The Best Way to Defuse Angry Customers

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In the field of customer service, we have all dealt with “that” customer.  The one who has all the answers, or has impossible expectations, or is just so frustrated and angry that it seems that nothing will make them happy.   Anyone who has worked in customer service for any period of time has sat through the “Dealing with Angry Customer” classes.  The steps offered in those classes, or in online articles are good, they do work but there are additional options that are not normally discussed.  

I was working with a company, and was asked by management to assist with a client on my day off. The only time that we could get the customer and her IT person together was on Saturday afternoon.  I agreed to help, if I could do so from my home office.  From the beginning of the call, everything started going south.  The IT manager was having phone issues, the customer’s internet connection was sketchy at best, and the computer had issues where if you opened more than three windows it would lock up.  Needless to say, the three of us were getting frustrated.  She was frustrated because she was giving up the last Saturday of her vacation to get the work laptop fixed, so she could attend a webinar on Monday. The IT person was frustrated because it was obvious something had happened to the laptop to cause issues, but they couldn’t get direct access to it.  I was frustrated because with two people remoting in from two different locations meant I could only work on one window at a time.  Unfortunately, I expressed frustration when the computer wouldn’t do something I needed it to do. That was all that was needed to set the customer off.  I apologized and took some deep breaths to calm my voice, but at this point the customer was having nothing to do with it.  I was trying to figure out how to get her to de-escalate, when my cat, Peeks, decided she was tired of me being in my office and ignoring her, so she meowed very loudly into the head set. I hadn’t realized that she had followed me into my office.   But it was enough to throw the customer off kilter a bit.  She asked what that noise was. I apologized and explained that the cat was telling the computer to behave and to stop giving us a hard time because it was cutting into her attention from the human slave time.  Both the IT person and the Customer started laughing.  Again, I apologized, I admitted that I frustrated with the computer, but I could see how she would think that my feelings were directed towards her.  I promised that I would try to do better, then asked her a direct question to redirect us back to the job at hand.  Over all, Peek’s interruption disrupted us for about two minutes, but it was enough to redirect all of us into a better frame of mind to work together as a team.  During times when we were waiting on the phone, for the computer to trudge along, our conversation turned to funny pet stories. Eventually I was able to fix the issue with her laptop, and we could all go enjoy what was left of our weekend.   

Customers are people just like you are. They want to feel valid, and valued

Customers are people just like you are. They want to feel valid, and valued. The steps of listening to the customer and acknowledging their right to feel the frustration and anger helps create a connection to the customer.  As social creatures, we need to connect to others around us. There are things, as a customer service professional, that you can do to create a better connection, and build a positive relationship with the client.    

Listening to the customer vent without interrupting is important, but it is also important to listen to their voice.  Is the tone going higher? Are they speaking faster or slower? Are they jumbling words together, or are the words becoming clipped and succinct? By monitoring the tone of the voice, you can develop a strategy to de-escalate the customer and help resolve the issue.

Taking responsibility for the issue. This does not mean that you state that the issue is yours, or your company’s fault.  By taking responsibility for the issue, means that you are taking responsibility to work with the customer to come up with the best solution possible. Or that if it isn’t something that you can fix, you will find the person who can and get them there.  The customer needs to be assured that they are not going to be passed around.  If it is necessary to pass an angry customer on to another rep, then do a warm transfer.  Find out who you will be working with, and talk that person up.  Explain how they are more qualified to assist and stay involved in the transaction until you see that the client and the representative are connecting and moving forward without you.  At this point dismiss yourself.

Inevitably while you are working with the customer, there will come times when you are both waiting for a process to finish.  In this case the sound of silence is not a good thing. As the Customer Service Rep, it is important to work on getting the customer to a more positive frame of mind.  Find something to compliment them on, but make sure the compliment is real and heartfelt.  Nothing shuts people down faster than when they start picking up false intentions.  Do you have a tired Mom in front of you who is trying to wrangle her kids while dealing with you?  Then it is ok to acknowledge. “It looks like you are having one of those days.” One of my favorite questions to ask a parent is “What is the funniest thing your kids have done in the past week?” This gets the customer talking about something that is going to make them laugh.  If you can get them to laugh, then you can get the customer to relax.  If you can get them to relax then you have a better chance of connecting with them, and letting them help you come to a satisfactory solution. The key is to distract them briefly from their anger, so you can redirect them into a productive solution to their issue.  

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