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The Impact of Conflict Management Training on Customer Service Delivery

by Rosanne D’Ausilio, Ph.D., President Human Technologies Global, Inc.

The Impact of Conflict Management Training on Customer Service Delivery.  This was the title of my case study in partial fulfillment of my doctoral degree which I completed in 1996.  More on this in a moment.  Here it is 13 years later and…
In a recent survey training participants were asked what types of courses would greatly increase their effectiveness at work, and the answers were:

Leadership skills 56%
Conflict resolution 53%
Technical knowledge  47%
Management skills  43%
Communication skills 42%
Project mgmt skills 41%
Critical thinking skills 40%
Innovative thinking skills    38%
Negotiation skills    35%
Time management    35%
Stress management         35%
Effective teamwork        33%
Computer skills     33%
Financial skills   23%
None of the above  1%

Source: The Everything Disc Workplace Survey of 5,945 Training Participants Nationwide
by Inscape Publishing (, July/August 2009, p 11)

The source was surprised that dealing with conflict or difficult people was at 53%. 

We’re not, are you?  Today’s customers are more sophisticated and have higher expectations.  Calls coming into companies today are more complex, more complicated, and more accelerated before the phone is even answered.

After all, if we could, as customers, handle most of our questions, problems, concerns, etc. using self service which is available 24/7, we would do so.  But because self service isn’t what it should be, there is another step involved—call the company!  At this point, the customer could be frustrated, angry, upset, wasted time and/or got nowhere, impatient, all the way up to rage, and is ready to vent--and then the phone is answered.

It makes perfect sense to me that people needs skills and techniques to deal with conflict and/or difficult people.  I think of customer service as like a jukebox.  With an old fashioned jukebox, you select a record, push a button, and the inner workings of the jukebox retrieve that particular record. You can even watch it happen through the glass dome cover.  It places the record on the player, the needle drops, and the song begins.

The same thing happens with people.  Maybe the customer’s tone of voice reminds you of a stern schoolteacher, or a parent, or a sibling.  Through the interaction, an old ‘record’ is activated, a button has been pushed.    That record begins to play and you are gone.  No longer are you present to yourself or the customer, you have been pulled by your history toward an old event or feeling.

The first step back to the present is awareness.  Ifyou are aware about something, you can assert control over it.  Without awareness, it stays in the unconscious or subconscious and you are at the mercy of whatever is happening.  To strengthen your awareness, pay attention to your feelings.  If you begin to feel antagonistic, take a moment, breathe, and look to see if it’s something in the present that bothers you or something ancient.  Then choose where to stay—in the present or in the past.

The second step is to implement choices.  Yes, you can always go to that old record and react rather than respond. 
Now back to my case study.  It took place at an all electric utility company in their call center and, at their request, was focused on their longest and hardest call—a complaint call—everyone’s longest and hardest call. 

The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of Conflict Management Training (CMT) on customer service delivery.  Specifically, it asked the broad question:  What impact does CMT have on job performance and customer satisfaction in the delivery of customer service?

This case study successfully proved that CMT reduced job tension, improved communications skills, improved empathetic responsiveness, improved job satisfaction and increased customer satisfaction, as well as significantly shortening call length.

Specifically, CMT:

    •  Decreased job tension                                          
    •  Increased communication skills
    •  Increased empathetic responsiveness  
    •  Increased job performance
    •  Reduced the length of call by 22.3 seconds which in this study represented a savings approximately $335,000 per year or 7 employees, and
    •  Improved customer satisfaction 9.3% for High Bill calls and 7% overall

Whether it’s 1996 or 2009, training is a necessity, not a choice, for positive impact on customer satisfaction, employee improvement, and the bottom line.

About the Author
Rosanne D'Ausilio, Ph.D., industrial psychologist, President of Human Technologies Global, Inc., specializes in human performance management for contact centers, providing needs analyses, instructional design, and customized, live, world class customer service skills trainings.

Known as 'the practical champion of the human, she authors the best-sellers, Wake Up Your Call Center: Humanize Your Interaction Hub, 4th edition, Customer Service and The Human Experience and Lay Your Cards on the Table: 52 Ways to Stack You Personal Deck, and hot off the press How to Kick Your Customer Service Up A Notch: 101 Insider Tips as well as her popular ‘tips’ newsletter on How To Kick Your Customer Service Up A Notch! available at Reach her at