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.

Empathise don’t patronise

Most customer service courses teach you steps for ‘listening with empathy.’ But there’s a problem with this approach. Empathy is a quality not a process. If you simply apply ‘steps’ for building empathy, you’ll come across as patronising. And that’s guaranteed to enrage your customer. So forget step by step processes.

Instead, focus on giving your full attention to the customer. Put effort into showing you care about this customer and their problem. Avoid giving scripted responses and take time to draw out the customer’s story. Then, ask what the customer wants in a solution. You’ll often be surprised by how reasonable their requests are.

Take notes

Taking notes sends the message ‘I’m taking you seriously.’ And knowing they’ve been taken seriously helps angry customers calm down. Make sure your customer notices that you’re taking notes. If you’re dealing with them face-to-face say “I’ll just keep a note of this” and pick up a notebook. If the customer is on the phone, say “I’ll just get a pen and write this down.”

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Make your efforts visible

Angry customers want to know something is being done to help them. So tell them. There are two ways to do this. Firstly, try making your ‘invisible’ efforts visible. For example, you need to make an exception to a standard policy to satisfy the customer’s request. Let them know you’re on their side by saying ‘I’m asking my manager to authorise [exception] in your case.’ Secondly, let your customers hear you advocating on their behalf. For example, call your manager in front of the customer. Say ‘I have a customer here I’d like to help by [exception]. That’s because [rationale for exception]. Can you authorise that for the customer straight away?’

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