Responding to Angry Customers –

When an irate supervisor or disgruntled customer confronts you with a problem, do you respond or do you react?

Think of responding and reacting in medical terms. When your doctor prescribes medication, your body either responds positively and as planned to the medication, which improves your condition; or it reacts negatively, creating additional problems.

The path to resolving customer complaints is often determined by your choice to respond or react.

If you respond, you might say, “I can see you are upset. What can I do to help resolve the problem?” This shows the person that you want to be part of the solution, and are not likely to add to their frustration. When a person feels they are being treated with respect, their guard drops significantly. By honestly listening to them you will tend to disarm their anger and allow them to move toward identifying solutions and resolving the problem.

If you react to their anger or frustration you might say something like: “What are you yelling at me for, I didn’t do anything to you!” Oops, you’ve just been drawn into a fight no one can win. Here are five suggestions on how to respond rather than react to irate customers:

  • 1. Recognize they aren’t mad at you personally. Understand that they are angry and frustrated at something that has happened to them, and you are simply a representative of the place they believe has caused the problem.
  • 2. See the situation from their perspective. Often, if the customer sees that you really do care and you are trying to help resolve the problem, they will calm down on their own and begin to interact with you in a more positive way.
  • 3. Allow them time to express their frustration. Start by listening. Don’t cut them off or even urge them to calm down until they have had a chance to tell their side of the story. As much as possible, allow them to finish talking before you respond. In a calm manner, express that you want to help resolve the problem, and by understanding their concerns you can help accomplish that. If someone is angry or upset, it is because they feel injured in some way. Your job is to first let the customer vent their frustration. If you are helpful, understanding and are clearly listening to their side of the story, you’ll send a powerful message that you care about them and their situation.
  • 4. Fix the problem, not the blame. If you know that a mistake has been made, acknowledge it and apologize for it. If there is a problem with your company’s product or service, some frustration and disappointment may be justified. Whenever possible, show you are on “their side” by agreeing with a statement or a feeling they have expressed. You might say something like, “Yes, I can see that you are very frustrated. Let’s see how we can get this resolved.”
  • 5. Call in a supervisor if the situation escalates. If you find that the customer is not responding positively to your efforts to resolve the problem, ask them if they would like to speak with a supervisor. Both the experience and the authority represented by a supervisor will often help to calm the situation.

Responding positively to a negative situation is a choice. By choosing to take positive steps to resolve the problem, you are choosing not to escalate the problem. And, the smaller the problem, the shorter time it will take to resolve.

While responding to difficult customers, always remember that the best of intentions on your part may still not solve the problem when dealing with a volatile situation. Persons who are distraught or impaired by drugs or emotional instability could pose a physical threat to you and those around you. Discuss safety measures and procedures for handling unusual situations with your supervisor and other employees. Always leave yourself a clear path to exit an area. If you are a supervisor, come to the aid of the first line employees if the situation is clearly escalating.

It has been said that your character is defined not by what happens to you, but by how you handle what happens to you. As you focus on being sensitive to the needs of disgruntled customers, you will naturally become more aware of all others around you. I think Zig Ziglar says it best, as he proclaims, “You can get everything you want in life if you’ll just help enough other people get what they want.”