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How to Handle the Irate, Upset, Angry Customer

By Nancy Friedman | May 2, 2017 << Back to Articles
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If your job entails taking calls or walk-ins from unhappy, irate customers, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Employees who deal with these situations are especially vulnerable to outbursts from customers who are going through an emotional, stressful time. Big to them; possibly small to you. As a communications expert, I’ve developed ways to help you.

Handling this type of customer takes time and training, but it can be accomplished effectively. Here are some of the best techniques for turning unhappy customers into satisfied customers. Improving customer service takes time and patience…and repetition.

Get Off On the Right Foot
Realize that upset, angry customers are not normally unhappy with you, but with the situation. Don’t take their hostility personally. You are merely the rod that redirects the violent lightning. You can do a great deal to diffuse the anger before you hear it. How? YEAH…by smiling. Yes, a smile will help— not eliminate— the situation. And, yes, you can really “hear” a smile over the phone. It’s very difficult to be rude to someone who is warm and friendly and sounds (and looks) concerned.

Anatomy of a Hostile Call
There are four basic steps to handling an irate customer. I call them the ASAP technique.

A - Acknowledge the person’s feelings and apologize for the inconvenience the customer has encountered. Immediately. Don’t wait to find out who’s wrong or whose fault it is. Apologize and acknowledge immediately. Make an effort to be sincere. In today’s impersonal society, it’s incredibly rare to hear the words, “I apologize for what happened. Let me get the ball rolling to fix it.” A simple statement like that goes a long way. You’ll probably spend about 80 percent of your time massaging the customer’s feelings and 20 percent actually solving the problem.

S - Sympathize and empathize with the customer. Telling them “I understand” is frustrating. That’s not a great one to use. Phrases like “I can understand why you’re upset” can help soothe ruffled feathers. Then get busy solving the problem. Explain what’s going to happen. Run them through the process.

A - Accept 100 percent responsibility for the situation. This is probably the toughest part. Chances are excellent that you had nothing to do with the problem. However, if you took the call or got handed the customer, it’s your job to take the responsibility and help initiate a solution.

P - Prepare to help. Immediately. Begin by re-introducing yourself. Customers won’t usually remember your name. If you have a title, give it to them. Status helps too. “I’m the assistant manager,” or even length of tenure helps. “I’ve been here seven years and I know I can help you.” State that you will be able to help. Use their name, if possible. This helps a bit to diffuse their frustration. A willing attitude is essential, because if the customer senses insincerity or indifference, it will cause them to stay angry. It’s exasperating to file a complaint with someone who obviously doesn’t care.

Excuses: Who Cares?
It’s not a good idea to make an excuse to a complaining person. It will only escalate the situation. No one wants to hear, “The computer is down” or “I’m the only one here.” That is your problem, not the customers. When you give an excuse, the customer automatically hears, “I’m not going to help you, now.”

Empowerment plays a big part in helping customers. In person or on the phone – the ASAP techniques work. Try it and see!

Nancy Friedman will be the ARCSI Featured Speaker, September 11 at  ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America 2017 . Come to hear her attention-grabbing session, “Hell Hath No Fury Like a Customer Scorned.” With her high energy, Friedman is the perfect choice to lead off the ARCSI Education Conference. 


Nancy Friedman is president of The Telephone Doctor Customer Service, which offers online training modules on customer service, customer loyalty, communications, internal customer service, sales training, management, and leadership programs. For more information, visit www.telephonedoctor.com.

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