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.

Set a limit

Start by letting the customer know you’re there to help them. Direct the conversation towards options for action. Often the abuse will stop when you do this. If it continues, though, it’s time to set a limit. Use one of these phrases to calmly set a limit:

  • Are you aware of how your comments sound?
  • I don’t appreciate being spoken to like that
  • I’m happy to sort out your problem. I’m not happy to be abused
  • We have a policy that all staff must talk to customers courteously. We also have a policy that staff have the right to be treated courteously by customers

Focus on the issue, not the behaviour

Firmly redirect the conversation towards problem solving. Suggest that the customer explains what they’d like done about their issue. Or explain how the action you’re taking will resolve the situation. Refuse to be drawn in by baiting comments, such as personal remarks or sarcastic comments.

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End the conversation

Sometimes a customer needs time to cool down. There is no point continuing the conversation in this situation. You have two options for ending the conversation. The first is to refer the call to someone more senior. This usually calms the customer, because they feel important. Stay calm and courteous as you refer the call. For example, say “I’m going to refer your issue to someone more senior. Please hold while I transfer you.”

Your second option is to end the call. This should only be done as a last resort. Point out that you’re willing to discuss the problem in a reasonable manner. Explain that your company has a policy on how customers talk to staff. The current conversation is Suggest the customer contact the service department again later. Then say “I am now finishing this call.”

Need advice on what to say? Ask Eleanor now. Send your question and we’ll answer it in a future blog post.

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