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How to Listen to Angry Clients: The Secret Listening Skills of Customer Service Representatives

Updated on May 14, 2012
jpcmc profile image

I'm a dad, husband, and Christian first. The rest is just life's add-ons: an educator, administrator, learning & development professional.

How do you listen?
How do you listen? | Source

Almost all customer service professionals I know have been cussed at, ridiculed, called names, assaulted in some way and that’s just for starters. As much as you want to retaliate with an equally aggressive and explosive manner, you just have to control yourself! Yes, that’s something difficult to do, but it’s the professional way to handle angry customers. Darn, you mean I can’t wring his neck?

There are numerous skills needed in handling angry customers. However, none is as vital as listening. Yes, this simple skill you've used since you were a baby is pivotal in resolving concerns of angry customers. However, many customer service representatives have not matured beyond the listening skills of infants. OK, that’s a bit harsh but there’s some truth to that.

Focus on productive information

important information
Useless clutter
Item or service purchased
Cusses and curses
What happened?
Client's concern
Name calling
What client wants
Rants & raves

Listening Skill 1: Lock on and Lock out

Angry clients are emotional. This is something I know from personal experience. I've been called a dog, a pig, and some other livestock. Moreover, I've heard curses that I did not think existed. The whole point is that clients can get personal (that’s definitely an understatement). Before you take a swing at the client for such rude words or behavior, remember that emotions run high especially when the person is angry. So what do you do? Lock on and Lock out.

Lock on and lock out is simply focusing on important information and locking out those that clutter without value.

In order to provide immediate solution without having to dwell on the negatives, customer service representative MUST focus on important information only. The moment you let negative words affect you, you become ineffective.

Your ears are your tools...use it properly
Your ears are your tools...use it properly | Source

Listening Skill 2: Listen Attentively

Give you full attention to the client. Remember he is already angry. Your undivided attention is a necessity since many clients can spew out words at light speed. You need to pick up the important details as mentioned above. However, you can only do this if you listen attentively. You need to pinpoint the actual concern of the client underneath the rants and raves – and the occasional splatter of spit that can rain down on you.

Important reminders:

  • Clarify details
  • Ask questions
  • Rephrase information given to you

For most part of my career in customer service training, I've been advocating active listening to resolve customer concerns. My basic philosophy is this: How can you provide excellent customer service if you don’t take the time to listen to what clients want?

Of course this is easier said than done. But providing unparalleled service is only for people willing to go beyond expectations. This is where excellent customer service starts.


"How can you provide excellent customer service if you don’t take the time to listen to what clients want?"

Questions to ponder on

  1. What was your worse customer service encounter?
  2. If you are a customer service representative how would you deal with clients throwing insults and at you?


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    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello Mon, the article is never meant to be sexist. Thank you for pointing it out.

    • profile image

      MON 4 years ago

      'he' OR 'her' ... don't be sexist. Female customers can get angry too

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hi Ellen,

      We often forget about how important lock on and lock out is in communcation. Have a great day.

    • profile image

      Ellen 5 years ago

      I attended a customer service training several back and the speaker told us about lock on and lock out. Thanks for reminding me about it.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hello Dave,

      I guess we all are guilty of communication failure in one way or another. What is best is to learn from our experiences. This becomes more important when we are handling angry clients.

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      Dave Santos 5 years ago

      I'm guilty of Lock on and Lock out.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hi there rapangu. Yes, these are important when handling angry customers.

    • profile image

      rapangu 5 years ago

      Listen and Pick the most important points. Good.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Hi there chinemeremz. Thank you for reading and sharing your opinion. Lock in lock out is a communication tool that needs to be practiced properly. In the hands of a professional, this technique is powerful. The problem is many people simnply lock out things that they do not want to hear even if it is important. Likewise, some lock on only to information that they want and neglect to process other vital data. So patience and training is needed.

    • chinemeremz profile image

      chinemeremz 5 years ago

      I really loved the point "lock in and lock out", it is really cool especially when you are dealing with people with various temperaments. This points raised here are really cool.