25 Feb 2024

Disarming an angry customer

As we saw in the last issue, the first step is to let angry customers talk uninterrupted, but rarely will a customer say everything in one go. They will seek attention, start talking, ramble, move into other areas, before coming back to the main point. The worst thing you can do is to interrupt them – it will just make them angrier. If you let the customer talk until they are done, their emotional high will subside and they will be more amendable to interactive conversation.
Be supportive with your comments and then when the customer has finally finished, take control of the situation by acknowledging that there’s an issue.

Acknowledge the problem
Before you can properly start to deal with the issue at hand, it is important to go over your understanding of what the customer is upset about, reiterating the key points and the priorities as the customer sees them. This will reassure them that you understand their problem. Again, use a gentle and calm voice and ask the customer to confirm your understanding is theirs. It is irrelevant how a problem started or where the customer sees themselves in the resolution process. All that matters is that you take ownership of the customer’s problem and see it through to the bitter end. If you do not take this course of action, you will be pouring fuel onto the fire and giving the customer very good reason to become incandescent with rage.
Your problem is that it is very tempting to deny responsibility for the issue, state that it has been caused by someone else, hoping that the customer and their problem will go away. Unfortunately, in today’s litigious and social media-based society it is not going to. The harsh reality is that even if you need to go to someone else to find out more, possibly at another of the business’s locations, you will still be the customer’s main point of contact. The customer doesn’t care for hurdles and is also not bothered how internal procedures work – they just want a resolution.

People first
While it may seem entirely logical to deal with the physical manifestation, dealing with the human side of the complaint will help satisfy the customer. One they have calmed down you will be able to move on the technical issue with them on your side. So – deal with the anger first and then progress on to fixing the problem. Interestingly, it may transpire that the technical issue behind the complaint – say an online system or a double charge made on a credit card – could be affecting more of your customers.

Fix the problem
Once the customer has been reassured, you need to move forward and deal with the reason for the complaint while also looking to ensure that long term, the problem does not reoccur. Cast-iron guarantees that the problem, or something similar, will never happen again are not always possible. However, what you can do is tell the customer that if an issue ever arises again that you will be happy to be their point of contact. That said, if you think you have fixed the problem once and for all, make a point of proving this to the customer.

Follow Up
People like to be remembered and it is good practice to revisit a complaint and contact the customer to ensure that they are happy with the resolutions, and the business. A phone call or personalised email or letter is all that it takes to make the point that the customer is valuable to the business and that their complaint was taken seriously. It’s an incredibly powerful message to show that you care. Remember if you truly do not care about a customer’s concerns, dealing with issues will only ever be a short-term problem; No more customer, simply put, means no more complaints – and that really is incompetent.