Inflammatory words and an aggressive tone heat up an interaction like an oven heats up a room. The five biggest mistakes I see customer service professionals make when talking to upset customers are:
Aggressive tone – A direct or authoritative tone will quickly lead to an escalation in aggression or to a supervisor.
Making threats – Spitting off, “Calm down or I can’t help you” will assuredly not make a customer calm down.
Repeating your point – Repetition doesn’t make your point stronger. It annoys, or worse, infuriates your customer.
Pushing back – Getting aggressive or hostile because your customer pushes you shows weakness, and your customer will push harder.
Playing the antagonist role – Disagreeing and pointing out where your customer is wrong intensifies the interaction.
Let’s walk through the five big rookie mistakes, and see how an all-star would handle each of these situations.
Your tone is direct and aggressive, like a middle-school principal.
Trying to assert your authority by talking louder, cutting the customer off, or taking on an aggressive tone is one of the biggest rookie mistakes. A harsh or direct approach from you will fan the fire like the wind.
To get an angry customer to back down, try using what Chris Voss, author of “Never Split the Difference: Negotiate Like You Life Depended On It,” calls your Late Night FM Radio DJ Voice. The late-night FM radio DJ voice is solid and serious without being inflammatory. This voice gives you credibility and power, without any aggressive push. Strive for this approach.
You say things like “Calm down, or I can’t help you.”
Let me ask you this, if you’re mad as all wrath at your significant other and he says, “calm down sweetie,” will you obey? I didn’t think so. This ridiculousness doesn’t work on customers either.
If you want your customer to simmer down, remaining calm as a mirror, say something like, “I can help you, but not while you use that language (yell, cut me off, etc.). If the profanity stops, we can continue.” And then pause to let that sink in.
You keep repeating your point as if the reiteration will make the customer accept your word as final.
Saying the same thing again and again, even if you switch it up a bit, won’t make your point stronger. Repetition is annoying and will make your customer push harder to make his point.
Repeating your point is like you being on a spinning wheel like a mouse. It gets you nowhere. Make your point once. When you speak, do so seriously, like a doctor giving bad news. “We’re not able to do that because your warranty doesn’t cover normal wear and tear.”
You push the customer for no other reason than because you’ve been pushed.
You have to be in control of your own emotions and be able to resist the urge to counter-attack when you don’t like what the customer said. When you lash out in response to something your customer barks, you’ve taken the bait. And once you take the bait, you’ve just given your customer control.
When a customer verbally attacks you, don’t strike back. Take a couple of seconds to process what’s been said and to come up with a response that’s more likely to defuse rather than infuse the customer.
You use this classic line, “My supervisor will just tell you the same thing I’m telling you.”
This is a mistake I understand. I’ve been the customer service manager, and I know that yes, your supervisor is going to say pretty much exactly what you’ve been trying to stress for ten minutes. But here’s the thing, this line is defensive, and it makes you sound threatened. What these words won’t do is make the customer tuck his tail and decide, “Never mind, then. I’ll take your word for it.”
The best approach to a customer who wants to talk to a supervisor is to attempt to help, and if they don’t want your help, go ahead and get a supervisor. I have my clients say some version of:
“My supervisor is counting on me to do my job and resolve any issues our customers experience. Will you give me an opportunity to try to solve the problem before we go any further?”
If the customer still wants a supervisor, your next word is, “Certainly.”
You’re playing the antagonist.
Arguing, telling the customer what you can’t do, and being hostile makes no sense. Yet people do this every day with customers. An antagonistic approach draws out the conversation, and makes the customer’s fury spread like a fever, and never ends well. Ever.
Look for points you and the customer agree on, try to come up with options or an explanation your customer can live with. You want to create calm, not escalate.
Continue the conversation with me?
I’ve learned the most potent de-escalation tactics known from the martial art Aikido, trial lawyers, law enforcement, a former FBI hostage negotiator, and the greatest escalation agents in customer service.