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  • Niko Verheulpen

Conflict Revolutions - The CSR's Role as Your Business's Mediators

Updated: Apr 25

Image of 3 people & 1 is the mediator
Conflict Revolutions

Picture this: a hot summer morning at a renowned tourist attraction in the heart of the city. After waiting in line for hours, a family finally arrives at the check-in counter, full of anticipation for a day of fun and adventure. However, their experience soon takes an unexpected turn as they feel disrespected by the staff at the counter. For some of them, certain remarks even feel racially charged. Emotions run high, and the customers' frustration becomes palpable as they decide to call and lodge a formal complaint with customer service.

The scenario is regrettably common; the service offered fails to meet the fundamental expectations of the customers, breaching their Zone of Tolerance of Service Quality (ZOT). The perceived disrespect and racially charged comments significantly contribute to their dissatisfaction, compelling the customers to seek a resolution.

Filing this complaint is a step towards justice, apologies, and recognition of pain for this customer. "This is unacceptable, a disgrace to your company, isn't it regrettable that one of your employees can tarnish your reputation like this?!"

As this narrative sadly unfolds, the response from the customer service representative proves to be unexpectedly different from what was anticipated. The representative listens politely to the customers' account and expresses gratitude for "their version" of events. Instead of immediately aligning with the customers' perspective, as they had hoped, the representative suggests hearing "the version of the counter staff" as well.

The customers find themselves bewildered and emotional. It feels as though their complaint isn't being taken seriously, and they are faced with the individual with whom they experienced the conflict. However, what the customer service representative is actually doing is initiating a procedure to hear both sides of the story. Through this approach, they aim to shift the focus of the conflict from a personal confrontation to a broader analysis of the situation. Ironically, it's the wording that triggers the opposite effect in the customers, who now feel even more directly opposed to the counter worker.

While some display of empathy could have been beneficial in this situation, it's crucial for customer service professionals to assess the appropriate level of empathy for each scenario. Some studies suggest that excessive empathy can sharpen customers' judgment, especially when it's perceived as insincere or manipulative. This perception may lead customers to scrutinise the service representative's actions more closely and could inadvertently reinforce negative emotions or prolong discussions, potentially hindering the resolution process. However, acknowledgment is certainly necessary.

So is understanding the dynamics of a conflict and appreciating the role of the mediator. The customer service representative was not present during the conflict and is, in a sense, both an 'external' and 'involved party' once approached by the customer about the problem. Much like a mediator, they act as a neutral third-party facilitating communication and working towards a resolution between the conflicting parties.

By appropriately fulfilling their role as 'external mediators', the focus of the problem can be broadened to include other involved parties, such as the company itself. The customer service representative not only represents the customer but also embodies the company's standards, values, and procedures.

In this story, the customer service representative is not merely a passive listener but also a catalyst for a solution that transcends individual conflicts. Embracing this perspective can transform a complaint into an opportunity for improvement and growth. It serves as a reminder that even in the most challenging situations, understanding the full scope of one’s role can pave the way to a better outcome for everyone involved.

The importance of a mediator in conflict situations is significant and is supported by various psychological and social mechanisms. Here are some key aspects:

  • Tension Reduction: The presence of a third party can reduce tensions between conflicting parties. This is because the mediator acts as a buffer between the parties and can provide a sense of safety and control.

  • Perspective Broadening: A good mediator can help broaden the perspectives of both parties and help them think outside their own frameworks. This can lead to a better understanding of each other's viewpoints and the discovery of creative solutions that might otherwise be overlooked.

  • Neutrality and Impartiality: A mediator typically has no direct interest in the outcome of the conflict, allowing them to remain neutral and impartial. This helps reduce the emotional charge and bias often present between conflicting parties.

  • Facilitating Communication: Mediators can facilitate communication between parties by providing a structured process in which both parties are heard. They can help clarify positions, identify common interests, and find solutions.

  • Empowerment of Parties: By actively participating in the conflict process, mediators can help parties develop a sense of empowerment. This is done by encouraging them to actively participate in finding solutions and taking responsibility for the outcome.

When a third party effectively utilises their unique position or potential impact, they can have a positive influence on the dynamics of the conflict. This can result in reduced hostility and resistance, improved communication, and a greater chance of achieving a constructive solution. It's important that the mediator has skills in communication, conflict resolution, and understands the delicate balances in empathy, and that they remain impartial and neutral throughout the process.

Word choice is crucial for a mediator in conflict situations as it sets the tone for the entire conversation and how the parties feel and respond. Here are some examples of how word choice can influence the course of a mediation conversation:

Neutral Language:

"I understand that there may be a difference of opinion regarding the interaction at the counter."

Empathetic Expressions:

"I understand that this is a difficult situation for you, and I'm sorry that it has affected your experience."

Asking Open Questions:

"Could you please tell me exactly what happened from your perspective?"

Positive Confirmation:

"I appreciate that both you and the counter staff are open to a solution, and that we can work together towards a positive outcome."

Use of I-Messages:

"I am concerned about the impact of this incident on your perception of our services, and I want to help address this."

Avoiding Generalisations:

"Could you specifically explain what happened when the conflict arose, so that we can better understand the situation?"

The role of the company in conflict situations between customers and employees, is crucial as both a mediator and a responsible party to resolve the conflict and prevent further escalation. Here are some key aspects of the company's role in this dynamic:

  • Policy and Procedures: It is the company's responsibility to have clear policies and procedures for handling conflicts between customers and employees. This may include establishing behavioural standards for employees, guidelines for complaint handling, and conflict management training.

  • Supporting Employees: The company should support its employees and provide them with the resources they need to effectively handle conflicts. This may include training in customer service skills, empathetic communication, and conflict resolution techniques.

  • Complaint Handling: When a conflict arises between a customer and an employee, it is the company's responsibility to take the complaint seriously and find an appropriate solution. This may include listening to both parties, conducting a thorough analysis of the situation, and taking corrective action to prevent recurrence.

  • Communication and Transparency: The company should promote open communication and transparency in its interactions with customers and employees. This includes clearly communicating its stance on behaviour and standards, providing updates on the progress of complaint resolution, and providing opportunities for feedback from customers and employees.

  • Continuous Improvement: Conflicts can provide valuable insights into the weaknesses of an organisation and can serve as a catalyst for positive changes. It is important for the company to learn from conflicts and continually improve its policies, procedures, and culture to prevent future conflicts.

To conclude, the company assumes a pivotal role in resolving conflicts that arise between customers and employees, with the active involvement of customer service representatives. This involves mediating arguments, backing up employees, taking complaints seriously, keeping communication open, and always trying to make things better.

Resolving conflicts successfully needs teamwork. Customer service reps, customers, employees, and the company all need to work together. We need good communication, understanding, fairness, and a commitment to getting better.

Our frontline reps are crucial in bringing everyone together and making sure they understand what needs to happen, just like mediators do.

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