How to Effectively Handle Angry Customers on the Phone
At some point, most people will have a purchasing experience they’re unhappy with, whether it’s due to an error on the company’s part or dissatisfaction with the quality of the product or service. This typically results in the consumer having to call customer service to get a refund, replacement or some other solution to rectify the situation.
Some of these calls will go very smoothly — the caller is calm, understanding and simply wants what’s right. Other times, consumers will be irritated from the moment they start dialing, already frustrated that they have to make the call in the first place. Customer service agents spend a lot of their days dealing with difficult customers, which is why most of their training focuses on learning how to deal with rude customers. Although every caller is different and will have their own unique complaints and situational factors, the steps and tips to follow for dealing with angry customers remain the same.
The Golden Rule of Customer Service: Practice Empathy
The number one way to satisfy the angry customer on the other end of the phone is to empathize with them. Just like them, you’ve probably experienced what it feels like for a company to let you down, for whatever reason. It’s very frustrating to spend your money on a product or service, only to be let down. What makes it even more frustrating is when the customer service agent — the person who’s supposed to be there to assist consumers and address all their concerns — is either unhelpful, difficult to reach or unempathetic toward their situation. For this reason, practicing empathy is the most important thing to remember when dealing with angry customer service callers.
The first way to show callers you empathize with them is to show you care about understanding their complaint in its entirety. Ask questions to clarify you fully understand why the caller is upset, and repeat their main complaints back to them so they know you’re listening actively and intently. Be sure you’ve heard their entire story before offering solutions, as the appropriate course of action may change depending on certain situational factors. The last thing you want to do is offer an angry customer a solution that doesn’t address their entire complaint, as multiple disappointments and frustrations in a row could quickly cause your company to lose a customer for good.
Once you’ve heard your caller’s full story, the next step to practicing empathy is to apologize to the customer for the inconvenience — even if the issue is not actually the company’s fault. By saying something like, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this right now,” you’re acknowledging the fact that this person did not want to spend their day on the phone resolving these problems. Time is precious, and when one of your customers has to give up some of their time to resolve issues they encountered when doing business with your company, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. They’re frustrated and stressed, and it’s because of their decision to work with you.
Luckily, angry callers don’t have to stay angry forever. Their call to customer service is your opportunity to make or break the impression of your company they walk away with. Was the customer service agent empathetic and helpful, or were they dull and uninterested in resolving the problem? Showing empathy toward a caller’s situation will significantly enhance their experience and make it easier to satisfy them despite the severity of the issue.
How to Recognize an Angry Customer
Sometimes when you answer a customer service call, you can instantly tell if the person on the other end of the line is angry. Other times, they may become more irritated as the conversation goes on, whether they’re frustrated by talking about and explaining the situation or annoyed at the length of the call. While not all callers will be extremely angry, it’s safe to assume that every person who calls is at least slightly irritated. Rarely will you get a call from someone thanking your company for its great service — though wouldn’t that be a nice twist?
Instead, you’ll be dealing with frustrated customers of varying degrees. Some will be slightly annoyed and just looking for a refund, apology or another simple solution, and others will be absolutely livid with specific demands for how your company should rectify the situation. The trick is figuring out as early on in the call as possible the level of the customer’s frustration.
Some signs of an irate customer include if they are:
- Raising their voice: Angry callers will make themselves known by raising their voice, whether they’re yelling or simply speaking at a slightly louder volume than normal.
- Talking quickly: When someone is stressed or frustrated, they might talk at a faster rate than someone who is calm. If a caller is ever talking too quickly for you to understand what they’re saying, ask in a calm voice if they could speak slower so you can fully understand their situation and offer the best possible solution.
- Using inappropriate language: A definite sign that someone is more frustrated than the average caller is if they’re using inappropriate language. Hopefully, your company has a policy that foul language on customer service calls will not be tolerated, so the agent can pass this information on to any disrespectful callers. If the swearing continues after a few warnings, the agent should have an option to either end the call or pass it up the chain to a manager or another person in a position of command.
- Interrupting you: Customers who are very annoyed may be too frustrated to listen to a customer service agent work through a script or explain to the caller how they plan to solve the problem. They may interrupt by continuing to vent about the situation and how it impacted them, or by asking questions like how much longer the call will take. Be sure to let the person continue to talk as much as possible, but be prepared to jump in after a few instances to keep the call moving.
- Being sarcastic or passive-aggressive: Some callers may start off the conversation with a sarcastic, annoyed tone that may be difficult to pick up at first, but will become more noticeable as the call continues. You can notice these customers if they are muffling their speech, taking long pauses before talking or doing other things that affect their enunciation. The best way to deal with sarcastic callers is to be as direct as possible and use a calm tone of voice. If the sarcasm continues, gently remind the customer that they’re only prolonging the call by making unnecessary remarks.
Steps to Soothing an Upset Customer
Once you have identified your caller is more frustrated than most, you will need to be especially careful as you proceed with the call. Follow these six steps to satisfy an angry customer on the phone.
1. Listen Closely to Their Complaints
The worst thing you can do as a customer service agent is either confuse or fail to hear what the caller is saying and force them to repeat themselves by explaining their complaint again. Angry callers want to know the person on the other end of the line is actually listening to them, not just zoning out as they explain the issue they’re having.
2. Stay Calm and Collected
As a customer service agent, it’s your job to stay calm so you can keep the caller calm. Use positive language as much as possible, and don’t hesitate to ask especially irate and disrespectful customers — such as callers who are raising their voices, threatening the agent or company or using foul language — to either collect themselves or call back after they have done so. You could even explain that their negative language and comments are only prolonging the process of you solving their problem.
3. Apologize for the Inconvenience
Whether your company is at fault or not, apologizing to an irate caller for the inconvenience they’re experiencing may help to calm them down. When people have to call a company to resolve an actual issue — not just complain vaguely — they want to know the business realizes they didn’t want to be spending their time on the phone with customer service, and this phone call was not optional or by choice. They have an actual problem they now have to spend part of their day resolving, and it may cause them to have to rearrange their schedule or cancel important plans or meetings. Simply saying, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this today” does not mean you’re taking the blame — it’s just a way to empathize with the caller and legitimize their feelings of frustration.
4. Repeat Their Main Points
To show an angry customer you were actively listening as they explained the situation, repeat their main complaints and points back to them. Be sure to summarize what they’ve said into itemized issues if they each require a separate solution or action on your part.
5. Explain the Solution You Can Provide
The next step is to explain in as much detail as possible the solutions you can provide. Tell the customer the steps you will take to rectify the situation, as well as the outcome they will receive at the end of the call. If there are multiple options for solutions to one problem, be sure to explain each choice to the caller and let them decide, offering assistance in their decision as they need. Remember to get a verbal agreement from the caller before taking any action to ensure they will be satisfied with the solutions you provide.
6. Ask If You Can Help With Anything Else
After you have resolved the caller’s main pain points and confirmed they are completely satisfied with the outcome of each item, ask them if there is anything else you can do for them. If you haven’t already discussed it, you can also ask if they would like to provide any specific feedback that you can send up the chain of command. Following up with the caller one last time to make sure they’re happy shows you care about their overall opinion of the company and don’t want to just move on to the next caller as soon as possible.
Phrases to Use When Dealing With an Irate Customer
When a customer is particularly frustrated, the language you use will determine whether they become more or less angry as the call continues. Here are four examples of key phrases you can use when dealing with an angry customer on the phone to keep the conversation under control.
1. “We really do appreciate this feedback.”
Some customers will have completely legitimate complaints or comments that your company can resolve and take note of. These callers want to be recognized and thanked for the time they took to make the call — especially if they are not requesting any sort of reimbursement or reward for their feedback.
2. “Thank you for your patience and understanding.”
If your company has made an error that is causing a customer to have to call you, the caller will want to know you appreciate their willingness to wait patiently as you resolve the issue. It’s very easy for people to get frustrated when dealing with a company’s mistakes, so be sure to express you are grateful when callers treat you with respect — especially when they are actually nice to talk to!
3. “I understand your concern, but I cannot tolerate the kind of language you are using right now.”
This is an example of how you may handle a caller who is using foul language and being abusive. After the first warning, you may move on to suggesting you continue the conversation via email or chat or asking the customer to call back once they are calmer. If they still don’t stop, inform the caller that if they continue to use foul language, you will be forced to end the call.
4. “I am actioning this for you right away.”
Letting a customer know you’re already working on resolving their issue will help them stay patient as you work on the solution. Be as specific as possible when you tell callers what you’re doing right now to fix the problem — they want to know you’re actively working on the issue at hand rather than trying to teach yourself the solution as they wait on the other end of the line. Give the caller as much of a play-by-play as you can.
In addition to these four phrases, remember to use the following keywords throughout your conversation, too:
- Yes: Be as positive as possible during your conversations with angry customers. One tip is to say “yes” and repeat what they have said, as it legitimizes their complaints and lets them know you understand and are listening.
- I: Use the first person “I” instead of “we” when you talk about what you’re going to do to fix the problem. It humanizes you to talk about what you specifically are going to do to fix the problem rather than a general reference to your company. For example, say, “I’m going to reset your account password,” not, “We’re going to reset your account password.”
- Affirmations: Affirmative words like “definitely,” “absolutely” and “certainly” help to assure the customer they will be 100% satisfied at the end of the call.
- Feedback: If a caller tends to rant or ramble but is still respectful, thank them for their feedback so they don’t feel like their words went unheard and won’t make an impact. Assure them you will pass along their comments to decision-makers at the company. They want to know they didn’t waste their time and breath by expressing their frustrations.
Use Caution When Apologizing to Angry Callers
Earlier in the post, we discussed apologizing to angry callers for the inconvenience they’re experiencing. While it’s perfectly acceptable to apologize to a customer service caller, you should also use caution when doing so — and especially with particularly irate customers. Giving an apology when it’s not necessary or deserved can lessen the impact of a company’s true apologies. It can also cause both the company and the customer service agent to come across to the caller as insecure and having a lack of confidence. Apologies should always be practical and specific. This way, they carry more weight and actually mean something to the customer when they hear it.
Similarly, customer service representatives should never tell a caller they understand how they are feeling. To the customer, the person on the other end of the phone simply does not understand this specific situation from a personal standpoint. While you can and should always practice empathy during your calls as we discussed earlier in the article, you can do so without using the specific phrase, “I know/understand how you’re feeling.”
Instead, tell the caller that you understand their issue and are going to help them resolve it as quickly as possible. Tell them you’re grateful they reached out about this problem. Thank them for remaining patient and calm as you work on providing them with a solution. Assure them you are currently taking action to rectify the situation. These are the things callers want to hear. They don’t want you to relate to them or compete with their frustration by saying you’ve also felt this way before — because, quite frankly, they don’t care. All they really want is to reach a solution and get off the phone and back to their lives as quickly as possible.
Go the Extra Mile to Please Irate Customers
Angry customers expect more than a solution — they want to see the company they’re dealing with go the extra mile to continue to earn their business. They want to see that the company values their business and will do anything possible to make sure they come back again despite this particular experience. Some examples of going the extra mile to satisfy angry customers include:
- Briefly reviewing what was discussed to ensure all issues were addressed
- Offering them a free gift or a discount on their next purchase for their time
- Suggesting tips to avoid similar future issues — without placing blame on them
- Anticipating future questions or needs
- Complimenting them or telling a joke to lighten the mood
- Sending a follow-up email or gift after the call
No matter how you choose to go the extra mile, be sure to leave a lasting impression by asking the customer if there’s anything else you can help them with at the end of every call. This tells the caller you’re willing to address any and all of their concerns in one phone call to save them time and stress. It also sends them one last reminder that your company genuinely cares about its customers and their happiness.
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