our other callers. We’ve completed your loan application today; is there anything else with which I can assist you?” This approach was both personable and effective, and closing the call wasn’t unnecessarily awkward. By acknowledging the conversation we had had, summarizing the actions taken on the call, and offering additional assistance, I was able to regain control of the call.

— Stacy Ernst, Navy Federal Credit Union


Every now and then, a customer asks a question and I draw a complete blank. This can be really awkward as the caller has come to me for answers and advice. I find that the most effective solution is complete honesty. I’ll say something like, “Wow, that’s the first time I’ve ever encountered that question. And I must admit, I am not sure of the solution. But I will speak with our product support team and find an answer for you?” I always try to find an answer and follow up rather than sending the customer to another department. It helps build my store of knowledge and builds the customer’s confidence.

Jo Sprowl, SKF USA Inc.

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