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How to Talk to Angry Customers Without Losing Business

The way your business handles bad customer experiences will impact your long-term retention and, ultimately, your bottom line.

Studies show that it takes 12 positive experiences to make up for a single bad one and that 82% of customers will leave a company if that bad experience is left unresolved.

Good customer service practices can combat this problem, of course. The more you do to decrease time delays, respond to issues quickly, and remain professional will help to minimize any mistakes that inevitably occur along the way.

But at some point every business will have to deal with irate customers. It may be a matter of a field tech arriving late, or a miscommunication about an invoice, or any number of issues that can pop up in service-related interactions.

Sometimes it will be the company’s fault and sometimes not, but the success of the interaction – whether or not it ends up being a good or bad experience for everyone involved – will depend entirely on how your staff handles the situation.

To ensure that angry customers don’t derail your otherwise excellent customer service, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Assume the Customer is Right

Not every situation gone awry will be your fault, so it may be easy to put the blame back on the customer when they lob insults your way. Generally speaking, people get upset about things for a reason, even if those reasons don’t make sense to you.

That’s why it’s important to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Whatever’s gone wrong might be the result of something they did, something you did but they didn’t understand, or something that was neither of your faults. But either way, the end result is unhappiness for all parties involved.

When an angry customer calls into the office or confronts a field tech, for instance, don’t automatically assign judgment; give them the benefit of the doubt. They may have a past experience influencing their emotional state, or the issue may just be occurring at an inconvenient time and they’re otherwise a calm and collected person.

Remember that it’s the customer first, problem second. Assume that they’re angry for a good reason and remember that ultimately their relationship with your business is more important than the issue itself.

Keep Personal Emotions Under Control

Anger often begets anger, and sometimes staff members are having just as bad of a time as the customer. It can be difficult to keep personal emotions in check when confronted with strong emotion from another person, especially when that emotion is anger.

According to Psychology Today, the best thing you can do is simply listen and not try to argue back. If they’re already upset, whatever you say will be viewed as hostile even if that’s not your intention, so it’s essential to listen first and ask questions instead of presenting your side of the argument.

Taking a breath, speaking in a slow and even tone of voice, and even checking in with your own emotions before speaking can also help alleviate the tension. Starting a loud verbal battle with a customer will only create a bad experience for everyone.

Speak softly but firmly and try your best to remove anger or frustrations from your own tone of voice.

Clarify What You’re Hearing

A technical issue may actually be less important to a customer than simply being heard and respected, so it’s important to get to the root of the issue before finding a solution.

Even if the problem is obvious, don’t assume you understand exactly what’s upsetting the customer. Clarify what you hear them saying by repeating the issue out loud.

Saying the problem out loud engages more areas of the brain than just thinking about it, and it also helps the other people involved understand the problem better. It also assures the customer that you’re actually listening.

If possible, write down the issue in case it needs to be passed off to another colleague or superior so that everyone understands exactly what’s happening.

Clarify What You’re Saying

When it comes time to address the issue itself, be sure to clarify any processes or jargon that a customer might not understand. Just because you know all the lingo of your industry doesn’t mean the customer will understand it.

Others may have different associations or interpretations of words that you’re using, so don’t assume that they know what you mean.

Even if it seems tedious or time consuming to describe a process, giving an explanation can help relieve tensions, especially if a customer is angry because they’re confused about a process or they feel they were taken advantage of.

Take Ownership

Whether or not the problem is your fault, take ownership over as much of the issue as possible.

It might be tempting to distance yourself from the problem or to assign blame on the customer, especially if emotions are running high. But shouldering the burden will help dissolve any immediate anger and help resolve the issue faster.

If you’re positive that the issue is the fault of the customer, don’t blame them. Saying things like, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “Did you read our policies?” will only make matters worse. Instead, say something like, “I see what went wrong, here’s what we can do.”

Ultimately, your company exists to provide something of value for the customer, so if they’re not being taken care of, that responsibility falls on you. If you shun that responsibility or put the blame back on the customer, it can send a negative message about how you view their role in your business.

Your customers are your lifeblood, and you play an important part in their lives. If possible, take the burden off their shoulders and reassure them that you know how to fix the problem.

Always Give a Solution

You also want to make sure that the customer walks away from the encounter with a solution, even if it isn’t the exact solution they want.

If the customer is angry about a company policy that can’t be changed, for instance, don’t just say, “That’s our policy and there’s nothing we can do.” Say, “That is our policy, but here are a few things we can do for you instead.”

Your goal should be to open lines of communication with your customer, not to shut them down with a counterargument. If it’s a policy issue or something that can’t be changed immediately, present them with a few choices they can make in the meantime.

If they’re upset about something that can be changed, tell them exactly how you plan to resolve the issue.

If you can give a solution quickly, that will also improve the experience. In fact, 77% of people say that valuing their time is the most important thing a company can do to provide them with good service.

Even if the solution isn’t perfect, if you can alleviate concerns quickly, you’re one step ahead of the game.


Final Thoughts

Be sure to follow up with customers whenever possible, too. A phone call, short email, or even a postcard will help customers feel heard and acknowledged. This also gives you the ability to present your company in a positive light after any immediate emotions have died down (and as long-term opinions are being formed).

If angry customers become a staple of your business, consider taking a look at some of your underlying processes and policies to make sure that you’re not accidentally causing grief to otherwise loyal customers.

Again, remember that the customer relationship is the most important component. You may not be able to make every single customer happy, but compassion and understanding will go a long way in improving those relationships for the lifetime of your business.

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