How to Support an Agent After an Angry Call

Upset and stressed person sat at computer

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In a call centre environment, there will be times when agents need to handle some difficult customer conversations.

One of the most stressful is a call with an angry customer. It sends adrenaline pumping and takes considerable energy for agents to control their emotions and response.

For these reasons, Helen Pettifer, a specialist in the fair treatment of vulnerable customers, explains how to give agents the added time and support they need to handle angry callers.

Step One – Reassure Agents It’s Not Personal When Customers Get Angry With Them

Explain to your agents that there are many reasons why callers get angry, including:

  1. A caller may be frustrated because a product or service fell short of expectations, resulting in a negative outcome.
  2. They may find your caller process complex or have been on hold for ages.
  3. Equally, their anger may be unrelated to your organization. We all have those days when nothing goes right and exhaustion means one small thing turns stress into anger.
  4. There are also many vulnerable situations that can increase the likelihood of anger, such as bereavement and financial difficulties.

Reassure them that, although there are different reasons for getting angry, none are driven intentionally by them.

Step Two – Give Agents a Pre-Agreed Process to Follow When Dealing With an Angry Caller

Having said this, the response of the call handler can either calm the customer or escalate their frustrations, so give agents a pre-agreed process to follow when responding to angry customers.

Our Instinctive Response to Anger Is ‘Fight or Flight’

Anger is a form of attack. It is expressed with raised voices, harsh words, and broad terms, such as ‘always’ or ‘never’.

Fight of flight illustration
Our instinctive response to
anger is ‘fight or flight’

Our instinctive response to anger is ‘fight or flight’. We want to escape or defend ourselves, hang up or give as good as we get.

However, in the call centre, agents have to squash these instincts and remain calm.

The best way for agents to respond to an angry customer is to recognize it isn’t personal and to take time to fully understand the customer’s perspective and experience.

They should stay quiet, let the customer vent, listen and take note of the points they raise – and only respond when they stop.

These steps can give agents a pre-agreed framework to work through to help them stay calm and focused in the heat of the moment:

1. Apologize and Reassure

“I‘m sorry that you’ve had this experience, Mr Jones. I intend to sort this out for you. Can I ask a couple of questions to clarify my understanding?”

If you are looking for examples of these, read our articles: 21 Customer Service Apology Statements – With Examples and The Top 15 Reassurance Statements for Customer Service

2. Clarify and Gather Information

“As I understand it, Mr Jones, we have renewed your policy without informing you.

The payment was taken from your account yesterday without your permission. This has left you in a difficult financial situation. Is that correct?”

For examples of clarifying questions to add value to your conversations, read our article: 15 Clarifying Questions That Add Value to Customer Support Conversations

3. Inform of the Options

“Thank you for confirming. The options I can offer are to immediately cancel the policy and refund your payment.

Alternatively, if you would like to keep the policy, we have some payment options to help spread the cost. What would you like me to do?”

4. Address the Cause

“The monthly payment option is now set up and the annual fee has been reimbursed. I’ve noticed that the auto-renewal option has been selected on your account.

I will amend that so this issue doesn’t occur again. Next year, you will simply be sent a reminder. Can I please check that we have the right contact details for you, as our records show a renewal email was sent last month?”

5. Check Customer Satisfaction

“Can I help you with anything else, Mr Jones?”

Step Three – Give Agents a Fall-Back Plan (for if the Situation Doesn’t Improve)

In most cases, when an agent listens without interruption, responds calmly and is helpful, it defuses anger. The customer may even apologize for their outburst.

I usually advise not to interrupt a customer. However, there is an exception if they are rude and disrespectful.

Sometimes, the customer continues to shout, their language is unacceptable and may become personal.

In this situation, it is good to have a company policy on the actions a call handler can take.

I usually advise not to interrupt a customer. However, there is an exception if they are rude and disrespectful. No employee should have to accept that.

The first step is to make the customer aware of their behaviours:

“Are you aware that you are shouting? I am listening and would like to help, so can I ask you to lower your voice?”

If they continue:

“Mr Jones, we cannot resolve this issue whilst you are speaking to me like this. If you are unable to calm down, I will end this call.”

Then:

“I am going to end the call now. I will follow up with an email.”

If you are looking to put together a policy for dealing with angry customers, read our article: A Policy for Dealing With Abusive Customers

Step Four – Give Agents the Space They Need to Recover After an Angry Customer Call

When an agent ends a call with an angry customer, their body is pumped full of adrenaline. In addition, they have been suppressing a range of emotions.

Therefore, they are not in the right place to move straight on to the next customer conversation. At the very least, they need a moment to release some energy and emotions.

Firstly, it is beneficial for them to move. Just a few minutes away from the desk can help.

Note from the Editor: The AA contact centre in Cheadle has created a dedicated quiet room for agents to catch a 5-minute break in peace – away from the floor, breakout room, or canteen – to give them the opportunity to reset in silence.

Secondly, heightened emotions may cause them to feel upset, drained, angry, or disappointed. Being able to speak to someone, and be listened to, can help them process these feelings. Tell them that they did a great job of remaining calm during the call.

Thirdly, acknowledge that the conversation may trigger strong emotions. In this case, be flexible and allow them more time and support. Reassure the agent that they did well in the circumstances and they have your backing.

Step Five – Take Time to Reflect on What Could Be Learnt From the Angry Customer

Rather than dwelling on difficult conversations, focus on what can be learnt from the experience.

Set aside some time to talk to the call handler to clarify what the customer said.

You could consider the following questions:

  • What caused the customer to feel so dissatisfied?
  • Have they flagged up an issue that needs addressing?
  • What can be done to avoid a repeat of the customer’s and employee’s negative experience?
  • Would the call handler and colleagues benefit from refresher training on managing difficult customer conversations?
  • Does the company need to update the process, so employees are clear on acceptable responses?
  • How will the call be recorded to ensure it is documented if the customer takes the complaint higher?
  • Who will follow up with the customer and what needs to be said to resolve the situation?
Helen Pettifer, Director of Helen Pettifer Training Ltd
Helen Pettifer

Use the incident as a learning opportunity and an opportunity to take action. This lowers the chances of negative experiences recurring.

Finally, at the end of the day, thank all call handlers for the work they do. Remind them that you and the majority of customers appreciate that they are great problem solvers.

Written by: Helen Pettifer, Director of Helen Pettifer Training Ltd and a specialist in the fair treatment of vulnerable customers.

If you are looking for more information on staff wellbeing or dealing with angry customers, read these articles next:

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