Handling sensitive situations in customer service

Did you know that one in three people will cut ties with a brand after just one negative interaction? Every interaction a company shares with its customers is a chance to build a relationship. Customer loyalty will be key to business survival in a post-pandemic world, so customer service teams need to have the tools and expertise to handle tough conversations, like debt collection, correctly.

This article will look at how businesses can better identify sensitive situations and how customer service teams can be trained to handle them effectively and appropriately. We’ll also examine how companies can rethink how they approach sensitive situations and why more emphasis could be placed on helping customers to solve their problems.

Identifying sensitive customer service situations

Why businesses might struggle with sensitive situations

The two factors that have the greatest impact on companies’ ability to handle and identify sensitive situations are a lack of experienced staff, and a lack of appropriate training.

65% of recruiters say skills shortages are a major concern for them, which is a huge issue for businesses whose customer service teams frequently handle sensitive situations. In addition, some businesses don’t have the time to invest in the training needed to provide staff with the skills required to handle these calls correctly. As a result, companies are finding themselves without the necessary talent to deal with sensitive situations.

One potential solution to this issue is for a company to outsource their customer service department. By outsourcing, a company can access experienced staff without needing to expend time and money on training programs or recruitment drives. 

The skills shortage is made more urgent because of current events: businesses may find that they receive a significantly higher volume of sensitive calls due to the pandemic, particularly those relating to financial hardship. A third of UK residents reported a loss of income due to COVID-19 — a factor that can easily lead to individuals falling into debt unexpectedly.

Preparing staff for sensitive situations

For most customers, fast response times and quick resolutions to their problems are most important during a customer service interaction. Although these are both still important to vulnerable customers or individuals with complex problems, staff should be prepared to deal with these calls differently from how they would deal with a standard enquiry.

In these situations, management might also want to rethink their approach when it comes to sensitive calls. For instance, rushing a call regarding a delicate matter such as debt can lead to a poor customer experience and reputational damage. We recommend less emphasis on speed and average handling time in these situations, and more of a focus on resolving a customer’s issue. This might mean using different KPIs, or creating a specific department that staff can forward sensitive calls onto.

Sensitive situations caused by current events

National or international events can cause a sharp increase in the numbers of people who become unemployed or financially vulnerable. COVID-19 is the most recent example of this: 1.6 million people in the UK applied for social assistance during the peak of the pandemic in March 2020, which was six times the number for previous months.

Energy prices are on the rise, and the cost of living increases expected in 2022 are likely to lead to debt and further difficulties down the road for already vulnerable customers. It would help businesses to be aware that events (like the pandemic) that can cause considerable problems for a large section of the population. As such, they may want to consider having a framework in place for dealing with these events.

Re-thinking your customer service model to better handle sensitive situations

Sensitive situations need to be handled differently from an average customer interaction. In order to retain customers and provide a positive experience during difficult circumstances, a company may need to prioritise empathy and solving the problems of an individual customer over dealing with calls quickly and efficiently. At Sigma Connected, the ReachOut program exists specifically to put customers’ needs first.

It may be that a business has a problem engaging with customers who are unable to pay debts. In these instances, the business can use Sigma’s ReachOut service to have someone contact the customer and discuss the support available from both the client and charities.

Calls aren’t focused on recovering payments from customers — in fact, ReachOut staff cannot take payments during calls. The emphasis is on creating a safe environment to discuss financial difficulty. The service helps build trust, establish better debt management, and create a better final outcome: 2 in 3 ReachOut calls result in customers reengaging with client organisations to work out a positive way of resolving debt.

Prioritising the customer’s needs

Handling sensitive situations is about focusing on the customer’s needs. However, doing this is not as simple as adjusting training or modifying call handling procedures. Staff must be trained specially to deal with sensitive situations. Companies may need to go so far as to establish special departments to handle sensitive calls and vulnerable customers. Although this may be costly, it can reap significant benefits: a better customer experience, improved customer loyalty, and a pathway to resolve the customer’s debt situation.

Handle sensitive situations better with Sigma Connected

At Sigma Connected, we know how important it is to both customers and businesses that any sensitive situations are handled with the utmost care.

So, ensuring an empathetic and effective customer service is one of our primary aims. Our teams support a wide range of businesses — whatever sector they are from  — and have considerable experience in all aspects of customer interaction.

If you’re interested in any of our services or have any questions about what we can do for you, contact us today


Get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

Get connected