Handling Difficult and Angry Customers

When Performance Matters

Customer Service Training - Handling Difficult and Angry Customers 



When dealing with a difficult customer it is important that the attitude you display helps the customer overcome the problem.  Displaying the incorrect attitude will lead to antagonism and the person will then be spoiling for a fight; this will make matters worse.

It is difficult to stick rigidly to a structure when somebody is raging down the telephone at you, there are a number of items listed that you should and shouldn’t do.

However there are things that you must do within the structure of the call to handle the customer effectively.


Acknowledge that a problem exists

Sometimes the problem is clear.  For example if the customer has been kept waiting or delivery of goods has been delayed.  On other occasions, we can   judge from what the customer says or by his attitude and manner that there is likely to be some difficulty.

The real danger lies in not spotting the problem early enough as we then risk making it worse by insensitive handling.

The only real answer is to approach every customer in a professional and pleasant manner as this will provide a bonus in the straight forward transaction, as well as ensuring that we do not make a false start when unexpected difficulties arise.


Show concern


What we say at this stage is important and a caring attitude will ensure that your concern is transmitted to the customer.  The sort of statements that can be used are:

“I can understand why that would upset you”.

“That must be very frustrating”.


Cool the Situation


In most cases the fact that you show genuine concern and are clearly prepared to help will take the heat out of the situation.  If this is not enough then extra measures may be necessary.  For instance - ask the customer’s name.  If you call a customer ‘Mr Jones’ or ‘Mrs Smith’, you are demonstrating greater personal control.

Give them a chance to ‘blow off steam’.  Most people will calm down once they have had their say and you now have a chance to establish the facts.

Be relaxed and keep yourself free from distractions.  At no stage are you allowed to lose your temper or act in a less than professional way.  Think - if you were in their position how would you like to be treated?


Make a Procedural Statement

Control of the conversation must be taken by you at this stage and at the   same time reassurance must be given to the customer that you will be able to solve their problem.  Ownership of the problem is very important at this stage as the customer will now be able to relate directly to someone who is willing to help; (ownership is not taking the blame but accepting responsibility to actually do something about it).

You may say:

“In order to ascertain the exact nature of your query, may I ask you a few questions, then I’ll be in a position to advise you further (or solve it for you).


Establish the facts

You will learn the facts by asking the right questions and LISTENING!  Ask open questions (what, when, how etc) and avoid direct accusations (eg say ‘it is possible that ...’ rather than ‘are you sure you don’t ...’).

The facts and information that have to be discovered are:

1.         The exact nature of the problem.

2.         What would be an acceptable solution to the customer.

When they are speaking make sure you listen to what they actually say rather than what you think they say.

Be aware of what they are not saying - omissions can prove to be just as important as actions.  All the time, try to think of the problem from their point of view.


Decide if there is a genuine case

It will sometimes happen that complaints are not justified or that the customer just wants to be difficult.  On such occasions ‘playing for time’ offers two advantages:

-           In the first place, saying that you must check with the Supervisor (or Head Office) suggests that you are attempting to solve a problem.

-           Secondly, and more importantly, it gives you time to think.

If you have to say ‘No’ then make sure that you support the answer with good, factual reasons.  Being firm will show that you have confidence in what you say but, above all, being polite and pleasant will show that you are being reasonable.

If this fails then you have no choice but to suggest a ‘second opinion’ from a Supervisor, a more Senior Manager or Head Office.


Act as Necessary

If there is a genuine problem it is your responsibility to provide a solution.

If someone else is better qualified to handle the situation and they are available, then it is permissible to pass the customer on to them.  However, if this or any similar solution is not immediately available then you must assume responsibility.

This does not entitle you to blame other departments, other people, ‘systems’ or the organisation in general (even if it is their fault).

At this moment you represent the company and your ultimate aim must be to give the customer a positive image of you, the company and the products.

Finally always confirm with the customer that you have satisfactorily dealt with their problem so the call can be finished as amicably as possible

If it is necessary to place a call back to the customer make sure you do call back at the stated time.  This must happen whether or not the problem is solved or to act as a progress report.  The customer will very often be content if they feel that their problem is being given the utmost attention.

Remember that as a result of sorting out a problem carry out the necessary actions and call the customer back to ensure that everything is running smoothly.


Inform the Right Person

If there has been a genuine problem, whether tangible (eg faulty goods, poor service or even a language problem) or intangible (eg having to wait too long, staff attitudes) then reporting it to the ‘right’ person could prevent the same problem re-occurring.

This way the organisation learns from its experience and the standard of  service and products will inevitably improve.


Finally - Is it you?

There is always a danger that because a situation is ‘difficult’ we assume that the fault lies elsewhere - with the customer, a colleague or even the product.

Try to learn from each situation:

Could your attitude have been better?

Could your communication have been more skillful?

Could your knowledge of the product or procedures be improved?

Handling people is a skill which can be learned.



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