Strategies for Difficult Conversations – Part II

One person always makes an appearance at my customer service workshops and coaching sessions – someone I’ve named the “constant talker”. I discovered them years ago while doing call evaluations and listening to a 45-minute customer conversation during which the company representative maybe said 20 words. It was exhausting and I knew there had to be a solution.

What is the most effective way to work with the constant talker?

Being on the phone with a constant talker is difficult for a number of reasons: 1) it is hard to keep them focused on the information you need. Each new question you ask inspires them to share another story with you, taking you farther and farther away from completing the phone call; 2) it feels impossible to end the call politely, so you often stay on the call much longer than necessary, and sometimes end up responding with impatience or frustration; and 3) the extended conversation can be exhausting, which then impacts your ability to provide excellent service to your next customer.

So what can you do? How can you provide polite and professional customer service to a constant talker while still getting the information you need and keeping the call short?

Use their name!

We all respond to our names. We all stop, look and listen when someone calls out our name. By using the constant talker’s name, you can create a small space in their monologue in which you can refocus their thoughts or complete the call.

For example, let’s say your customer Larry is describing, in minute detail, what happened on the day his basement flooded. He’s talking about when the storm started and where he was and what he was doing and what the neighbours were doing and … you get the picture. In a gentle but clear tone of voice simply say his name “Larry“.

He will stop talking. There will be a brief bit of space before he says “Yes?” where you can redirect his conversation: “It was a crazy storm that day. How much water came into your basement?” You may have to do this several times in order to get all the details you need but every time you say his name, Larry will stop talking.

Once you get all the details you need, Larry may still keep talking. Now you can use his name to create the space you need to end the call. Make sure he hears you are ending the call for him, not for you. For example: “Larry … thanks so much for providing all these details today. It is always a pleasure speaking with you and I don’t need to take up any more of your time. Know that I will get back to you with the information you need no later than tomorrow morning. Now I’m going to let you get back to your day. Thanks again for giving me all the details I need and you’ll hear from me very soon. Bye now.” And hang up.

You may find this strategy quite uncomfortable the first time you use it. I encourage you to practice by using it on your friends and family. Here’s the recent experience of someone in a contact centre who decided to try this technique and shared the result with me by email:

Another type of call we often take is the non-stop talkers. They are upset about something dear to them, and they feel unheard, and that is all that matters. I had read the trick about saying their name and using it like a pause button. I tried that last Saturday and it worked. I had a caller who was very upset. Her story was jumping around and I couldn’t nail down specific information so I could actually help her. Fortunately, I had her name and I used it. She stopped like she was stunned. I inserted first a quick validation of her concern, and then an apology for interrupting, followed by the question I needed to ask to pull out the missing pieces of information and clarify the muddled ones. One of the tasks we have as contact centre agents is to control the call. This tip definitely assisted me in call control. The best part was that with all her information I was able to send her concern in the right direction so it could be properly addressed.


7 thoughts on “Strategies for Difficult Conversations – Part II”

  1. Great tips! I recently have encountered a talker and have had a tough time keeping our calls to a reasonable length and on point. I will definitely give this a try!

    • Thanks, Cheryl. I hope you’ll come back and let me know how it goes. The feedback I get is that the first time you do it, it feels very awkward and uncomfortable but because it works, you get over that quickly.

  2. AND… even though the other person (the talker) may be enjoying their discussion with me, once they hang up and realize how much time has been ‘wasted’, they won’t be so pleased, and may even project the blame for that onto me. Keeping our clients focused is a gift we can give them.

    I can certainly be a talker and appreciate being kept on track and focused.

    • Thanks for this perspective, Linda. I hadn’t thought of it this way. In a business-to-business setting, it makes sense that both parties would appreciate staying focused. I’ll include this in upcoming workshops.


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