It’s inevitable when you work in customer service you will have to deal with a fair share of angry customers. This doesn’t just go for the usual customer service jobs, like retail. Any type of job that includes dealing with clients and customers means dealing with frustrated people will happen. So is this the reason that customer service is dead?
It’s not a pleasant part of many jobs, and it often seems like the only thing you can do is take a verbal beating. Plus, incivility in American society and angry customers have been getting worse in the past few years. The relentless stress in American life from things like the pandemic and polarized politics means many people are taking out frustrations on customer service reps of all stripes.
While it can seem hopeless at times, it’s really not. There are plenty of ways for customer service reps to dial down the intensity, maintain a healthy mood, and use conflict resolution to deal with angry customers.
Make a Connection
It’s often easy to refer to an angry customer as “sir” or “ma’am.” It’s much more formal, and it’s probably the default mode in customer service. But using the person’s first name in a conversation has the surprising effect of ratcheting down the tension and making a more personal connection.
Saying, “I’m sorry this happened, sir,” sounds much less sincere than saying something like, “I’m really sorry about this, Terry.” When you continually use the person’s name in the conversation, it puts a face on the customer instead of the faceless rage of a random “sir” or “ma’am.”
We spoke to small business owner, Phil Gold, Ph.D., and according to the Founder and CEO of Empire Resume, for the most part, customers respond well when you use their first name like this.
Executives at mental health-friendly companies often give this advice, telling customer service reps to “Smile when they talk.” It sounds like horrible advice and inane corporate-speak, but you’d be surprised how effective the trick is.
Mental health experts say the simple act of smiling can sometimes change your mood when you’re sad or depressed. And there’s the other cliché out there, too, about “fake it till you make it.” This can come off like toxic positivity sometimes, but the power of a smile shouldn’t be underestimated.
Keeping a calm, pleasant demeanor is essential when dealing with angry customers, and smiling when you talk is one way to do this. When you smile and keep your facial expression loose, your tone of voice is more friendly. And the more friendly you sound, the less a chance the customer will get angrier.
Know Your Audience
This tip is similar to making a connection by using someone’s first name. And it’s also a trick that salespeople use a lot. The trick is to know your audience and make a personal connection with them based on their perceived preferences and personalities.
For example, if dealing with a customer who seems like a tough, blue-collar guy from New York, you’ll want to be straight to the point. That’s probably what they prefer. On the other hand, someone else may want to exchange pleasantries first or chat your ear off, so oblige them and let them do it.
The idea is to mirror the customer so they feel like they’re understood and that you’re genuinely listening to them. They’ll become less angry during the conversation if they feel like they’re making a connection with you.
Let Them Vent
This advice is perhaps the hardest one, but it’s also essential. Sometimes angry customers just need to vent. And sometimes, their anger may be about something totally unrelated to the problem you’re discussing.
If you can maintain compassion and empathy, you may discover the angry customer is dealing with a personal problem or stress and, unfortunately, is taking it out on you. It’s unfortunate that you’ve become the target of the rage, but sometimes the best thing you can do is let them vent.
This is easier if you’re dealing with someone on the phone than in person. But either way, try not to take it personally. Instead, don’t interrupt, only interjecting so often with comments like, “That must be really hard, I’m sorry,” and “I’m really sorry this happened.” It feels unfair to take a beating like this, but you may have defused the anger once they’re done venting.
Stay Calm and Carry On
Workers in many different industries have to deal with irate customers, including retail, hospitality, health care, and sales. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say we’ll all have to deal with the situation at some point in our careers.
Dealing with angry customers is challenging, but there are ways to do it to yield positive results for all parties involved. Staying calm, rational, and positive and using conflict resolution skills can defuse many intense situations.
The next time you deal with an upset customer, remember these tips. Also, remember that practice makes perfect, and we’re all human. We’re all bound to lose our cool and make mistakes, but the more you approach angry customers with calmness and empathy, the better off everyone will be.