What do you mean I can’t walk away from an irate customer?

I posted last week on the topic of not hanging up on customers who are irate (Is it ever OK to hang up on a customer?) and I received quite a few comments on that post.  Some of you adamantly agreed with my position and others were just as adamantly opposed to that position.  Those who were opposed to the position that it is NEVER OK to hang up on a customer provided the feedback that we should be putting our employees first and it is bad for employee morale to make employees listen to a customer who is swearing at them.  Excellent point!  I am all about having high employee morale!!  So I’d like to take a minute today to provide more details on how we can achieve both goals- high employee morale as well as high customer satisfaction.

  1. Let’s first focus on changing our mindset.  If we saw an animal in the road who was wounded, would we go up to that animal and kick him in order to hurt him even more?  Of course not!  So if we look at this irate customer in the same way that we would look at a wounded or hurting animal, would we continue to kick them when they are at their lowest point?  I would like to think that the answer is NO. The problem is not solved by kicking someone when they are down.  So instead of thinking of an angry customer as one who is out to get us and doesn’t deserve our time, let’s look at this customer as one who is hurt and needs our time and attention to repair the wound.
  2. Let down your walls and focus on getting on the same side of the problem. Human beings have natural flight or fight instincts.  When someone attacks us, out of protection, we almost instinctively react.  So we either retreat and try to hide from the threat or we lash out in an attempt to get the other person to back down.  With a truly serving heart, we need to learn a new tactic and way of thinking.  Instead of fighting or flighting, we need to adapt the instinct of honoring.  When we think of honor, we think of respecting our values and upholding something with high regard.  It is important to consider that when we are communicating with someone who is angry, hostile or acting inappropriately with us, we should value ourselves as much as we value them.  By honoring our values we commit to being honest, sincere, compassionate and willing to serve the needs of the relationship.  I will honor this person as much as I honor myself regardless of how this person is treating me. With this thought process we will feel better about ourselves when the communication exchange is over.  Pat yourself on the back when you are able to successfully turn a customer around.
  3. Let go without giving up.While it is certainly important that we adapt the mindset that we are not going to take anything this person says as a personal attack against us, we also need to ensure that we are disengaging from the conversation as this could actually make the person angrier.  I know how much you just want to retreat into a safe corner and remove yourself from this customer, but it is critical that you stay actively engaged in the conversation by providing genuine acknowledgements, asking questions, offering options and keeping your tone calm but not monotone as if you do not care.
  4. Do not add fuel to the fire.  When a customer is already angry, we need to be especially sensitive to our word choices and tone of voice.  Instead of saying, “I won’t be able to do that”, be sure to phrase your statements in terms of what you CAN do.  Instead of saying, “We won’t be able to get your power on until this evening”, say it this way; “We will be able to restore your power before our technicians go home for the day”.  The impact of a positive spin is amazing!
  5. Genuinely seek to put yourself in the customer’s shoes.Our acknowledging statements must not be pat or robotic statements such as, “I’m so sorry to hear that”, but must be genuine attempts to put on the shoes of our customers.  Here are some examples:
    • “I would be frustrated too if this happened to me!”
    • “I hear exactly how angry this situation is making you. My goal is to get to the bottom of this issue with you.”
    • “I know that this would be really hard for me if I were in your shoes.  Let’s both work to find a solution so that this does not happen again.”
    • “I know you think that we don’t care and I can see how you would feel that way.  I’d like to show you that I really do care about this problem and my goal is to ensure that we both understand the whole situation and what our options are.”
  6. Read the customer’s emotions.  There is no magic solution to making every customer calm down so we need to intently focus on what the customer is saying and how they are saying it.  Are they starting to sound relieved?  Do they sound like they are calming down using a softer volume?  Did they stop using profanity? Did they actually apologize for their words? While you are not looking for an apology, your goal is to get on the same side of the problem with the customer and to demonstrate your care and concern.
  7. Share your success stories with others.  Communicating effectively with someone who is angry or extremely upset is not easy and it takes certain behaviors to accomplish your goal of calming down the customer and continuing to honor the relationship.  If you are successful (or even if you are not successful) share those situations with your team members.  Not because you want to rehash uncomfortable situations, but because you want to help others learn and grow.  Remember that an unhappy customer of one of your co-workers is going to come to you eventually so the more that ALL of us learn to diffuse unhappy situations, the better we all will be.
  8. Take a deep breath and remember your goals.  At some point in our customer service careers, we are going to have to deal with someone who is screaming, cursing, and flying off the handle.  This is your opportunity to really show how great your customer service skills are.  ANYONE can handle a customer who is happy- but it takes a special kind of person to connect with and calm down an irate customer.  Are you that special kind of person?

What can I do differently to be more effective at handling angry situations?  How will changing my behaviors make me feel better about myself?

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