Myra Golden’s original video on handling angry customers has been watched more than a million times. Now Myra shares her updated tips for dealing with the most demanding customers.
1. Create Calm
The first thing you need to do with demanding and unreasonable customers is create calm. Create calm by using anti-inflammatory words and using words that show the customer that getting to the bottom of the problem is as important to you, as it is to them. Statements like these work well:
“I’m sorry you’ve had such a frustrating experience.”
“This is no more acceptable to us than it is to you.”
“Thanks for taking the time to let us know.”
“We want to get to the bottom of this as much as you do.”
Responses like these show the customer that you’re on their side. Customers won’t refute these statements, and you’ll begin to create calm.
2. Limit Your Responses to Simple Reassurances
Sometimes it’s best to let your customer vent a little. Make them feel heard and understood by occasionally saying something like, “Umm hmmm,” “I see,” or “I can see your point on that.”
After a few seconds of venting, coupled with your concise words of reassurance, your customer feels acknowledged. Then, you can jump in and steer the conversation by saying something like, “Let’s take a look and see what’s going on here.”
3. Take Control by Answering Your Customer’s Questions Before They Ask Them
I learned this strategy from a Vice President of a company I worked with more than twenty years ago. Lead the conversation by immediately telling the person:
Here’s what we know.
Here’s what we’ve done.
Here’s what’s next.
Proactively telling the customer what you know, what’s been done, and explaining what’s next positions you to answer the customer’s questions before they even have the opportunity to ask you anything. This puts you in control.
Here’s an example of how a young man used these three steps on my husband when he had some awful news to deliver. We’d parked our rental car with the valet of a lovely hotel. The next afternoon when my husband picked up the car, he found that the rental had been damaged. It wasn’t bad, but it was a noticeable dent. My husband was pissed. Totally pissed. The young valet employee quickly created calm using the steps.
1. I listened as he told my husband what he knew:
The accident happened in our parking garage at 7:42pm. The driver was in a white Honda Civic, license #… He sped off and left the scene.
2. Then he explained what they’d done:
We’ve filed a claim with our loss-prevention team. We have two eyewitnesses. We have filed a police report with the Austin Police Department.
3. Finally, he explained what was next:
You also need to submit a police report. You need to notify both your insurance company and your rental car company. Your insurance company will go after the driver.
I’ll be honest, my husband was still pissed, but he was calmer, and so the valet was successful in de-escalation. I certainly felt fine, and I was impressed with the young man’s explanation and his confidence.
4. Link the Communication Chain
Psychologists talk about what they call the Communication Chain. The Communication Chain says that when a person puts out a verbal message, they expect a response to that message. That first message is a link in the communication chain. If there’s no response to the link, the chain is left unlinked or broken.
Let’s say that instead of reading this article, you’re a participant in one of my workshops. And let’s say, I start the training off with, “Good morning!”
And let’s say, that when I say good morning, the room is silent. No one speaks a word to me. How do you think I’d feel, if I opened with a high energy greeting, and not one person said a word?
I’d feel awkward. Embarrassed. I’d probably be thinking, this is not going to go well. Whatever I’m thinking, or feeling, it’s negative, right? And my next response would be dictated by the negative feelings in my head. I might not be my best as a trainer, because I’m a little embarrassed, and feeling rejected.
If most of the people in my live audience, in my example, said back to me, Good morning, the chain would have been linked; I wouldn’t have felt rejected, and all would’ve been well.
When the link is broken, people can feel rejected, slighted, or angry. – You don’t want your customer to feel any of these emotions. Avoid negative feelings by linking the communication chain. You connect the chain by acknowledging whatever your customers put out there.
Here are some excellent examples of how to acknowledge concern:
“I realize this whole thing is frustrating for you”…
“I can appreciate that.”
“I know this has been just awful for you.”
“I know you’re anxious to see your credit for this return. I’ll do my best to find out what’s going on with this.”
Linking the communication chain is just a matter of making a genuine acknowledgment of your customer’s concern.
Always link the communication chain with acknowledgment, and your demanding customers will be more likely to calm down and move forward productively.
5. Reframe the Conversation
If you find it difficult to get your customer to stop telling you the story of just how inconvenienced they were, or are, and to stop rambling on about the problem, it’s likely because the customer is stuck in the past.
You’re going to have to reframe the issue in the customer’s mind. That is, you must strategically move your customer out of a past problem to a focus on the present so that you can offer a solution. Your job, in essence, is to get the customer to move on.
Reframing statements are fantastic in getting the customer to move forward. Reframing does two things for you. First, it acknowledges your customer’s biggest concern. You empathize. Secondly, it ushers in the solution phase of problem resolution.
Here are seven reframing statements that recognize customer concern and help customers move on.
“We have a situation that has come about from a past issue. I want to now focus on what we can do to fix this for you.”
“If I were in your shoes, I think I’d feel just as you do. Now, let’s see what we can do to fix this.”
“We want to get to the bottom of this a much as you do.”
“Rest assured; I will do all I can to fix this for you.”
“I certainly understand your concern. Let’s take a look and see what’s going on.”
“This is no more acceptable to us than it is to you. Let’s take a look at what’s going on here.”
“I will do my best to take care of this for you.”
6. Accept Nothing Less Than Absolute Respect
You have to draw the line on unacceptable behavior with customers, just as I hope you do in your interpersonal relationships when people disrespect you. You get the behavior you tolerate. So, don’t tolerate profane language.
Assertive comebacks to rude behavior set you up as confident and unwavering, and they help you get the respect you deserve.
Here are some comebacks for the customer who disrespects you with their language, volume or by cutting you off.
“I’m sorry. It isn’t possible for me to help while listening to that language. It if stops, I can help.” Then you pause and let that sink in. If they repeat the same unacceptable behavior, you may need to disconnect the call.
“I’m trying to help you, but the language is getting in the way.” As with the statement above, pause to let your customer take what you’ve said. Stand your ground. If the behavior continues, move to end the call.
“If a few minutes helps you to calm down before we continue, that would be fine. You can certainly call us back.”
“I’m trying to help you, but if you continue to yell (or swear), I’m going to ask that you call back another time.”
Try out each of these six tactics and see what works best for you when you’re speaking to demanding or angry customers.
About the Author
Through consulting, keynotes, training and blog posts, Myra Golden helps companies design and deliver the best possible customer experience.