How to Deal with Irate Customers

Dealing with irate customers is one of the most pressure-packed experiences you will encounter at work. Here are some ways to handle the most difficult clients.

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Facing off with a screaming, unreasonable, irrational customer represents the ultimate test of any employee’s service skills. It can take you to your breaking point if you’re not careful.

Staying grounded and above the fray requires you to find inner strength, and persevere beyond the initial difficulties.

Dealing with irate customers is one of the most pressure-packed experiences you will ever encounter on any job. During every confrontation it is important to remember:

  • Every customer is a different person with a unique set of circumstances and personality traits.
  • Irate customer encounters can emerge out of nowhere—the key is to be ready.
  • You represent an opportunity to set things right.
  • Compassion is essential.
  • Despite your best efforts, sometimes there is nothing that can save a situation.

Ditch the “I’m sorry” script

Sorry, just doesn’t cut it sometimes. Saying “”I’m Sorry” is so overused it sounds insincere. Be specific by saying “I apologize for this issue…” Make sure your apology directly makes reference to the actual issue, and ALWAYS try to use the customer’s name when addressing them. It adds a personal connection to them.

Get in the customer’s side of the counter

Visualize for a moment an upset customer walking in your door and approaching you. The first thing an angry customer does is attack you. It’s very important to remember that you are not personally being attacked but are listening to someone who is in an attacking mode.

Partner with your customer. Let the customer know that your job is to go to bat for them. This tells them that you are their emissary and you want to resolve it together.

The 4 C’s of handling irate and difficult customers

It’s all about:

Compassion – Listen carefully and react to their words, not just their behavior. Examine the facts.

Calm – Remain calm and don’t lose your cool.

Confidence – Handle the situation knowing you are following company guidelines—and serve the customer.

Competence – Save the customer with your competent handling of the situation so he or she continues to be a customer.

Regardless of how a problem is solved, getting it done NOW is the best way to stop the venting and to bring an irate customer around. You need to show your customer that, as an employee and as the face of your organization you are invested in solving the problem.

6 Steps to handle irate customers

1. Listen carefully and with interest.

2. Put yourself in your customer’s place.

3. Ask questions and actively listen to the answers.

4. Suggest alternatives that address their concerns.

5. Apologize without laying blame.

6. Solve the problem quickly and efficiently.

Remember, it costs at least five times as much to gain a new customer than keep an existing one. With social media it’s even more costly. The average number of friends on Facebook is 130 and keeping a complaining customer from sharing his bad experience should be your top priority. At these cost ratios you can afford to be generous in your time and effort.

Take Care of Yourself

Dealing with irate customers will drain you physically and emotionally and put your skills to the test. You must find ways to take care of yourself. As part of your “recovery time” allow yourself to relax, recharge and assess your role. Recovery separates you from the situation and gives you a chance to breathe.

Learn from every complaint

Do something! Fix the process; train staff in the issue; eliminate the fault. Wherever possible let the complaining customers know that they have helped you resolve a problem – they’ll feel great and come back again and again (and will probably tell their friends!).

About the Author

John Tschohl, the internationally recognized service strategist, is founder and president of Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a “customer service guru,” and has written several books on customer service.

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