If ever I’ve been tempted to handle a phone call in a less than professional manner (yes this has happened), I think about virtual receptionists, answering service agents and call-center staff.

They don’t have the luxury of letting customers even think they might be gritting their teeth. Fortunately, there’s training available that helps these folks create win-win situations out of the most emotional calls.

The first step is to be able to split yourself into two. (Just kidding, but it can help.) One “you” needs to step back and look at the call from outside all the emotions. The other “you” has to decide how to diffuse the situation. At this point, an agent may benefit from visualizing Robert Plutchik’s flower-petal model of emotions to determine exactly what the customer is feeling. Once he knows that, he knows how to manage the call by asking the right questions and letting the customer know he understands his distress and will help resolve the problem.

Through it all, agents need to remind themselves to hold onto their composure. If they lose that, they lose — period. Plus, they must remember they ARE their customers’ business as far as that caller is concerned. Every caller is important, and should be treated courteously and professionally, no matter the emotions involved. With the right protocol many customer service issues can be handled by the call center. However, when a call is escalated directly to their client, the call center agent should know how to document a caller’s emotional state so their client can quickly and efficiently handle the situation.

While agents are busy splitting themselves into two, they need to remain flexible throughout it all. Every situation is different, and what worked well with one caller may not help the least with another. It’s important to hit just the right tone with callers. Not aggressive, but assertive enough to take control of the call. And definitely not passive. It’s best to engage the caller, identify and acknowledge their feelings and assure them that they will be helped, while gathering the necessary information in order to do so.

The next time you’re tempted to slam the receiver down or hit “End” on your cell phone, take a deep breath and figure out how to turn the call around. I promise to try and do that the next time I’m “discussing” my prescription coverage with my insurance provider.

Frances Starr, Director of Sales & Marketing for Alert Communications. Alert Communications is a 24/7 bilingual inbound call center, specializing in professional attorney answering, virtual receptionist, Spanish answering and business answering solutions.