Tap any random person on the shoulder and I am willing to bet, dollars to donuts, that they have a terrible, excruciatingly painful story about when they dealt with an irate customer. Angry customers can shatter employee confidence and kill office morale. I have my office right next to my sales floor and I can always hear when one of my poor employees is dealing with a particularly difficult person on the phone. But, thanks to my many eavesdropping sessions and my own experience in customer service, I have found a few time-tested techniques for defusing customer anger and reaching an amicable solution that employers can share with their staff.
1. Don’t talk, listen.
This piece of advice would sound more at home with Dr. Phil, but it really does work. If one of your employees picks up that phone and the person on the other end starts to chew them out, they need to listen without interrupting. They can take notes, they can doodle, they can stare absently at the wall – as long as they are listening, and have a pretty good idea of why the customer is mad (they will), then they don’t have to say a word. When the barrage of anger finally begins to subside, then customer service mode should kick in. But this little step allows them to vent all of their frustration, and helps to calm even the most rage filled people.
2. Take a step back and breathe.
After getting yelled at and going through the typical customer service steps (saying sorry, offering to help, finding out what the problem is and identifying solutions), even the most thick skinned employee will need to step back for a second and collect their thoughts. So let them know it is okay to put the customer on hold for a little bit to get a glass of water or a breath of fresh air. They can’t leave them on the line for five minutes, but a few moments of reprieve are good for everyone involved.
3. Confirm and re-confirm anything agreed on.
Hopefully an amicable solution was eventually reached and the customer’s anger is being replaced by a desire to find an actual solution. While solving the problem that sparked the initial outburst, your employees need to make sure to repeat back to the customer whatever solutions they’ve reached together – confirmation is key. That keeps everyone on the same page, and means this customer won’t be calling back in a couple of days to scream at someone again.
4. Log everything ASAP!
This goes hand in hand with step three – your employees have to have a well-maintained customer service log so everything is traceable, and any dispute can be managed quickly and easily. There are plenty of people in the world that will call day after day, yelling at your employees in the hopes of getting something for free. But, if you do have an updated dispute log, any resolutions agreed upon during previous calls will be easily accessible and will keep the entire office in the loop.
5. Call them, or at least e-mail them, to follow up.
This may seem counterintuitive to any employee who had to spend ten minutes being yelled at, but it is really important that you don’t lose a customer because they think they felt like their opinion had no bearing in how you run your business. Now there is no pleasing some people so don’t be too upset if some customers turn their backs on the business, but most people will be really happy to see a company who cares enough to follow-up to make sure the issue was truly resolved. Plus the few days between the initial call and the follow-up should be enough to cool hot tempers.
The number one rule for employees in customer service is not to take things too personally. Yes, they are representing your business and should be working as hard as they can to make the customer happy, but sometimes they need to be reminded that this is just a job and anger makes even the best of us say silly things. No one wants to deal with an angry customer, but we have to, so a little bit of good humor mixed with patience and the above tips will go a long way.
Just remember to tell your employees how much you appreciate what they are doing for you to help raise morale; otherwise you’ll wind up with an office full of people that flinch every time the phone rings.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation, an online filing services company that specializes in incorporations and LLCs. Find her online at mycorporation.com and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation
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