Dealing with an irate customer is inevitable in any consumer-facing industry. While most of your customers are pleasant, it’s a fact you’ll have to deal with others who will put your service skills to the test. Trust me, I get it.
I have plenty of customer service experience, having dealt with my fair share of difficult customers while working as a technical specialist for Apple.
You’ve never seen a frustrated customer until you’ve told them that warranties don’t cover water damage from dropping a phone into the toilet. That’s a customer service scenario that no one wants to deal with.
To come out of an angry experience unscathed or even finish the interaction with a happy customer, keep these strategies in mind. I’ll avoid obvious advice like “provide a quick solution” because that’s a given in customer service.
Instead, the majority of these best practices will focus on the emotional and conversational dynamics of the interaction since the success of your services will hinge on your ability to manage your own reactions.
The 5 best practices for dealing with angry customers in your business.
- Keep your cool
- Realize this isn’t personal
- Be empathetic
- Use your active listening skills
- Seek feedback after the interaction
1. Keep your cool
Imagine you’re enjoying your day. Your customer service calls are rolling in and you’re solving small issues here and there. All-in-all, it’s a very easy day. That is, until the phone rings and an angry man is on the other end. Frankly, he’s pissed.
He’s been on hold for fifteen minutes and after being passed around from team to team, you’re the unfortunate soul last in this game of customer support musical chairs. He vents his frustration through gritted teeth and passive-aggressive statements about the quality of service he’s experienced.
Whatever you do, the only way out is to keep your wits about you. No matter how angry a customer is, it’s important to keep your cool so you can think logically about the situation and find an amicable solution.
No matter how much you’re tempted and goaded, getting angry will only make things worse and guarantee this interaction will fail.
When I worked as a technical specialist for Apple, I dealt with many angry customers who directed their frustration at me for many reasons (wait times, repair prices, shipping date windows, repair times, etc.).
My strategy for keeping my cool was imagining how I would feel in their situation. I try to imagine how many problems come up each day, and sometimes a small issue with your product is the spark that lands on the wrong mountain of gas cans.
Empathizing with how your customer feels is the perfect way to get on their level and let them know they’re heard. Perhaps even share a quick anecdote that relates to their situation so they know you’re listening to their problems. That way you can get on with solving their problem.
2. Realize this isn’t personal
Unless you’re dealing with a creepy stalker with a short temper, their anger is probably not personally directed at you. It’s probably a general frustration with their situation, and you just happen to be conveniently around to deal with their problems.
This means you’re going to have to set aside your pride for the time being and focus on the issue at hand.
I struggled with this for a while. It’s hard to not take this anger personally when it’s so obviously directed at you. Your customers have lives outside of your product or service, so chances are, other factors are at play with their attitude.
Maybe they’re having a bad day, and this issue was that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Just remember, you most likely didn’t cause the problem; you didn’t build the application or manufacture the product. It’s not personal. It’s just (very emotionally charged) business.
3. Be empathetic
Most likely, you haven’t always been a calm and level-headed customer every waking moment of your life. Sometimes life gets in the way and one problem is all it takes to set you off. Perhaps, under better circumstances, you would’ve handled a situation with a customer service representative better.
This is the mindset you must have when going into an interaction with a tough customer. Can you tell I’m trying to avoid using the “putting yourself in someone’s shoes” cliche?
Empathy in customer service is a fantastic strategy for finding the solution to a problem, but it comes with some risk. One common pitfall of empathizing with a customer is making the problem about you.
You get so caught up in letting the customer know you understand their frustration that you fall into storytelling mode, and the next thing you know, their problem becomes your nostalgia trip. The worst outcome of this strategy is assuming you know how they feel, only to find your experience is completely different.
You end up sounding tone-deaf and self-absorbed. The best way to avoid this is by expressing that you understand how the customer feels without going into too much detail and keeping the focus on their issue. This is the sweet spot for empathy and it goes a long way in making the customer feel heard.
Empathy is one of the top customer service skills every consumer-facing worker must have to succeed in this role.
4. Use your active listening skills
The best way to make your customer feel heard is to use your active listening skills. These skills not only make your customer feel heard, but they also help you avoid misunderstandings and conflict as the conversation moves along. There are a few key practices you should follow to show the customer you are actually listening.
- Eye contact: What better way to show you are listening than to make eye contact? Don’t stare because that’s intimidating (and a little creepy). Just the occasional look in the eye shows you are paying attention to the customer’s concerns. Of course, you won’t have to deal with this if you’re dealing with customers over the phone or live chats using customer service software. This skill is aimed towards in-person customer interactions.
- Don’t interrupt: The fastest way to get through an angry customer’s concerns is by letting them explain themselves. Interrupting them is a surefire way to extend the interaction by letting them know that you aren’t concerned with their viewpoint. If, by chance, you accidentally interrupt the customer, apologize and allow them to continue.
- Don’t plan your next response: I’m sure this has happened to you on at least one occasion. You pick up a few details from the first few sentences and develop your response based on that information, only to find you missed a crucial detail while you were planning. This leads to a misunderstanding and the derailing of the entire discussion. Instead of planning out responses, try listening from start to finish before you plan a follow-up response.
These practices will help you give a quality response and solution for your customer and perhaps even change their outlook about your product or service.
5. Seek feedback after the interaction
Great customer service is all about learning from your mistakes and finding ways to improve. Rather than assume what you did wrong, it’s best to get feedback from those affected by your shortcomings. That’s why it’s important to get feedback from all customer interactions, good or bad.
Asking for feedback from your angry customers is possibly some of the best information you can receive since your customer service was provided under duress.
Your best moments are most apparent when things are easy and you’re dealing with relaxed interactions. The stress-filled and angry interactions are where your customer service skills are put to the test, and finding new solutions and strategies should be your number one goal once you’ve satisfied the customer.
Encourage these customers to fill out a satisfaction survey to quantify which practices worked and which ones need improvement.
You can turn angry customers into satisfied ones
Unless your customer is on a vendetta to bring down your company, you have every opportunity to turn an angry customer interaction into a happy and helpful one. What matters most is the attitude and strategy you bring to the table.
If your strategy is to combat and contradict the customer at every turn, then they will respond with more of the same. But if you keep an open mind, they’re far more likely to meet you halfway and grant you the opportunity to help them.
One of the best lessons I learned while working for Apple was to always assume the positive intent of the customer. This lesson has followed me through subsequent positions and I believe it has served me well when dealing with employers and customers alike.
Try employing this line of thinking when dealing with customers, happy or otherwise.
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