Nobody likes dealing with angry customers…right? Not so! There are customer service professionals who embrace angry customers. They are infectiously optimistic adrenaline junkies who believe that the glass is always half full. They are the kind of person that the rest of us turn to, to fix seemingly impossible situations. We look on in awe as they head straight into the jaws of an angry customer!
I once worked with a customer service manager like this. She lived to turn angry customers into raving fans. It was the challenge that lit a fire in her. She had the requisite skills to handle angry customers in a way that showed compassion, empathy, and emotional intelligence. She understood the skills that are required to do this and was able to lead and coach her team of customer service professionals in those skills. Perhaps her greatest talent was her ability to make a human connection with an angry customer. She demonstrated to the customer that she was not only interested in resolving their issue, but also interested in them as a person. This skill is the secret sauce that makes the following steps come together.
Engage in active listening.
Be empathetic and demonstrate emotional intelligence
Understand what the customer is telling you
Thank the customer for bringing their issue to your attention
Accept responsibility for whatever it was that resulted in a poor customer experience
Take ownership of the customer’s issue and resolution
Make it your mission to exceed the customer’s expectations
“Be patient. Give the angry customer the time they need to tell their story.”
1. Engage in active listening
Active listening is the ability to focus completely on the person that is speaking, to understand and comprehend what they are saying, and to respond thoughtfully. If a customer service representative is not a good active listener, even with the best of intentions they may miss details of what the customer is telling them, leading to misunderstandings and heightened frustration on the customer’s part. Wrong corrective actions, partial corrective actions, or no corrective actions at all are possible outcomes of not engaging in active listening. Be patient. Give the angry customer the time they need to tell their story. It is an investment in time that will give the customer time to explain the issue, how it is impacting them, and what they desire for resolution.
2. Be empathetic and demonstrate emotional intelligence
Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others” (Source: The Oxford Languages Dictionary). This is an important skill for a customer service representative to have. Making a connection with the customer, especially one with an issue, is vital to customer happiness and satisfaction. The first best connection you can make with a customer is to understand what they need on both a professional and an emotional level. An empathetic customer service voice on the other end of the phone is an excellent first step to resolution.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the natural extension of empathy. Along with being empathetic it includes being extroverted, having the ability to adjust to different personalities, being persuasive, and being a customer advocate. Being empathetic falls short if you are not able to give the customer confidence that you can solve their issue. This is where having high EQ can make a significant difference with an angry customer.
3. Understand what the customer is telling you
Active listening, empathy and emotional intelligence are a great start to turning an angry customer into a raving fan. To effectively deal with the customer’s issue you need to understand what it is they are telling you. While you might understand the tactical aspects of the issue, you also need to understand how this issue is impacting the world around your angry customer. Is it keeping them from doing their job? Are there others looking for resolution to the issue that are pressuring your customer contact? Is the issue impacting production or shutting it down altogether? What is the downstream effect of the issue as it remains unresolved? In other words, you “need to walk a mile in their shoes” to really understand the full extent of their problem.
In a Harvard Business Review article entitled, Four Rules for Effective Negotiation, author Anthony K. Tjan writes, “Before any negotiation begins, understand the interests and positions of the other side relative to your own interests and positions. Put these points down and spend time in advance seeing things from the other side.”
“Customers that complain are after all…customers. They are the reason you are in business.”
4. Thank the customer for bringing their issue to your attention
Customers that complain reveal what your business can do better.
Customers that complain may be the tip of the iceberg. The unhappy ones that aren’t complaining may just be walking away.
Customers that complain are valuable resources for improving the customer experience.
Customers that complain are the ones that are engaged and care. They can be your most loyal customers.
Customers that complain can help you grow your bottom line.
Customers that complain are after all…customers. They are the reason you are in business!
“An apology does not give away bargaining power. It merely acknowledges that you want to work with your customer to make things right.”
5. Accept responsibility for whatever it was that resulted in a poor customer experience
Want to start off on the right foot with an angry customer? Apologize for whatever it was that resulted in a poor customer experience. The fact they are angry is enough reason to apologize, regardless of whether it was the fault of your organization. Let’s face it, apologizing can be hard, especially if you don’t believe you did anything wrong. However, an apology can be very disarming. It may help the customer to calm down, to be more open to what you may have to say. An apology has the power to create a more level playing field where the dynamic switches from us and them to we. An apology does not give away bargaining power. It merely acknowledges that you want to work with your customer to make things right. It makes it easier for the customer to begin to see things from a perspective other than their own.
6. Take ownership of the customer’s issue and resolution
Take ownership of the customer’s issue, requests, or questions. This does not necessarily mean that you are going to fix the issue, it simply means that you will take responsibility to see the issue through to resolution. The single biggest turn-off that an angry customer will experience is when they hear a customer service professional say, “that is not my responsibility”. Of course it’s your responsibility! You are not representing yourself. You represent the company that employs you. An angry customer sees it the same way. Taking ownership of the customer’s issue and effort to resolve it will lead the customer to see you as their advocate, which will go a long way toward winning the customer’s confidence back. Set an expectation of how long it will take to resolve the issue and how often you will be updating them on the progress that is being made. Then, do what you say when you say you’re going to do it.
7. Communicate effectively
Be clear and concise.
Try to communicate using short phrases and simple words. This is not the time to try to impress the customer with your vocabulary or your “gift of gab”. Stay on point.
Always be positive and avoid negative language.
The customer is looking to you to solve the issue. Being negative doesn’t build the customer’s confidence. Even if the news is not good, focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t.
Center your communications on the customer and not on yourself.
Telling the customer how hard you are trying when things aren’t progressing well does not build confidence in you, your company, or your plan. Angry customers want to feel that their issue has priority. Demonstrate how it does and how your company is accomplishing this.
Always practice active listening.
Don’t interrupt the customer when they are speaking. Wait until the customer has finished talking before speaking. Demonstrate that you understand the issue by paraphrasing it back to the customer.
Be respectful and polite.
I can’t imagine a customer service professional being anything but respectful and polite. But as we all know, sometimes this just isn’t the case. It can be challenging when an angry customer is coming at you. But to lose your composure at that moment will only make things worse for you, the customer, and your company. If you are a customer service professional and you can’t always be respectful and polite, you should seriously consider another line of work.
8. Make it your mission to exceed the customer’s expectations
Do you need to exceed expectations? Isn’t meeting expectations enough? Some would say that you should only try to meet expectations because exceeding expectations will become the norm and customers will come to expect it with every customer service transaction. What’s wrong with that? By setting the bar higher it challenges your company to always make the customer your first priority. This is how you create and keep customers loyal, stay ahead of your competition, and how you grow revenue and profit.
There are no guarantees that following these 8 steps will always turn angry customers into raving fans…but it sure increases the odds!
"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Maya Angelou
To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.
Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.
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