Defusing the bomb: Handling interactions with irate customers

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Updated Sep 30, 2020

Shutterstock 41204386We’ve all had those days where we get told off by a customer for an issue we probably didn’t even have anything to do with.

In the heat of the moment, it’s hard to know what the best reaction should be to an irate customer, but the important thing to keep in mind is that their beef is not with you.

Many customers, when angered or upset, will lash out at the first person they see or can get on the phone, and if that happens to be you, it’s imperative that you keep a level head.

When interacting with angry customers, take to heart these tips to ensure the situation is resolved as peacefully as possible.

Don’t get angry

Nine times out of ten when you are faced with an aggressive, yelling person coming toward you, your initial reaction is to tense up and prepare for an altercation.

When faced with fight or flight, most of us have the tendency to lean toward fight. Whatever your instincts may be telling you, staying calm will help the situation get resolved much more quickly than if you fire back with anger.

If you react out of anger, you may end up making the situation worse by saying or doing something you can’t take back. This can lose you customers, respect with co-workers and potentially gain you a lawsuit depending on the severity of the situation.

Staying calm will help you keep in good standing with your customers, and it will help get the issue resolved faster. Remember that this complaint means something to the customer, otherwise he/she wouldn’t be confronting you about it, so take it seriously. If you show the customer that it means as much to you as it does to him/her, it will make him/her much easier to work with.

Also remember not to take confrontation as a personal attack. You may be the person the anger is taken out on, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s your fault or that you are bad at your job because of it. You may have just been the first person that customer came in contact with that day, unfortunately.

Hear them out

Whether you think the complaint is legitimate or not, it’s important to always hear customers out.

Most of the time in situations like this, customers just want to feel that you are listening to what they have to say, and that their concerns are valued. Take time to listen patiently to the story in its entirety before making a decision on the matter.

After hearing the full story, show customers you are truly understanding their issues by rephrasing the issue and telling it back to them. Maintain eye contact while you discuss the issue, and be sure to avoid stances that could be misconstrued as aggressive, such as crossed arms and turning away from the customer.

Sometimes taking notes during the story can be beneficial to show you are invested in what the customer is saying, but use your best judgement when it comes to this. If you think it could be mistaken as rude, stick to purposefully listening.

Another good way to show you are listening is to use the customer’s name throughout the conversation. Using their name helps make the apology more personal, and it helps you remember that you are dealing with a real person.

Smile and apologize

You’ve heard it more times that you probably ever thought you would, but when it comes to business, “The customer is always right.”

You might not feel like you are in the wrong in the situation, but a simple and heartfelt apology can be more powerful that you realize when it comes to defusing anger.

In many cases, customers just want to know that you own up to whatever grievance they have and you apologize for it. An apology combined with appropriate compensation can help keep customers happy and you on their good side.

While offering this apology, be sure to not look like you’re having teeth pulled. A genuine smile is almost as important as the act of apologizing; if you don’t look sincere about saying you’re sorry, the customer won’t believe you.

Smiling while you talk also helps get rid of tension that may be in your voice, which can ultimately make you more pleasant to converse with.

Fix the problem and follow up

Once the customer is calm, it’s time to fix the problem. Granted, you might not be able to fix every little issue that arises, but if it’s in your power to legally, morally and safely resolve the issue, do so.

However, if the situation entails something you aren’t comfortable doing for whatever reason, do not use “it’s just our policy” as an excuse to ignore a request. Customers will want a more detailed and thought out answer as to why their request is still being denied, so be sure to stick to your guns with a legitimate reason under your belt.

If you are able to successfully solve the issue, be sure to follow up with the customer to show you care about how the situation turned out. It can be something as easy as a quick phone call to check in, or it can be as in-depth as a person-to-person visit. Choose whatever option fits best with the situation and with your work schedule.

Take time to decompress

One of the most underrated aspects of dealing with angry customers is the emotional strain it will put on you. After solving an issue with an irate customer, it’s important to take time to yourself to calm down and just decompress from the experience.

You may not feel like the ordeal took that much of a mental or emotional strain on you, but negative interactions, no matter how small, can have a ripple effect on your attitude for the rest of the day.

Get somewhere by yourself and just let the moment pass. Once you’ve taken that time, jump back into the workday ready to face the next set of challenges. Or if you need to talk it out with a co-worker or trusted friend, take a short break to call them or meet with them and vent about the experience. Getting that pent-up aggression out is important for being able to move on and get the rest of your day started.

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