When is it OK to hang up on a customer?

This seems to be the popular question this week.  My quick answer to the question of, “When is it OK to hang up on a customer?” is NEVER! I know that this may go against what you have been told by your supervisors, but as always, I am focused on doing the right thing for the right reason in order to get the right results.  So let’s take a look at what “right” results can occur when a customer gets angry at you and you declare, “Sir, if you continue to speak to me like that,  I will have no choice but to disconnect the call”.  Can anything good come out of that situation? Will that make the customer calm down? Will you feel better about yourself?  I don’t think anything good can come out of disconnecting a call because  a customer is upset.

So let’s take a look at what we SHOULD be doing instead…   And let’s start back at the beginning of the process…

  1. Do not take  a job dealing with customers if you do not like the challenge of handling and diffusing difficult situations.  It doesn’t matter if you are a waiter, a store clerk, an airline attendant, a hotel manager, or a customer service rep in a call center, you will at some point in time need to deal with a situation in which the customer is not happy.  If you are not up for that challenge and are not willing to learn how to communicate effectively so that you are not pushed to the point of wanting to hang up on or walk away from a customer, then please find another job that you are going to be more happy doing.
  2. Set the stage for feeling successful.  If you are in the mindset of “beating” your customer and winning an argument, you are only going to add fuel to the fire.  But if you go into a challenging situation seeking to understand the customer’s situation and determined to calm the situation, you will be in the right mind set to set yourself, your customers and your company up for success. Remember that there are no difficult customers- there are only difficult situations that occur between you and your customers.
  3. Be sure to find out exactly what it is that is making the customer frustrated.  Is he mad because he was told he was going to get a call back and he didn’t? Is he upset because he has had to call three times and he keeps getting different information? Is he frustrated because you and your peers are just not giving him options and just keep telling him what you can’t do instead of what you can do? Does he feel disrespected? Does he feel treated unfairly?  Sometimes we tend to make assumptions and assume, “He’s just angry because he can’t get his money back”.  I caution you from making assumptions about what is REALLY making your customer mad.  Remember that his perceptions are his reality and the first step to calming him down is to understand his reality and ask the right questions to fully understand what he is not happy about.
  4. Do not patronize the customer or his issues by saying things like, “You think you have it bad, you should have been here an hour ago”, “I can’t understand why you are this upset”, “I know you think you are right, but you are not”, “You caused this problem in the first place by not paying your bill”, “If you had taken our advise when you called last month, you wouldn’t be in this situation”,  “I just can’t help you” or “There is just nothing I can do”. By making these statements, you will only be adding fuel to the fire.
  5. Look for ways to compromise with your customers or search for ways to educate them about the situation.  Use phrases like, “I really want to help you”, “I can hear how frustrated you are and I want to do something about that” or “I just want us to find a way to work this out”. Look for ways to get on the same side of the problem with your customers.  Making your customers even more mad is not going to be good for your relationship in the long term.  You want to preserve your relationships with your customers and show them that you value their business and the relationship.  Search for empathy statements or questions or options that will convey your desire to work with the customer and show the customer your loyalty to them.
  6. Recognize that we all say things that we don’t mean.  Customers sometimes use profanity, make racial or sexual slurs or just say hateful things.  When we are angry or hurt, we sometimes lash out in ways that are just downright ugly.  Recognize that the customer is letting off steam and is saying things that he/she may regret later.  While it is important that we do not take everything that someone else says personally, it is important to introspect about situations.  Is there something that you could do differently that would not have added to an already escalated situation?  Spend time looking into your heart and identify the part that you played in the situation.
  7. Put yourself to the challenge every day.  Keep track of how many customers came to you angry and left feeling better.  Pat yourself on the back for that accomplishment!  YOU DID IT!  Your contributed to someone feeling better about themselves and a situation.  Challenge yourself to see if you can make even more people satisfied tomorrow.

While I recognize that your company policy may say that you don’t have to take abuse from customers and that you can hang up on them, step back and put yourself in that customer’s shoes… Would YOU want to be hung up on?  Life is not easy sometimes; let’s see how we can help to make it easier for others rather than harder.  Step up to the plate and identify behaviors that you can do differently that will make a bad situation better.

What is your company’s policy about handling challenging customer situations?  What is your personal policy?  What can we do differently today to make someone’s day easier rather than harder?

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3 Responses to When is it OK to hang up on a customer?

  1. kimberly July 20, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    Dear Nichole,
    Thanks for your comment. I received several comments on this post- some were in agreement with my position and several opposed it. Look for a response on how to handle comments from your front line employees. This is obviously a hot topic for many. I’m looking forward to a lively dialogue on this subject!

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