The employee handbook might say that you are a cashier or a call center representative, but your job is much more challenging than that. You deserve a more impressive-sounding title, such as customer success manager.
Your friendly demeanor and ability to remain calm no matter how busy you are contribute to your company’s customer satisfaction, and it is about time your boss started appreciating you for it. You can charm a dissatisfied customer and build customer loyalty, but dealing with angry customers day in and day out is tiring and stressful.
When you have the task of handling customer complaints or talking to dissatisfied customers about their dissatisfaction, it is easier to stay calm if you can stop a frustrated customer’s anger from escalating until he or she becomes an irate customer.
These are some de-escalation strategies that can make it easier for members of the sales department or technical support team to handle angry customers and their complaints.
Don’t Take a Customer’s Anger Personally
It is not easy to keep your cool when an angry customer is yelling at you or blaming you for a negative customer experience. Some people respond to anger with anger or defensiveness, while others immediately and instinctively back down from conflict.
An in-person encounter with an upset customer, or worse, with multiple frustrated customers at the same time, is intimidating, especially if there are no other employees present and you are younger and physically smaller than the difficult customer.
During the encounter, the best way to stop the customer’s anger from getting worse, and to remain calm, is to practice active listening, where you deal with angry customers by echoing a calmer version of what they have just said to you.
When an angry customer says, “It’s been ten days, and you idiots still haven’t shipped my order,” you should say something like, “It sounds like your order didn’t arrive by the delivery date we quoted you. Do you have the tracking number, so that I can look it up?” This way, the customer feels like both of you are on the same page, which is an important step toward initiating the resolution process.
Meanwhile, on the inside, keep telling yourself, “This customer’s issue is not my fault. I am doing my job as a customer support agent correctly.”
How to Win Over Angry Clients
When customers feel like you are actively listening and trying to help, they will appreciate this. They appreciate it even more when you treat each customer like a real person, even though you might have also had to deal with many other customers who weren’t especially pleasant on the same day.
Active listening skills, positive language, and acknowledging the customer’s feelings go a long way toward defusing a confrontation with an angry customer, even if you cannot find a quick fix or diagnose the root cause of the problem.
If you are a parent, you have probably successfully under reacted to a toddler’s tantrum. Dealing with irate customers is not so different. Remaining calm during a tense customer conversation is key, whether your goal is to make the customer feel heard or simply to show him or her that you are not impressed or intimidated by the display of anger and you know how to handle angry customers.
How Body Language Can Help Upset Customers Calm Down
Sometimes the most important sound in a conversation with an upset customer is silence. You must show that you are actively listening, though, or else the customer might think that you are ignoring him or her or zoning out, and irate customers get even madder when they think that you are not paying attention or taking their complaint seriously.
In some situations, eye contact can seem confrontational, but in interactions with angry customers, looking the angry customer in the eye is much better than staring at the floor or, even worse, glancing repeatedly and nervously at your phone. If you have to look things up on your computer, help the customer understand why by saying what you are looking for, and look at the customer periodically to show that you are still listening.
Respect Personal Space, Even With Difficult Customers
In a customer service context, eye contact is appropriate and professional, but getting too close to someone physically is intimidating. Let difficult customers decide how far away from you to stand.
You will make the situation worse if you get closer than the customer is comfortable with, and this could lead to bad reviews or complaints to your managers, even if, in your opinion, you provided excellent service and figured out the root cause of the customer’s issue.
How to Deal With an Angry Customer by Using the HEARD Method
The HEARD method is an effective way of dealing with angry customers. It also works well if you are trying to win friends and or influence people in business. Most companies should teach employees to de-escalate confrontations with difficult customers. The HEARD method is a solution-oriented strategy for dealing with angry customers.
Hear What Unhappy Customers Have to Say
The first step in the HEARD method is to hear the angry customer out, even if you think you already know what the customer is going to say because many customers have already complained to you about the problem. You want to show that this person’s customer experience is important, and you do not think of the customer as just another statistic.
The “hear” aspect of HEARD is the most challenging, because you just have to tolerate the negative emotions, and perhaps a modest amount of negative language, without reacting to the unpleasantness. If the customer is really being abusive, you can say something like, “I’m listening, but please don’t yell at me.”
Most of the time, though, customers appreciate it when you listen, and you can turn an unpleasant encounter into a positive one simply by taking the time to listen. You may even find that the customer will take a deep breath and start to calm down as he or she is able to put the problem into words.
Empathize With Upset Customers, No Matter Why They Are Upset
Dealing with angry people all day isn’t easy. It is hard to want to provide the best service to someone who has just explained a one-sentence problem in a ten-minute tirade. You don’t want to deal with the customer’s unpleasantness at all, much less build a better relationship with him or her. Still, rather than just thinking of this as business, where you are trying to stand out as the best member of the product team, use empathy. Remember that you are a human being dealing with another human being.
Don’t follow up on the customer’s description of the problem, long and overblown as it might have been, with sarcasm, defensiveness, or challenging questions. Instead, acknowledge the customer’s frustration. Then rephrase the customer’s description of the issue in much more concise and slightly more positive words.
This shows the customer that you care enough to listen instead of just immediately launching into a solution. Sometimes handling difficult customers is as simple as repeating their problems to them before you offer solutions, because this way, customers feel heard. It is the HEARD approach to customer experience, after all.
Apologize on Behalf of the Customer Service Team
When people say that customer service representatives get a raw deal, one of the reasons they frequently cite is that you have to take the blame for everything, from the fact that one of your coworkers provided bad service on a day when you weren’t working to the fact that the astronomical price of eggs has caused gourmet cupcakes to become even more expensive than they already were. Remember that, in customer service, it is not about you.
In order to move from the problem phase of problem-solving to the solution phase, someone must acknowledge responsibility for the problem, and it should be you, the customer service agent. If you don’t, then soon the angry customer will be back to arguing with you about whose fault the problem is.
You don’t have to apologize personally to angry customers, because you did not do anything wrong. You should, however, apologize on behalf of your company. Angry customers become a lot less angry once they are sure that they do not have to take the blame. This puts you and the customer in a better position to focus on solutions.
Resolve the Customer’s Complaint If Possible
The next step is to talk about solutions. If the issue is simple, you can solve it at that moment, during the phone call or visit. If it is more complex, you might need to advise the customer to follow up with another department.
Good business sense dictates that you tell the customer why you have referred him or her to this person instead of to someone else. If you don’t, then customers might feel like you are giving them the runaround, and they might relapse into anger and frustration.
Ongoing communication is the key to showing the customer that you are working diligently to solve the problem. If you don’t hear back from the coworker to whom you referred the customer to by the next day, then send a follow-up email to the coworker, and copy the customer on cc. Don’t be too pushy, but be persistent within the boundaries of business etiquette.
Diagnose the Problem to Prevent the Negative Experience From Recurring
If the “resolve” phase of the HEARD method focuses on immediate solutions, then the “diagnose” phase focuses on long-term solutions. Now that you and the customer have both calmed down, it no longer takes all your strength not to break out the DSM and diagnose the customer with a histrionic personality disorder. In fact, you should not phrase your diagnosis as a diagnosis at all. Instead, phrase it as advice for the future.
For example, you could say, “If this problem happens again, you should try accessing our website on Google Chrome, since it is sometimes buggy on other browsers.” You could also say, “If that doesn’t work, then call us again.”
Are Angry or Difficult Customers Always Right?
An important skill for succeeding in business is keeping kayfabe in the presence of irate and irrational customers and not letting them know how ridiculous you think they are behaving. A popular party game among people who work in customer service is to tell stories about the most unreasonable request you ever received from a customer and then end the story with, “The customer is always right,” but without cracking a smile.
The beauty of the HEARD method is that it isn’t about who is right or who is wrong. The “apologize” phase is more about building rapport than it is about encouraging unreasonable demands.
You are only human, though, and you do not have to deal with abuse. If a customer is being disrespectful or threatening, ask for backup. Ask your coworkers or manager to help you. Sometimes the only way to de-escalate customer complaints is to escalate them to someone who has more authority to solve the problem, or at least someone who is in a better frame of mind to deal with angry clients than you are.
How to Deal With an Angry Customer Whose Problem You Can’t Solve
Interpersonal skills will take you far in life and in business, but they cannot provide the solution to every possible problem. If your hotel doesn’t allow pets, then you cannot accommodate the client’s dog and provide a dog sitter in the hotel room while the client attends a business meeting. You can’t serve vegan Wagyu beef at the wedding, no matter how nicely the customer asks, for no other reason than that vegan Wagyu beef doesn’t exist.
At least, you can’t solve the immediate problem, but you can spin this into a positive customer experience. To borrow terminology from the field of medicine, you can’t solve the presenting problem, but you can solve the underlying problem.
Using the HEARD Method With an Angry Customer With an Unsolvable Problem
Sometimes customers who call you about unsolvable problems know that their problems are unsolvable, but they just want to be heard. A version of the HEARD method that applies to requests that you know you can’t accommodate goes Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Research, and Denouement.
If you know immediately that you cannot solve the problem, you should listen as patiently as you do when you know immediately that you can solve the problem. Hear, empathize, and apologize just like you would do with any other customer. After that, walk the customer through the process of trying to find solutions.
If it is an unsolvable problem that other customers have previously contacted you about, then tell the customer about potential fixes and why you are sure that they will not work. If the customer insists that you try, then it is good for business if you do try, unless the attempt that you know will be futile will consume a lot of time and make you, your team, or your organization less productive.
If you genuinely don’t know how to resolve the issue, or if you are not sure whether it can be resolved, it is time to do some research. Depending on how complex the issue is, you can walk the customer through the research process while he or she is on the phone with you. If it will be time-consuming, then promise to follow up with the customer and then call back or send an email detailing the results of your research.
This may result in you being able to resolve the problem or in referring the customer to someone else in your organization. Either way, this reflects well on you because you made it your business to try to find a solution to a difficult problem.
When you cannot provide the solution that the customer was hoping for, the final step in the HEARD process is denouement. Denouement is a literary term that means the conclusion of a story. If the story has a happy ending, the denouement is called the resolution, but in a tragedy, it is called a catastrophe.
Not being able to provide the desired outcome on a customer service call is neither. It isn’t a resolution or a catastrophe, but it’s something; it’s a denouement. Perhaps the customer decides to accept the status quo or to sign up for a different service, but the point is that you did everything you could to help. People can tell when you are being helpful even when you cannot do miracles.
How to Deal With Negative Online Reviews From Irate Customers
Unhappy customers sometimes voice their displeasure in a public forum, such as by writing a negative review of your company on Google. Dealing with negative online reviews is its own subgenre of customer relationship management and marketing. The best course of action depends on the content of the review and the reason the customer wrote it.
If the customer simply clicked one star, then you should ignore it and concentrate on providing the best possible service to everyone else. This way, you will get more positive reviews and your ratings will go up.
If the review is about something specific, then it might be a good idea to respond. If the content of the review is factually false, then you could write a rebuttal. Stick to the facts, though, and don’t write long, narrative responses to every negative review.
You don’t want to look petty and unprofessional. If the review shows the customer’s contact information, such as a username that forms the beginning of an email address, then it may be worthwhile to email the author of the review and propose a solution that you or another employee of your company did not think of before. In this context, you may consider the review an invitation to follow up and provide better service. It is easiest to do this when you are operating a small business that provides very specific services.
Expand Your Customer Conflict Management Toolkit
No two angry customers are alike, even if there may be some common problems about which customers often complain. Learning how to resolve problems with people of different personalities and in different situations is an excellent business skill in customer service as in many other industries.
Defuse De-Escalation Training offers a variety of training workshops on how to deal with customer service challenges, including de-escalation training focused on customer service.
You will learn conflict resolution skills to help you deal with angry customers in difficult situations at work. Contact Defuse De-Escalation Training today to find out more about our course offerings.