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It’s one of those unfortunate, inevitable facts of life: every company and every employee will at some point have to deal with an angry customer.
Whether their anger is warranted because of a bad situation, or whether the customer is just plain difficult, doesn’t matter. These days, companies must respond to and deal with angry customers. If they don’t, they risk those customers becoming brand detractors, using social media to spread the word, starting boycotts or writing negative reviews.
Every employee should be trained how to deal with angry customers. Employees need to know that even if they are being insulted to their faces, they still need to make a genuine effort to regain that customer’s goodwill. Here are some steps that may help turn an angry customer into a loyal one (or at least, not a detractor):
1. Acknowledge the Anger. Anger trumps logic. Sometimes, presenting a customer with the facts isn’t enough. Anger is a powerful emotion that stems from the fact the customer felt something very negative. It’s up to you to find out what the root cause of their anger is, and it may have little to do with the alleged incident or accusation. Is the customer really angry because they were overcharged, or did they feel like their complaint was ignored? Or were they shuffled around to three different people—or have to deal with a complicated voice mail system in order to register their complaint? The initial “issue” often isn’t the real issue, it’s how the company responds to the initial issue that can escalate a customer’s emotions into anger. Don’t try to rationalize what happened; instead, just acknowledge that they have a right to be angry.
2) Diffuse the Anger. The next step in dealing with an angry customer is to diffuse their anger. This is easier said than done. Sometimes, people need time to vent. That’s fine. Be patient while they do so. The key to making this happen is to listen to emotion without getting emotional. Don’t start flinging angry comments back. Be patient, speak softly and in a steady tone, and state back to the customer what you believe their problems and concerns are.
3) Own the problem. It doesn’t matter if you created the problem or not. An angry customer doesn’t want to hear it wasn’t your fault or that you’re just the messenger and there’s nothing you can do about it. Employees should be trained that an angry customer is a top priority and should be taken care of. Even if they truly don’t have the power to fix the issue, they should take charge by taking the issue to the managers that do have the power. However, that’s no excuse for handing the customer and their problem over and forgetting about it. Owning the problem means making sure the issue is being taken care of, no matter who else is handling it.
4) Resolve the Issue. Once the issue is resolved, inform the customer that this specific problem is resolved and is not expected to reoccur. Demonstrate your confidence by reiterating the customer’s original concerns and actions that you took to correct the issue. If more than one customer gets angry about an issue, there may be some long-term changes within your organization that need to take place. If you identify a problem with another employee, or with some policies in the workplace, then take your concerns to your manager with the complaints and some suggestions for necessary changes.
5) Follow Up After a few days and then again after a few weeks, follow up with the customer to inquire whether the corrective action was effective. A phone call or personalized e-mail demonstrates compassion and attentiveness, and sends a powerful message that your company cares about their individual customers. This type of follow-up may be enough to turn a now-neutral customer into a loyal customer, and may even earn you a few new customers!
Do you have any additional tips for handling angry customers? What steps do you think are the most challenging or difficult for employees to learn? Can you share examples of how you have turned an angry customer into a loyal customer?