As part of customer service training, you may have been told that “the customer is always right”, however, this isn’t necessarily true. The moment that a customer becomes angry, rude or abusive, they have crossed the line.
In my customer service training sessions, delegates often share experiences where they have faced difficult customers. The customer’s language or behaviour has become unacceptable, but they haven’t known how to respond. They feel victimised by the aggression, which is very upsetting.
This article outlines how to deal with difficult customers in a professional manner.
Your Rights as an Employee
As a human being, you have the right to feel safe and respected in any situation and this includes at work. There may be many reasons which have led the customer to become so emotionally charged, but at that moment in time, their behaviour or language isn’t acceptable.
It is also important to note that, when they are in this frame of mind, it is unlikely you will be able to bring the issue to a satisfactory resolution.
Your biggest challenge is to remain calm. Remember that this anger is unlikely to be personally directed at you. A number of incidents have usually occurred to make them so unhappy and unfortunately, you are at the receiving end. If you can retain some emotional distance, it will make it easier to remain professional in your response.
Making the Customer Aware
Often angry customers are so caught up in their emotions, they aren’t aware that they are shouting or swearing. Your first step is to state the facts: “Mr Smith, I am happy to help you, but do you realise you are shouting at me?”
When made aware, the majority of people will back down a little and hopefully apologise. With the situation calmed, you will be in a stronger position to gather information and move things forward.
The Next Steps when a Customer Continues to Cross the Line
Your initial statement may not have the desired effect. If the customer continues to cross the line you have to be assertive. In a calm voice say “I am asking you to please stop shouting”. If your request is ignored, follow this with “If you continue to shout, I will have no option but to stop the conversation”.
An angry person isn’t thinking clearly. For this reason, you need to repeat “If you continue to shout, I will have no option but to stop the conversation”. Follow this with “Please come back/ call back when you are ready to talk this through calmly” and leave it there. If you walk away or hang up without clearly stating the process several times, it will aggravate an already volatile situation.
Having Ended the Customer Conversation
After such an interaction, you may feel quite upset or defensive. Take a few deep breaths to help reset your emotions. Before you move on, it is important to take a few notes. Jot down the customer’s name and the key points that were raised. This will help you to be prepared if they return or call again, and it will also save them starting the entire conversation over.
If possible, inform your line manager that you have ended a conversation with an upset customer. Provide details of the customer to your manager, outlining as much information as possible. This provides them with an understanding of the situation should the customer make a complaint about the service they have received.
As an employee, you have a responsibility to deal with any customer interaction in a professional manner. This doesn’t mean that you have to endure unacceptable behaviour. If you are calm and clear in your communication, you have the right to end a conversation with a difficult customer.
My Handling Upset Customers Training explores the challenges of dealing with customers in a range of emotional states. Let me provide your team with the strategies to turn a tough conversation into a positive resolution. For further details, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.