Nobody wants to deal with unhappy, difficult or angry customers. However, in most cases the company representative taking an angry call is often in the driver’s seat regarding the outcome, says Jeff Mowatt, a Calgary, Alberta-based customer service strategist, author and speaker. 

Mowatt shares seven tips to better handle upset customers: 

1. Watch the tone

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“In the first 15 seconds of a call, you can tell whether it’s going to be a positive or negative interaction based entirely on the tone of voice, and the way caller articulates,” he says. “If they speak rapidly and the pitch of their voice rises, the customer is upset.” 

The person taking the call can help to improve the interaction by moderating his or her own vocal tone.

“If you speak in a lower tone, speak more slowly, enunciate clearly and crisp your consonants, you’ll be assumed to be more intelligent and in control,” Mowatt says. “As a result, you’ll be treated more respectfully.” 

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2. Listen to the customer

“It’s important to listen without interrupting the customer,” Mowatt says. “The customer has a story to tell and want to tell it fully, so we need to let him or her finish. 

“It’s also important for you to hear and gather all the facts before you share your opinion or perspectives on the situation.” 

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3. Don’t ask customers what they think went wrong

It’s safe to assume that a customer wouldn’t be calling with a problem — or what they consider is a problem — if there wasn’t something wrong. It can come off as patronizing if you play down the reason a customer calls. 

“We know what happened,” Mowatt says. “Someone was incompetent or made a mistake — either someone in your organization failed, or the customers themselves. 

“Focusing on either proposition takes the conversation in an unhelpful direction.” 

4. Empathize

Put yourself in their shoes, and use such universal phrases as ‘sounds like we dropped the ball’ or ‘I can see why you were frustrated’ to indicate you understand and empathize with their position. 

Don’t tell customers to calm down. It’s disrespectful and will most likely cause the customer to do the complete opposite. 

“The phrase, ‘calm down’ never works — ever,” Mowatt says. 

5. Reiterate the complaint

This puts both parties on the same page and lets the customer know you understand why they’re disappointed. 

Repeat what the customer tells you, and then calmly explain that you will do what you can to find a resolution. 

6. Overcompensate the client for any problems you’ve caused

“If your service vehicle has crushed a rose bush, or you’ve failed to deliver on a service, simply offering to make good still puts the client in a deficit because they weren’t compensated for the hassle of approaching you to resolve the problem,” Mowatt says. 

“In addition to fixing the problem, fix the relationship by offering something more than a replacement rose bush. Extend a service contract or offer something additional for free. These overtures often result in a client who is more loyal than before the incident.” 

7. If the customer is wrong...

“We don’t give them anything,” Mowatt says. “Perhaps two percent of customers take advantage of the businesses they use. If you know the client is lying or behaving dishonestly, suck it up and fire them.

“If you take a positive approach to legitimately upset customers, you’ll be able to afford to get rid of the bad ones. Better still, they might take their bad business to your competitors.”


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