Angry customers consume the majority of your agents’ time at work.
So more often than not, when customers reach out for help, they’re already fuming by the time they reach an agent.
These angry customers leave an imprint on you and your agents.
You remember vividly the time where your agent couldn’t even say hello before the customer’s negativity radiated through the headset. And the time 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 laced in.
It’s unavoidable for your customer service agents to steer clear of disgruntled customers. In fact, it’s rooted in the nature of their roles. After all, have you ever had anyone reach out to customer service to say, “Hey thanks! I’m thrilled with my experience.”?
The negativity seeping through the phone lines and computer screens is no doubt the hardest part of your agents’ 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.
Two go-to methods for when a situation gets heated
1. Coach agents to listen and resist the urge to be defensive
When a customer spirals into a rant of frustrations – one that starts with the issue he’s having 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.
According to research out of the Harvard Business Review, customers want to feel heard and understood when talking to front-line employees. In fact, the 2020 National Rage Study found customers spending tons of time explaining their problems and getting little help in return is what fuels customer rage.
Coach agents to stop anger in its tracks. Let customers share their frustrations before attempting to solve the problem. Then, your customers know your agents hear and value what they have to say. Listening intently also gives your agent the opportunity to collect and digest all the details of the customer’s issue without springing into emergency-response mode prematurely. The more info your team can get from customers, the easier it is to diagnose, then treat, their issue.
2. Practice empathy and stay calm
It’s natural for your agents to want to mirror the tone of frustrated customers. Snappy comments and high tensions make anyone feel defensive. But agents can take control of the situation and get your customers to mirror their reactions, instead.
Train agents to press pause and practice mindfulness. Create microlearning lessons on mindfulness and keep them stocked in your contact center platform if it allows (hint: ours does!). Then, set triggers to monitor agent interactions for heated conversations.
Look out for keywords like “angry,” “mad,” or “cancel.” When these words pop up in interactions, you’ll get a notification to review the interaction. From there, you can send pre-crafted microlearning lessons to your agents’ queue, so they can complete the lesson before handling their next interaction. Once agents feel calm and ready to tackle even the most heated interactions, they can flip the script and use positive language with the customer.
Positivity changes our perceptions and even rewires our brains. Staying cool, calm, and collected will put frustrated customers at ease and let them know there’s no reason to panic.
Now, let’s look at three types of angry customers your agents might encounter.
Here are some talking points to give your agents for each type of customer, so you can coach them to ease frustrations and find resolutions.
1. 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. It’s almost as if they just want your agents to know how INCREDIBLY frustrated they are.
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. And often, they interrupt, aren’t great listeners, and get furious when your agents offer a resolution that might not be 100% what they wanted.
How agents can handle complainers (+ example scripts):
- 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.”
- 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.”
- 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.”
2. The “I want to cancel my service” customer
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.
Most 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 how your company didn’t meet their expectations. 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 save at-risk customers AND keep them happy.
How agents can handle would-be quitters (+ example scripts):
- 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. I’m happy you reached out, so I can fix this for you.”
- 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.”
- Figure out what made their experience painful.
“I understand you’re most upset about not being able to eat the candy in Candy Crush (I’m kidding. Insert legitimate customer frustration here). Is that correct? Are there any other issues that you have concerns about as well?”
- 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 team in a pinch because the customer is already convinced there is nothing your agent can do to help. In these cases, your agent barely has 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. About 30% of your time is already sucked up by escalations – and your company needs you to handle the bigger picture.
The best thing you can do is empower agents to conquer customer problems without transferring interactions back to you. 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 every time.
How agents can handle angry customers (+ example scripts):
- 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.”
- 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? I’ll document it all now – that way you don’t have to repeat the issue once I transfer you.”
- 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.”
Train agents to be empathetic, lend an ear, and tailor these talking points for each unique experience they come across. Paying close attention to the personalities they’re dealing with and choosing the right words to handle those personalities creates happy customers. Even better, their positive conversation might just be the lifeboat that rescues a customer from a bad day.
Oh, and remind your agents it’s not personal (And please, step in when it is). Customers get upset with your company, product or service, and your agents are the first line of defense. They didn’t cause the problem, they’re just the ones left cleaning up the mess on aisle five.
We originally published this post on October 18, 2016 and we updated it for new insight on April 22, 2021.