7 Ways to Deal With Difficult Customers


Here are some practical strategies you can try the next time an difficult customer phones in.

1. Repeat the problem back to show understanding

When you first pick up a call, it is likely the customer will be feeling vulnerable and unsure about whether their issue will be resolved or not.

Always acknowledge the complaint in hand by repeating it back to the customer. This will reassure the customer that they have your full attention and that you understand their problem.

2. Don’t over-apologise

Don’t over-apologise. No one wants to hear you say “I’m sorry” a thousand times.
Instead, say “I do apologise” (which sounds more professional) and then focus on finding a solution.

3. The Feel, Felt, Found approach

When you are confident that you understand the complaint in hand, the Feel, Felt, Found approach can help you reassure the customer that you are on their side and have a solution which will work for them.

For example:

  • Mr Smith, I understand how you FEEL…
  • Something similar happened to me and I FELT the same way…
  • What I FOUND and I hope this will be the same for you, is… (insert solution)

4. Assure the customer you’ll personally take up the matter

Another way to calm an angry customer is to listen to their complaint and promise that you will personally help to resolve it. To show that you are being sincere, you should also give out your name and employee number.

will-promise-185

Wrap up the call by explaining to the customer that you will chase this matter up for them and call them back by the end of the day to update them on their case status.

Then do exactly that!

Even if the issue is yet to be fully resolved, calling back when you said you would will help the customer feel confident that their issue is being taken seriously.

5. Set realistic expectations

Don’t give out false information or lie just to escape the customer’s bad temper! This will only make the problem worse in the long run.

Instead, set realistic expectations for the customer when discussing next steps and time frames. It is always better to under-promise and over-deliver than it is to over-promise and under-deliver.

6. If the customer wants to speak to a supervisor immediately…

Sometimes a customer will demand to speak to a supervisor the second the call is answered. This isn’t always practical or necessary.

Here are some simple steps to resolve the customer’s issue without escalating the call.

Step one – Say “yes, of course”

The best thing to do when a customer makes this request is to say “yes, of course”. This will help to appease them as they will feel that their request is being taken seriously.

Step two – Find out more information

Instead of passing them straight through to a supervisor, ask “To make sure I pass you through to the right person, can you please tell me what your issue is?”

Then listen to what the customer has to say.

Step three – Say “I can actually help you with that today”

If you are able to deal with the customer’s complaint, say “I can actually help you take care of that today. Do you have your account number (insert name)?”

By asking a leading question and taking control of the call, you can get the customer to assist in helping you resolve their issue without getting a supervisor involved.

7. Maintain a low, even tone with abusive callers

When faced with an abusive caller, you should remain calm and professional – and give the customer a chance to change their tone. It can be helpful to maintain a low, even tone as you attempt to take back control of the call.

Step one – Listen to the problem and continue as normal

headset-calm-185

If you pick up the phone to an abusive caller, continue as normal, listen to the problem and empathise.

It is important to let the customer speak – regardless of whether they drop in the occasional F or C word. You may find they calm down once they have had a chance to get everything off their chest.

Step two – Suggest they call back when they have calmed down

If the caller shows no signs of calming down, suggest they call back when they can better control their language.

Step three – Warn the caller you will have to terminate the call

If the caller continues to stay on the line and use abusive language, it is in everyone’s best interests to terminate the call.

You should prepare the caller for this through a series of warnings:

  1. “(insert name), I understand that you are upset, but I will have to end this call if you continue to use that language.”
  2. “(insert name), this is your second warning. I understand that you are upset, but I will have to end this call if you continue to use that language.”
  3. “I’m sorry (insert name), as you have continued to use offensive language, I have no choice but to terminate the call. Please call back when you are feeling calmer and my colleagues will be more than happy to assist you.”
  4. Hang up.

Click here for The Right Words and Phrases to Say to an Angry Customer

Megan Jones

Megan Jones

Have you seen success with any of these techniques? How do you handle angry customers in your contact centre?

Written by Megan Jones, Call Centre Helper

Published On: 7th Oct 2015 - Last modified: 23rd May 2018
Read more about - Skills, , , , ,


4 Comments
  1. Dealing with an angry customer is like preparing for a chess match. Here are the 10 things I preach to my team.

    1. Stay focused on the task.
    2. Do not get pulled into the emotion of the moment.
    3. Take notes.
    4. Zone in – not out.
    5. Do not make it personal. They have no clue who you are. You just drew the short straw and got the call.
    6. What you want doesn’t matter nearly as much as what they need. That is to be heard.
    7. Ask good, on task & smart questions.
    8. Avoid holds as much as possible.
    9. Own the issue.
    10. Follow up with them after 24-48 hours to ensure they have gotten what was needed.

    Human behavior is not an exact science but there are some common predictors. The best that any of us can do is to put ourselves in the best position to give the customer what is needed without giving away the farm.

    This is why ‘Quality Customer Service” is talked about by many but mastered only by the few.

    Kenn

    Kenn 8 Oct at 3:24 pm
  2. The starting point for me is to think about the customer. A customer may appear angry but this might be masking a vulnerability or that the customer is in a Vulnerable circumstance.

    [part of post removed by moderator]

    Elaine Lee 13 Oct at 1:06 pm
  3. I have been in the call center industry for 10 years. Because of this I took it upon myself to learn about human communication. There is one MAJOR factor in all calls that agents, managers, as well as every other human being must understand before they are able to communicate with a upset customer:

    When two humans communicate with each other there is two messages being sent. Both are important, but one MUST be addressed before the other can be done effectively. Those two messages are EMOTION and KNOWLEDGE.

    The primary focus of every agent when taking a call, especially when the customer is escalated should ALWAYS be to address EMOTION first. When a customer sighs or sarcastically chuckles they are doing so to send the listener a message. They are try to tell you there emotional state and WANT YOU TO ACKNOWLEDGE IT. They are communicating to you they feel and you have not addressed it to their satisfaction. If someone is continuously telling you how angry they are, they are not going to let you move forward unless they feel you truly understand their emotional state. You will never be able to deescalate a customer until the customer feels that you truly understand the emotional message they are sending you. Once this message is address then and only then can you effectively communicate the KNOWLEDGE needed to resolve the issue.

    For those wanting to get a better understanding of this look up the phrase ” Amygdala Hijack”. When one understand the basic theory of Amygdala Hijack and how it effects each on of us it becomes much clearer of what is causing the roadblock between agent and customer resolving an issue. A book, “Just Listen” by Mark Goulston, explains how we can deescalate most customers and effectively improve that experience for not only the customer but the agent as well.

    Another aspect to understand is how emotions trigger us to reflect back the same emotion. When a customer is angry we unknowingly start to become angry ourselves which in turn triggers more anger. Listen to calls of angry customers and you will almost always hear the agent start reflecting back the anger of the customer. Thats you Amygdala starting to take control of how you respond to the customer. When I learned about this I was amazed at how I started noticing my responses to escalated calls when the customer was angry. I could literally feel my body tense and my emotional state change. And that was me just REVIEWING a call. I was not even part of the conversation. I no longer get angry on a escalated call with a customer and I rarely have a customer end a call feeling angry themselves. Once the customer understands I truly get how angry they are and why they allow me to assist and advise them of the “what” and “why”s I need to advise them of. It has made my job, as well as the agents I have coached become so much more enjoyable.

    Now I am in a position where I can assist and coach agents to improve their calls and customer experience. And this knowledge has been the most effective part of my, and their success in improving. Its amazing to watch a agent on the verge of quiting due to the stress of angry callers become more confident in handling these calls which improved their customer service experience metric.

    There is so much more I have learned and been able to practice because every day I go to work I can see how this knowledge can be used to improve almost everyone I get to team up with. The oddest part of this is that this knowledge is considered a “soft Skill” if considered at all. I feel that this should be taught from day one in training agents because understanding how we communicate effects every interaction we have with each other at work or at home.

    I am delighted to have found this website. Great job!

    Mike H
    Maine, USA

    Mike H 18 Oct at 1:31 am
  4. If the caller is swearing at our operators the operator only has to tell the caller that if they swear again they will terminate the call. If the caller doesn’t calm down the operator will hang up. Generally they’ll calm down and call back.

    Forcing operators to stay on the phone with abusive or swearing callers is completely unacceptable for us, as it places the operator in a hazardous environment.

    Zak 31 Oct at 12:18 pm
Get the latest exciting news and articles straight to your inbox