By Christa Peters, Senior Manager, Instructional Design & Knowledge Management | 03/22/2022 |

Customer success is a lot of things. But for me, success is moving the angry customer into a satisfied customer.

No, this isn’t a blog about de-escalation. There are a ton of articles about how to de-escalate a situation. Listen, lead with empathy, apologize, and plan. These are all good ideas, and should be used, but the focus of this post is different.

I started my career working in politics: knocking on peoples’ doors to convince them that a candidate or an issue was worth their time and their vote. That is the strangest type of customer service. You never know what waits behind a door or on a phone call.

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast on changing people’s minds in politics: it’s an episode of This American Life called “The Incredible Rarity of Changing Your Mind”.

The podcast introduces the “backfire effect”. This is the idea that when individuals are confronted with data about their position, they dig in even more to their original position. Putting the backfire effect into call center terms: it’s the caller who rejects every potential solution you provide and remains angry.

In the podcast, there are recordings of conversations of pollsters working to try and change the minds of voters on the issue of gay marriage (it was 2013). The pollster doesn’t give his opinion on gay marriage, and instead asks questions, listens, and – this is the key point – takes the perspective of the person to whom he is talking. It’s a real conversation. It’s fascinating. It’s two people connecting and really talking.

In the end, the voter changed his position completely, supporting gay marriage. 

I know, you’re screaming out loud – “this is a one-off, Christa. This isn’t a real thing. Have you seen political discussions in the world in 2022?”.

The thing is. It wasn’t a one-off.

Since that study, an organization called The New Conversation Initiative was formed and they have engaged in studying and presenting findings on engaging in conversations and the success rate has been interesting.

Need more evidence? Read this, this, and this. The bottom line with all these articles: conversation works.

So next time you get that angry-nothing-will-fix-my-problem caller, take their perspective, ask questions and have a conversation. The data and my experience show that may turn a negative person into your latest customer success story.