15 Ways to Deal with Angry Customers Face-to-face

Some essential tips to help you deal with angry customers face-to-face.

Unhappy customer

If you work in a customer facing role such as hotel front desk or retail store, it’s inevitable that from time to time you will encounter an angry customer. The burning question is how to react? At the very least you should be prepared.

Here are 15 ways to help you handle irate customers who seem intent on ruining your day.

1. Stay Calm

Keeping a cool head is important for three reasons:

– You don’t want to put your health in jeopardy by getting stressed out.
– The situation could escalate into a physical confrontation.
– It can further harm the business relationship with the customer.

Do not respond emotionally. Your goal is to act in a relaxed, controlled manner. Take a deep breath and think before you speak. The worst thing you can do is go along with the drama and start yelling back.

2. Apologize

This may sound obvious, but a simple apology can go a long way. If you don’t feel comfortable saying sorry, it is important to remember that your apology is in response to the customer’s perception of the situation, rather than what may have actually occurred.

3. Empathize

Try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. It’s likely that your company or organization has not done what it promised it would do. Wouldn’t you be mad if it happened to you? Empathic phrases which will calm your customer include:

I understand how you feel…
I understand you are frustrated…

4. Check Your Body Language

According to experts, 70 percent of communication comes in the form of body language. It is therefore important to become aware of your body language when dealing with upset customers.

Give the customer some space and maintain eye contact. Make sure your arms are unfolded and the palms of your hands are open.

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5. Tell the Truth

“Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to device…” so goes the poem by Walter Scott. Telling a lie to appease the customer now will only come back to bite you later. Honesty is the best policy when dealing with difficult customers.

6. Know Your Stuff

Being knowledgeable about your company’s products, services and processes will put you in a good position to deal with your customer’s questions.

7. Be Assertive

This is easier said than done, but sometimes an assertive manner will quiet the customer down. Do not be rude or sarcastic, this will only make things worse.

8. Three Magic Words

In his book, Five Star Service, Michael Heppell uses what he calls his “three magic words”. They are:

  1. Feel
  2. Felt
  3. Found

When confronted with a disgruntled customer, Michael suggests this three step approach:

“I understand you may feel unhappy about that, I would have felt the same. But after checking I found that we do in fact have one of the longest money back guarantee periods compared to other shops…”

9. Get Inside Your Customer’s Head

I’m not suggesting you need a degree in psychology, but a basic understanding of human behavior does help. Angry customers often feel desperate and helpless. However they may come across, they are looking for help. Your goal is to offer choices, not a point blank refusal.

10. What not to Say

There are some words and phrases that are like a red flag to a bull when it comes to complainers. Here is what NOT to say:

  • It’s the system
  • That’s not how we do things
  • I’m not allowed to do that
  • It’s beyond my control
  • I’m not authorized to do that
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11. Gain Control of the Conversation

At some point you will need to move things along. Try the phrase: “We’ve established the problem, let’s talk about the solution.” Once they see you are constantly focusing on finding a solution they will begin to calm down.

12. Take Action

Your customer’s irrational behavior may be due to a perceived lack of urgency from your side. Find out what can be done right away – and do it. This will send a out clear message that you serious about resolving the issue.

13. L.E.A.R.N.

A good way to remember the steps needed to deal with angry customers face-to-face is to use the L.E.A.R.N. method:

L= Listen, listen, listen

E= Empathize

A= Apologize

R= Resolve

N= Now

14. If things Get out of Hand

Sometimes a customer’s anger is based on something that has nothing to do with the actual problem. And there is absolutely nothing you can do about that.

If the customer starts to get aggressive or yells obscenities, you have every right to stop the conversation. Tell the customer you are leaving and walk away. Make a written note of what happened and report the incident to your manager.

15. Follow up

After you have dealt with your customer’s source of anger and you have agreed on some kind of resolution, it is critical that you follow up. Check everything has been thoroughly dealt with and your customer is happy with the outcome.

Research suggests that even the most disgruntled, angry customers can become loyal, raving fans if you deal with their concerns efficiently and effectively.

About the Author

Ian Miller is Editor of Customer Service Manager Magazine – the leading resource and community for customer service professionals.

CSS NYC 2019

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