This post was originally published in October 2016 and has been revamped for accuracy and new insight.
Everyone has a tale to tell about an angry customer.
There’s the one where your agent couldn’t even say hello before the customer’s negativity radiated through the headset. Or the one where your agent’s pleasant tone only fueled the fire that had been smoldering for days inside the customer’s head.
Angry customers interrupt agents. They make unreasonable requests and demand to speak to a supervisor, all with a sprinkle of shouting and profanity. It’s unavoidable for your customer service agents to steer clear of all of these situations, and it’s no doubt the hardest part of their job. The bad news: there will always be angry customers. The good news: you can coach agents to effectively handle these situations and calm customers down.
Need-to-know tactics for when a situation gets heated:
Coach agents to listen and resist the urge to be defensive. When a customer spirals into a rant full of frustrations – one that starts with the issue he’s having with your product and ends with a story of his annoying neighbor who won’t mow the lawn – the best move your agents can make is to simply listen. Coach agents to let customers share their frustrations before jumping in to solve the problem. Then, your customers know your agents hear, and value, what they have to say. It also gives your agent the opportunity to digest the entire issue without going into emergency-response mode.
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Practice empathy and staying calm. It’s natural for your agents to want to mirror the tone of frustrated customers. Snappy comments and high tensions mean people get defensive. However, agents can take control of the situation and get your customers to mirror their reactions, instead. Staying cool, calm, and collected will put frustrated customers at ease and let them know there’s no reason to panic.
Let’s look at three types of angry customers agents might encounter.
Here are some talking points you can give your agents for each type of customer, so you can coach them to ease your customers’ troubles.
The “I need someone I can complain to” customer
These customers call regularly to dish on any and every tiny issue they encounter. They contact your agents weekly, sometimes more, and it feels like they aren’t even looking for a resolution, they just want your agents to know how INCREDIBLY frustrated they are. These customers call in often because they’re convinced your company doesn’t care about them or their issue. They keep finding something wrong to see if your agents will fix it. Often, they interrupt, aren’t great listeners, and get furious when your agents offer a resolution that might not be 100 percent what they wanted.
What agents can say to handle complainers:
1. Empathize. Let them know you understand their frustrations and legitimize their issues.
“I understand you’ve had several issues we haven’t fully resolved, and I know that’s frustrating. I’m incredibly sorry this has been your experience with us.”
2. Appreciate their patience.
“I see you’ve been dealing with quite a few issues these past few months. We really appreciate your patience and loyalty. I’m going to get this resolved as soon as I can.”
3. Reassure them you’ll follow through and take ownership – then actually follow up.
“I’ve taken some notes on our conversation, the issues you were having, and the solutions we came up with. I’ll send those notes in a follow-up email along with my contact information. Let me know if I missed anything, and please don’t hesitate to contact me directly with any other issues.”
Use in-line training and coaching to point out specific moments where your agents can swap in phrases like the ones above. See how you can save time and effort coaching your agents.
The customer who wants to cancel their service
More times than not, customers don’t really want to cancel their service. Let’s be honest, canceling service can be a huge hassle. Even if your company makes it easy, customers likely have to seek out a replacement service, then go through the process of starting fresh elsewhere.
A majority of the time, people who call to cancel are simply testing your company’s dedication to customer happiness. Customers who want to cancel will likely start a conversation by listing all the reasons they’re fed up or their expectations weren’t met. Then, they’ll leave the door open for your agents to swoop in and do anything to make them stay. Coach your agents to sprout some wings and start swooping.
Give agents wiggle room to handle these situations. Empower them to do what it takes to save a customer relationship (within reason, of course), and give them the resources they need to make these decisions in a pinch. With the right words, some problem solving, and a little bit of dazzle, you can win back at-risk customers AND keep them happy.
What agents can say to handle would-be quitters:
1. Thank them for the opportunity to fix the relationship.
“Thank you so much for reaching out and giving me the opportunity to resolve your issues. Your business is incredibly important to us.”
2. Commit to going the extra mile.
“Let me review your account, and see what I can do. I’m going to do everything I can to make this right.”
3. Figure out what made their experience painful.
“I understand you’re most upset about not being able to eat the candy in Candy Crush (we’re kidding. insert legitimate customer frustration here). Is that correct? Are there any other issues that you have concerns about as well?”
4. Give customers a few solutions, and let them choose one they prefer.
“I have a few ways we can make this better for you. Let’s go through some options together, and you can tell me what you think.”
The “I want to speak to your supervisor. NOW.” customer
Yikes. This one puts your agents in a pinch because the customer is already convinced there is nothing your agent can do to help. They’ve barely had time to answer the call before the customer demands to speak with you instead of the agent. Sure, it’s tempting to jump in on these calls right away, but you can coach your agents to give these situations their best shot, first. The best thing you can do is empower agents to conquer customer problems, and give them the resources they need to do it. Here are three talking points your agents can use to handle these customers, so you don’t have to put on your cape and save the day.
What agents can say to handle angry customers:
1. Stall the transfer, so you can attempt to handle the call on your own.
“I’ll be more than happy to connect you with my supervisor. She’s wrapping up another call, so let me get things moving, and as soon as I see her hang up, I’ll transfer you.”
2. Gather information about the problem, so you can gain insight about the issue.
“Let’s review your account, so I can pass along some notes. Can you give me a brief summary of the issue you’re having?”
3. Attempt to resolve the call, but still give the customer an opportunity to speak with your supervisor.
“Thanks for all the information. I have a few solutions that may take care of the issue you’re having, and I’d like to continue working on this with you. Is that okay? If not, my manager is free now, and I’m happy to transfer you.”
The secret to handling unhappy customers is to approach interactions as calmly as possible, no matter the reaction your agents get from customers. Coach them to focus on conveying that they’re on the customer’s side, that they care, and that they want to help. Remind agents that it’s not personal and that the customer is likely having a bad day. By coaching agents to be empathetic, lend an ear, and use the talking points we went over, they’ll create happy customers, and maybe even give someone the lifeboat they need to be rescued from a bad day.