How to handle an angry customer

I do not make a lot of money; no, that sounds wrong – let me rephrase it. I hardly make any money at all! As a staunch member of Zimbabwe’s Great Unemployed, the so-called entrepreneurs,  the “informal economy”, disposable income is so rare to come by that I get offended when it is wasted.

I became extremely angry the other day, after losing certain services for some reason or other. Having sent a complaint on Twitter (if you’re a regular reader, you’ll recognise that I follow my own advice), an innocent Customer Service Agent was assigned the unenviable task of telephoning me. Unfortunately for her, I was in no mood for niceties.

The brief conversation ended with her asking me to refrain from swearing, and me telling her that language was not the issue at hand, and hanging up the phone. Having dealt with many angry customers myself over the years, I have learnt to focus on the nature of the client’s complaint, and ignore whatever expletives may be plastered in amongst the pertinent information.

Handling angry customers can be one of the most challenging aspects of a job. Whether they confront you face-to-face, or you speak with them over the phone, chances are you’re going to be met with frustration, aggressive anger, and little patience. The key to successfully managing someone like me is to remain calm. Here are a few tips;

Remain calm and adjust your mindset. No one likes to get confronted by a yelling, heated person in a public space or on the phone. However, your job in this situation is to stay cool and collected. While you may have the urge to yell right back at them, fight the urge! Yelling and getting angry will only escalate the situation. Instead, put on your best customer service attitude and buckle down – it’s time to get to work.

Never use sarcasm or obviously faked politeness. Behaving in such a way will only fuel the customer’s rage and will make the situation a whole lot worse.

Listen actively to what the customer is saying. An angry, swearing customer generally just wants someone to vent their anger to and today, you are that person. That means that you need to do your best to listen carefully to what they are saying. Give the customer your undivided attention – do not look around, space out or let other things distract you. Look at the speaker and really listen to what they are saying.

When you listen to them, listen for the answers to these questions: What happened to make them upset? What do they want? What can you do to help?

Separate your feelings from the situation. If someone is particularly angry, he or she may say something (or several things) that are really rude. Keep in mind that you should not take it personally – he or she is upset with the business, the product, or the service they have been provided with – they are not upset with you as a person. You will have to set your personal feelings aside.

Try not to take their complaint personally – even if it’s about your own job performance. If you feel yourself become emotionally involved in the issue, it is best to step aside and let another employee handle the situation.

Put yourself in their shoes. Think about how you would want a problem handled if you had a complaint. Then, treat your angry customer as you would want to be treated. A customer complaint can be a vehicle for customer retention. If you handle the customer appropriately and apologize effectively you can turn a negative into a positive.

One technique to help you not take things personally is to remind yourself that while customer opinions are “important”, they pale in comparison to those of your family and friends. Remind yourself that you don’t want to allow a stranger to ruin your day, or an hour, or even a minute of your life.

If you simply cannot give the customer what they want, give them something for free (you may need a manager’s approval) to make up for it.

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