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How to Deal with Angry Customers

October 31, 2019

11:16 am

Customer service is a hard enough job without someone screaming in your ear. But when you're dealing with an angry customer who's ready to fly off the handle about a botched order, a malfunctioning website, or a negligent employee, providing adequate support can get a whole lot more difficult.

Fortunately, it's not impossible. Between keeping your cool and providing the right answers, there are a few key practices that you can employ to not only diffuse the ticking time bomb that is an angry customer, but also provide the helpful customer support they so direly need. And we've got a whole bunch of these practices, backed up by insightful experts.

We talked to a few customer support experts, including Kathy Dalpes, the vice president of customer advocacy at Zendesk, to help explain exactly how to deal with angry customers and how to avoid some of the pitfalls of poor customer service practices. Take a look at what they had to say, and make sure your next customer interaction doesn't end in a screaming match.

How to Handle Angry Customer Complaints

It's no easy thing to respond correctly to an angry customer – that's why customer relationship management is such a valuable part of a business. When the worst happens, and your customer service team is faced with a furious complaint, a few key practices should be adopted:

  1. Genuinely Listen to the Complaint – the customer should feel like an individual, not a ticket
  2. Acknowledge the Problem – that means showing real empathy for the customer's problem
  3. Never Yell or Respond with Anger – keep your cool, and never take aggression personally
  4. Invest in Solving the Problem – getting a resolution may take time and patience
  5. Be Prepared with Solutions – avoid saying “there's nothing we can do” at all costs

Below, we detail each of these approaches, and how they can help you resolve problems with unhappy customers.

Genuinely Listen to the Complaint

It might be hard to understand what a customer is complaining about when they're doing so by yelling it into the phone. However, with 79% of customers seeing their complaints ignored, it's safe to say they have a pretty good reason for being upset.

That's where taking some time to actually listen can make such a big difference when it comes to an angry customer. It's all too easy to treat customer queries like tickets in a queue – after all, with most CRM software, that's precisely how the queries are served. But for the customer, this complaint is personal, and they need to feel like an individual, not a ticket.

“When facing angry customers, the most important thing is to really listen and hear what the customer is saying. Understanding the root cause of the issue is key,” says Dalpes. “The most important thing is to be human.”

As we all know, an angry customer is only going to get more angry if they have to repeat themselves. That's why actually listening to their complaints is invaluable to the customer service experience – because if you aren't listening, you're going to have a tough time helping.

Acknowledge the Problem

Getting defensive is a natural response to someone getting aggressive. However, even if someone is being hostile in a customer service situation, they likely have a valid complaint buried somewhere in their antagonistic diatribe. And considering 66% of adults feel that valuing their time is the most important aspect of a good online customer experience, there's certainly a good reason to acknowledge their concern.

“Empathy while hearing out the customer is effective, but empty apologies mean nothing if you don’t truly understand what the customer is experiencing or saying,” says Dalpes. “Customers know the difference between a scripted apology and genuine understanding.”

Acknowledging an angry customer's issue not only moves the process along, but also gives you the opportunity to potentially calm them down. Once a customer has recovered their composure, you'll have a chance to actually help them.

Don't, however, mistake a cookie-cutter response for a show of genuine empathy. Beginning every conversation with “I understand your frustration” is a sure-fire way to make your customer feel you couldn't care any less for their frustration. Focus instead on having a proper conversation, and repeating back details of the customer's complaint to demonstrate that you're absorbing what they're saying to you, rather than trying to deflect their complaint with stock responses.

Never Yell or Respond Angrily

We know this is hard. After all, pretty much everyone has dreamed about getting to yell back at a customer who's being unreasonable. Tragically, that's only going to make everything worse, which is why staying calm and keeping your own volume down can make a big impact on any customer service experience.

“Despite a customer’s anger, frustration, or defeatism, reps need to stay positive,” claims Salesforce's customer service advice. “It’s okay to empathize with the customer – in fact, it’s a key component of great service – but keep it as upbeat as you can. Steer the conversation toward a positive outcome using positive language. Focus on the solution.”

When 35% of customers are willing to admit to becoming angry at some point when talking to customer service reps, there's a pretty good chance you're going to end up talking to someone with a chip on their shoulder. This makes it all the more important to mentally prepare yourself to stay calm. Be resilient, remember that the rage is (usually) nothing to do with you as an individual, and never, ever mirror their anger with your own. This will only lead to an escalation, rather than a resolution.

Invest in Solving the Problem

Solving the problem is the most important aspect of customer service that can sometimes get lost in the shuffle, particularly when it comes to allocating resources. While it might seem like it doesn't directly affect your bottom line, a poorly funded customer support team could have some serious issues when it comes to solving problems.

“Treat customer service like an investment, rather than a cost,” said Alex Birkett, Senior Growth Marketing Manager at Hubspot, in a Tech.co interview. “In a world where specific products aren't that different, the way to differentiate your business is through the customer experience.”

Quality CRM software can be a huge aid to your agents when they're trying to resolve queries and complaints from customers. CRM software can give a singular view to everything your agent may need, such as previous communications with the same customer, their account details, their order history, and how long they've been waiting for a resolution. You don't have to spend much to invest in CRM software, either – Hubspot CRM even has a free tier you can try out.

As well as investing resources in your software, invest time into your customer. Don't just calm them down, don't just provide them with information, and definitely don't put them on hold – instead, solve the problem! It can be tempting to rush an angry customer off the phone, but if you don't resolve the issue, they're only going to get angrier, and that's the last thing you need. Plus, 70% of unhappy customers whose problems are resolved are willing to shop with a business again, so the value of making the effort and investing in customer support is a win for your business.

Be Prepared with Solutions

Not every customer is going to have a solvable problem. Sometimes, customers get angry about the simple, yet reasonable limitations of a product, or will be infuriated that an important expected delivery date has already been missed. This can make the interaction infinitely more difficult, but should still be manageable from a customer support standpoint – as long as you're prepared with other solutions.

“If their frustration is something that isn’t possible, like a product limitation, then your job is harder,” says Dalpes. However, you should be armed with language to help your customers understand that their expectations aren’t within the parameters of the agreement you have with them.”

If you're some kind of customer support prodigy, you might be able to simply remember all the different means by which you can address a problem. Even if you don't have all of these tools ready to go in your head, CRM software can help again. Most platforms feature a knowledge base of potential solutions. These can be agent-facing only – helping support staff to pick from ready-made suggestions, or giving them initial ideas. You can also make a knowledge base customer facing, too, helping to deflect angry calls by giving the customer the information they need to solve their problem quickly, rather than needing to pick up the phone or type out an email.

Above all, the easiest way to make sure your entire team can effectively manage customer concerns is with CRM software that can keep track of everything. After all, it's tough to be prepared if you don't have the resources to pull it off.

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Conor is the Senior Writer for Tech.co. For the last four years, he’s written about everything from Kickstarter campaigns and budding startups to tech titans and innovative technologies. His extensive background in stand-up comedy made him the perfect person to host tech-centric events like Startup Night at SXSW and the Timmy Awards for Tech in Motion. You can email Conor at conor@tech.co.