Customer service representative deals with an angry customer
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Millions of people work in customer service. Customer service roles vary from contact center agents handling enquiries about a 10-dollar bus service to account directors managing billion-dollar clients.

Sooner or later, they all have to deal with angry customers.


I am one of these customer service professionals. Here are a few tricks I’ve learned over the years.

Mindset

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Customers can get angry, abusive, or even violent.

Even the angriest customer is unlikely to be angry at you, specifically, if you have the right mindset.

Firstly, check your own emotions and how they affect your behavior.

If a customer starts acting aggressively, check your own pulse rate and heart rate. Is the blood rushing to your head? This is when you have to be still. Responding to anger with anger makes a bad situation worse.

This doesn’t mean you have no right to be angry. If someone behaves aggressively, millions of years of evolution have built the “fight or flight” program into our brains. In this situation, reacting aggressively or running away will not help.

Instead, try and put yourself in the customer’s shoes. The customer wants to go home at the end of the day. He finds out his bus has been cancelled. The next one is in three hours. Or your corporate client’s IT director has spent half a million dollars on a new computer. It doesn’t work. If it can’t be fixed, his job is on the line. How would you feel?

The Customer Is Always “Emotionally Right”

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As Mr. Brian Shore, CEO of ZOOM International says: “The customer may not always be right, but the customer is always emotionally right.”

Emotion is the key. Emotion drives angry customers’ behavior. Logic will not prevail until the emotion has been handled.

Many try to ignore emotional behavior. It’s better to openly acknowledge and validate the customer’s emotion. Try this response: “I can see you’re feeling very frustrated/angry about this. If I were in your position, I’d feel the same way too.”

Show the customer that you have recognized and respect his feelings, and understand the urgency of the situation.

If the customer is still expressing anger, stay silent and let him continue. If you are in a public area, lead him politely somewhere out of public view so that he can “vent” there.

The customer is less likely to feel angry with you specifically. Once he sees you are “on his side,” he may be ready to have a rational conversation.

The worst thing is to tell an angry customer to “calm down.” This implies that the customer has no right to feel angry at all. Customers don’t usually react positively to that. It’s better to tell the customer that you can see that he is angry, and you want to help him. Then, ask him politely if you can ask these questions to fully understand the situation.

Take Control Of The Conversation

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Asking questions allows you to take more control of the situation. Once the customer is answering your questions, use the customer’s name and the “question/answer/comment” rapport-building techniques. (See “further reading” below.)

If you have a lot of questions, let him know to manage his expectations. (“This may take some time—may I ask you some questions?”) If the questions relate to technical details, such as website addresses, credentials, part numbers, etc., you might want to give him a list of questions and some time to find the answers.

Positive Language

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Angry customers do not respond well to being told something can’t be done. Negative language, offering no solutions, and implying that the customer is to blame does not help the situation, even if it is true.

If what they say they want is not possible, ask more questions to find out what they really want. (Your flight to Manchester is cancelled. When do you need to get there?) There might be an alternative that more or less gives them what they want.

Sometimes “no” really does mean “no.” In that case, try to soften the blow, but make sure he understands it really is not possible. Try saying this: “I appreciate that this situation is very frustrating for you. I’m afraid we can’t help you right now. I’m sorry.”

A couple of very important points.

Never use the word “but” after “I’m sorry” or “I appreciate you are feeling frustrated.” The word “but” sends the message “Disregard all the nice things I said before.”

When you use the word “sorry” or apologize, do not say specifically what you are apologizing for. That may be taken as an admission of liability and used in court. Likewise, if you cannot give a clear and company-authorized reason why something is not possible, it’s better not to explain.

Clear Outcomes & Managing Expectations

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It’s very important to give the customer a clear outcome. If you can solve his problem, the outcome is clear. If not, the outcome is also clear.

If you need more information, or something else has to happen, then make it very clear to the customer what will happen next, who needs to take the next action, and tell him when this is going to happen.

You need to let the customer know what happens next as clearly and accurately as possible. If the news is bad, telling the customer everything will be fine won’t help him, your employer, or you.

To manage your expectations, everything I have written above won’t work every time! There are some problems that cannot be solved, and there are some customers that cannot be helped.

How was it for you?

I love hearing about other people’s experiences! Let me know your “hacks” for dealing with angry customers!

Further reading...

You can read more about rapport building here: Don’t Be A Wallflower! A Beginner’s Guide To Building Rapport


You can read more about positive language here: Positive Language For No-Nonsense Managers

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