What to do about abusive callers

Are your customers much nastier on the phone than face to face? Here’s how to put a stop to their behaviour.

Be clear about your company’s policy

Your employer has a duty of care. You should be protected from being bullied or harassed. This means having a policy on how abusive customers are handled. A good policy should outline how you can respond to abuse, when you should transfer a caller to someone more senior and how to end a call if abuse is unreasonable. Make sure you’re familiar with your company’s policy. If they don’t have one, draft one and propose it to management.

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Handling irate customers

Nobody likes dealing with angry customers. But if you work in customer service, it’s part of your job.

Here are four tips that make talking to angry customers easier.

Remember that customers aren’t always right

No. The old saying isn’t true – customers aren’t always right. But they are always customers. Without them, you wouldn’t be in business. So treat all customers respectfully, even when they’re wrong. Never say “you’re wrong,” “that’s wrong” or “you’ve made a mistake.” Words like this trigger a shame reaction – which many customers deal with by becoming angry. Instead say “I’m sorry you got that impression,” “I’ll talk you through what happened” or “I’d like to clarify something.” Quickly move on to solving the problem, rather than dwelling on what caused it.

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How to empathise with angry customers

Stephen was a customer support officer in a large software company. Years of listening to customer complaints had taken their toll. He was losing patience with his customers.

After a heated conversation with a customer led to a complaint, Stephen’s supervisor enrolled him in my course Handling Difficult Customers. In the first half of the course, we discussed the importance of showing empathy when customers experience problems. Stephen asked “Why should I show empathy when the customer is swearing at me?”

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