How to Handle an Irate Customer without Losing Your Cool

8 min read
May 25, 2016
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How to handle an irate customer

We usually write about great customer service and advice on what you can do to provide it in your company. Yet we don’t keep off ourselves from posting about angry and irate customers. We know how hard it sometimes is to deal with them.

We already wrote posts about rude customers and different types of difficult customers. We even published a cheat sheet for your difficult customers to show them how they should act when using customer service. (Have you noticed, how I’m assuming you’re not a difficult customer?).

When I was looking at the blog comments and statistics, it turned out many more of you read about how to handle angry customers compared to other topics. Is it because you meet these types of customers often and you want to learn how to deal with them? Or you feel understood and it's just fun to read about these difficult customers who sometimes turn your work into a nightmare?

I’m assuming it’s a little of both. For the good of this article I believe that you are still interested in learning how to handle difficult situations in customer service caused by irate customers in a better way.

Let me warn you though, it will require some work on yourself.

1. Listen actively

When I worked in customer service, I had trouble with one woman a few times. Whether she had a problem with the product, payment or with us, she got upset really quickly. And it often got ugly.

One time I decided to ask her why is she yelling so much, why does she get angry so quick and why is it always so hard to come to an agreement. She started to explain herself that she has some troubles and she even tried to get some help but nothing worked. As she was talking, I felt sorry for her. She surprised me with her honesty so much that I was panically thinking what I’m gonna say next. When she finished, I basically asked about what she just told me: "did you try to get help?" It looked like I didn’t hear what she was saying at all.

I felt embarrassed and couldn’t believe I’m that kind of person - I always thought I’m a great listener. Turned out I am, but only in conductive conditions. When I feel stressed, I’m not always able to carefully listen.

The same happens when you feel stressed out and get into an argument with a customer. You probably feel the pressure of saying wiser and smarter things than the other person. It leads to passing the buck and no conclusion. Do you really hear the problem then? I guess not, since you’re not able to listen.

How to work on that?

My advice to you is to stop caring about what you’re going to say, how it makes you look and what other people will think about you. Try to mindfully delve into customer's problem. I guess you can start practicing this in a neutral environment like talking to your colleagues at work or your partner. Try to feel the problem. Bring out some empathy. How would you feel in this situation?

And if you see the symptoms of you being stressed and angry, the most important thing is to calm yourself down before saying or doing anything. Learn this and you will be able to go back to listening and helping customers much quicker.

2. Use your customers’ names

Let me ask you: When do you feel more comfortable. When somebody says: “Miss/Mrs, what’s the problem” or “Hi Kate, what’s the problem?”

This tip is quite easy to follow. When you're speaking on the phone, your customer introduces themselves. When you talk to them on a live chat, they enter their name before they start a chat (if you don't have a live chat tool, you can test it for yourself). And believe me, calling a customer by name can work wonders.

I personally feel much better when a person I’ve just met uses my name. I’m sure that it will also work in stressful customer service conditions and it will help your customers feel more comfortable.

When we use somebody’s name, we create the thread of understanding. We get more personal and shorten the distance. This can be helpful while handling somebody who is irritate.

3. Repeat their concerns

Customers get angry when they can’t get something. Yet their requests are sometimes surreal. When a person is illogical, it helps to repeat their statements so they can hear their actual words. Sounds rough but it works (practiced on me). This way people hear how absurd it is what they’ve just ask for.

When you’re logical, calm and confident, customers shouldn’t get under your skin even if they’re really angry.

Let’s say you’re a cashier in a supermarket and a customer wants you to do your job a little faster because he’s in a hurry. At the same time he refuses to go to a self–service checkout. He’s already angry.

"So I’m helping this customer and you want me to do it faster even though I shouldn’t because I have to check each item precisely. And you’re rude about it because you’re running late. Yet you don’t want to use the self service even if it’s right there. Why?”

Not all of them, but many customers issues are irrational. And I think you should point them out. Sometimes a confident monologue will leave them speechless.

4. Give them options to relieve the tension

There are situations in which you can give customers options. Even if they aren’t close to their dream scenario, it helps them feel more in control.

Let’s say a customer was offered a discount for the first month of using your product. Unfortunately he didn’t use it and it expired. The customer gets angry and he wants the discount again because now he’s ready to use it.

"Unfortunately this deal is not available any more but I can offer you a bigger discount if you purchase our product for 6 months."

That’s where you provide options to your customer. In result he gets a discount and you gain a customer for longer than you thought in a first place.

5. Make them smile or at least don’t let them leave angry

Go the extra mile for the customer - everybody says that. But what does it mean in this case? It’s about doing a little more than required.

After a customer was mean to you and you finally got into the agreement, surprise them and ask what else can you help them with. I’m sure that’s the moment their heart melts a little thanks to your patience and good will. Some of them will also feel sorry that they’ve shouted at you. Or is my believe in people too big?

When nothing works and you just can’t take it anymore

I left this one for the end of the article, to make sure you try to adopt all of my above advises first. But here’s the advice for the hardest times full of customer’s (and your) irritation.

Recall a phone fight from your life or movies. What do people do when they don't want to listen to others saying bad things? They turn off the phone for a few hours. Sometimes (when they’re more chilled) they also place the phone on the table and don’t listen to the screaming, waiting for the person to calm down while they’re doing something else.

There was this guy in my call center, very experienced. I could see he cared about customers but at the same time he was able to disengage when they’re out of their minds. He just sat on the chair looking at the ceiling waiting for someone to stop yelling. He never got angry, never responded in a bad manner. He just muted his microphone…

If you can’t stand the pressure and you need to blow off steam, talk on mute so customer can’t hear it or write it out but don’t send it. The customer will become calm faster. It’s an unusual advice, but if you let customer vent their frustrations, chances are they’ll be ready to talk to you in 2 minutes. And a moment of silence seems more professional than screaming along with a customer, right? Don’t get involved in it, don’t think about your response, just let it pass.

Handling an irate customer

As you’ll see there’re tons of advices I can give you that will help you handle irate customers. Most of them require your ability to manage stress in difficult situations.

Some people think that working in customer support is suuuch a monotoooone job where nothing exciting happens. But meet one angry customer and you won’t need another cup of coffee for the rest of your day.

So the biggest challenge for you is to learn how to not let irate customers get to you at all. Do that and you’ll be able to help customers in the same great way while enjoying your coffee all day long.

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