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How to Communicate with an Angry Customer
I've had items thrown at me. I've been cussed at. I've been called stupid, and told that I don't know anything. I have been called unhelpful, when I've done everything I can do to help someone. I don't take it personally, it all comes with the territory working in Customer Service.
When someone calls in, or visits Customer Service, it's hardly ever just to say "you're doing a good job." The main reason people contact Customer Service is because there is a problem. At this point the Customer is emotionally involved because they've spent money on a product, or because of a policy they are going to have to pay a fee. With the slow economic times, money becomes very personal to people, and when things go wrong tempers flare.
I worked in Customer Service for the Government for over five years. This was a challenging area to work in Customer Service. I communicated daily with people in person and over the phone about parking tickets, and water bills. There are people who have a poor opinion of the Government anyway, and once water bills go up, or if they receive a parking ticket, they are the unhappiest of all the unhappy people. I'll share the strategies I've learned in order to keep my sanity while communicating with angry customers. These strategies can also strengthen the relationship between the organization and the customer.
Listen. It sounds so simple. Here are three situations when listening is not simple:
- The customer is raising their voice while talking. It's hard to stay quiet and listen effectively when you are getting yelled at.
- The customer is talking about a situation you're familiar with and you know you can calm them down quickly. You have the answer and you know the customer is going to be happy with the answer. It's human instinct to want to interrupt the upset person and tell them the good news. It may be human instinct but it's not recommended.
- The customer is talking about a situation you're familiar with and you know you don't have a solution. You know that you are not able to help the customer. You have a script to say, or maybe another point of reference. You don't want to listen to the customer because you know you're not going to provide a resolution.
Okay, listening isn't simple. Are you wondering why listening is important?
Listening is important because the customer is upset and they want to feel validated. That's right. Even if they are irrational in their communication method, deep down that person wants to feel validated. Have you ever been upset about something and vented to a friend about it? Afterwards you felt better didn't you? Venting helps you feel heard and that you have a valid reason to be upset, even if later you realize it's not a valid reason. The customer really wants to vent. If you interrupt them, they feel attacked. You're not listening, and validating their opinion. Even if you give them the answer they are looking for, they ultimately still feel unheard.
Without being demeaning, paraphrase what you heard the customer say. This lets them know that you were listening and that you are trying to understand.
Sometimes while you are paraphrasing, and working on communicating with the customer they aren't listening. Don't be afraid to sit quietly for a moment and pause to remain calm. Staying calm, and in a pleasant voice let the customer know that you want this to be resolved, and you'd appreciate if they'd listen to you, as you've listened to them. Let them know you want to make sure you've got the correct information so that this can be resolved.
Usually this will get the attention of the customer and they will listen to you, and give you feedback after you're done paraphrasing.
A lot of times when you receive the feedback from the customer you'll find that they don't understand something. Rather then have the attitude "stupid customer doesn't get it", use this as an opportunity to teach.
Give the customer information, and resources that can help them with the current problem, and in the future. Educating a customer can go along way, and help stop the Chronic Customer Service Caller.
I've talked to customers who have been dealing with the same issue for months. These customers are understandably upset because they can't ever find a resolution. If you notice that a customer has been contacting the company numerous times, don't automatically see this person as a pain in the butt, work harder on finding a resolution.
Is there someone who needs to be aware of the problem, but isn't? Contact that person.
Is the customer waiting for an answer from a contact, whom isn't answering? Find out why.
Don't let a problem slip under the table because no one wants to find the answer. Difficult situations come up in Customer Service sometimes. It's easy to brush it off because we don't know an answer. Remember, Customer Service is the first point of contact between customers and organizations. If a new issue comes up and you don't know the answer, the organization may not even be aware of this issue. If you ignore it and don't pursue helping the customer further the organization may not ever be aware of the issue.
Care about the customer, and the organization and stop a problem before it becomes chronic.
Those strategies compliment each other while helping you effectively communicate with an angry customer. The main thing to remember is don't take it personally. If you get upset because the customer is shouting at you, or if you get defensive for the company, it will be difficult to get effective results.
There are going to be customers who still demand to speak with a supervisor, and are never satisfied. This will happen. Do the best you can using great Customer Service skills and let it go. This will help your sanity and stress level while working. Don't let an angry customer ruin your day, and be prepared to duck if they are throwing something at you.