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I know it's not your fault but I'm going to yell at you anyway...

Dealing with difficult calls and difficult people comes with the territory of being a credit management professional. Having dealt with all types of people from both a debt recovery and retail banking perspective, I can attest that even with experience, dealing with difficult people does not get any easier.

Whilst it is all too easy to deal with conflict such as anger and aggression in kind, we must remember that we are the professionals and need to maintain our composure and keep a level head whilst keeping focused on the outcome, which is getting the debt paid in full and paid in full quickly.

Here are a few simple tips on how to deal with difficult calls and get the result that you are after.

  • Be CLEAR

  • Clear your emotions

  • Listen actively to the caller

  • Engage with the caller

  • Assess the caller’s situation

  • Reply and respond pro-actively

A simple acronym may help to keep you on target when dealing with a problem caller. Remaining clear, engaging the caller and acting pro-actively can diffuse hostility and keep the communication focused on reaching a mutually amicable resolution. Communicate clearly, listening without interruption, and keeping your tone and pitch neutral will help manage that difficult interaction.

Don't jump to conclusions

It is very easy to 'judge a book by it's cover' in the initial stages of a difficult call. Do not make assumptions based purely on the callers tone, attitude or language - this could simple be the way that this person communicates and there is no real ill feeling intended. Remember, each and every person is an individual and communicates in their own different way - especially if cultural, ethnic or language barriers stand in the way.

Avoid the temptation to jump straight to the resolution before addressing the other aspects as this may not always fix the situation. Sometimes, being listened to and having their issue(s) acknowledged empathetically can be what some callers are really after, - listen to what is really being said and identify the real issues early. Once you've done this, you can then focus on these issues and not on the behaviors and emotions.

Be respectful, honest and realistic

Generally, you will hold most, if not all of the facts regarding the topic of the call and will know what options, outcomes and possibles resolutions are available. Here, it is very important that you are confident in wanting to help the caller, use direct language and be clear in what you can and cannot do, or what can and cannot happen. Be honest about any limitations, time delays and consequences but be wary of making empty promises or being misleading in any way. In this way you will demonstrate your respect for the caller and hopefully, they will reciprocate this respect in turn.

Be flexible

There is nothing worse than having to deal with someone who just refuses to see reason and adapt to the situation or circumstances right? Being flexible in your communications with difficult people is paramount to successfully reaching the required resolution. Why? Because there are no real scripts for dealing with difficult calls and every call is going to be different. You need to remain calm and try to think on your feet, adapting your approach, your tone and your responses to manage whatever difficult circumstances you are presented with. You may also have to be flexible in terms of your desired outcome, perhaps settling for a part payment or interim agreement so as to enable a full resolution a little further down the track.

Know your limits

For most of us, there are some topics that we really struggle to deal with or certain people that we cannot interact appropriately with. It's important to know where your strengths and weaknesses lie when it comes to dealing with difficult people and subject matter and equally if not more important to have the courage to identify where you will struggle and seek assistance or request that you be removed from the equation.

Being conscious of our own emotional safety is paramount - forcing yourself to deal with a situation that is against your beliefs or is above your level of competency will do little more than worsen the situation. Even if you are mid-call, and you realize that you cant handle the situation - there is no shame in seeking assistance (or even just a quick 'breather' to help calm you down and refocus). One thing that I can't say enough is - escalate and alleviate. There is always someone else who can handle the call - sometimes escalation is enough to put the callers fire out and get the matter resolved or at least moving in the right direction.

When enough is enough

Everyone has different tolerance levels and the decision is purely up to you. It is highly unlikely that your employer wants you to be in stressful situations and feel pressured to stay on calls that you are not comfortable with, so exercise judgment and make the call to terminate the call if the behavior is making you uncomfortable. You'll know when it's the right thing to do, trust me!

If the call is important and there needs to be further discussion with the caller but this appears unlikely at the time, it may be better to reschedule the call for another time. Calls where there is the threat of physical aggression or harm should be terminated immediately and the details of the call logged. If there is real concern as to an individuals physical wellbeing, appropriate authorities should be informed.

When terminating the call, advise the caller that you are terminating the call and the reasons for the termination. Not only will this ensure that it is recorded for record keeping purposes, it may also diffuse the callers aggression or behavior enough to allow the call to continue. If you do terminate the call, and the caller calls again, escalate the call to a colleague or team leader if necessary - don't get caught up in a pattern of constant calls and terminations.

After The Call

Handling a difficult call for most is an emotional activity, so it is highly important that these emotions are managed by 'resetting' your mindset after each difficult call. Do whatever works for you, but do something - ignoring your emotions can lead to problems, not only for you but for those around you. Don't push yourself unnecessarily. Again, it is highly unlikely that your employer wants you to feel uncomfortable and they should understand the need to remove yourself from a stressful situation and manage your emotions accordingly.

Walk away from your workstation (grab a coffee or a quick stroll around the floor). If leaving your workstation is not an option, divert your phone or activate voicemaill ( in line with your employers guidelines of course) and take a minute or two to recharge. Reflect on the call, talk to a colleague about it. Make some notes and discuss these types of calls with your Manager at review time. Call Recording monitoring and review is an excellent way of analyzing performance during difficult conversations - if you can flag these calls at the time, do it - they will provide invaluable lessons in the future.

One last thing......Don't take it personally!

Ok, TRY not to take it personally, because it is easier said than done. If you think about it, the difficult caller is not really angry at you, they are angry or embarrassed at the circumstances they find them-self in. They do not know you, nor are they ever likely to and their attentions will soon be focused on something, or someone else. Whilst this can be a undesirable part of the job, it can deliver immense satisfaction when you are able to successful manage the callers emotions and your own. The most important thing is that emotion is a vital part of the way we communicate. Our abilities as professional mercantile agents allow us to separate emotion from the facts, manage the conflict and deliver the desired results for our clients.

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