How to Get Any Angry Customer to Back Down

 

Imagine your next phone call is from an angry, irate customer, and you’ve only got a few seconds to gain control. Are you 100% confident you can handle it? If not, you’re not alone.


Most customer service professionals dread having to talk to difficult customers. And it’s no surprise. A simple encounter with a demanding, irate, or unreasonable customer can leave you feeling angry, frustrated, humiliated, or emotionally drained. But this doesn’t have to be the case.


I’m about to reveal a hidden way for you to literally convert sourpusses into sweethearts.

Simply put, you can use these insider secrets to instantly turn angry customers into raving fans for you and your company – without giving away the farm.

Here’s how to get any angry customer to back down:


You must acknowledge the fact the customer is angry.

A big mistake among customer service professionals is to ignore a customer’s expression of anger or tip-toe around it. There is something known as the communication chain. When people communicate, they expect the person they are communicating with to respond or react…this response is a link in the communication chain. A failure to respond to communication leaves the communication chain unlinked…broken.

For example, If I walk into my office and say… “Hello Sherry, how are you?” ….and she says absolutely nothing, she’s broken the communication chain. And that leaves me feeling awkward, perhaps embarrassed.

If a customer expresses anger and we fail to respond to it, the communication chain is broken and the customer feels like they are not getting through. The customer might become even angrier and more difficult, as they are resorting to whatever it takes to feel “heard” and understood.

You can keep your angry customers from getting angrier by confidently acknowledging their anger and responding to it. You can respond to anger with a statement like, “Clearly you’re upset and I want you to know that getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” This statement directly and professionally addresses anger – without- making the customer even angrier. Now that the anger has been acknowledged, you have completed the communication chain and the customer feels heard and respected.


Allow the customer to vent, but don’t lose control.

An Angry customer can be compared to an erupting volcano. When a volcano is erupting, there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t speed up the eruption, you can’t put a lid on it, and you can’t direct or redirect it…it must erupt.

When a customer is angry, they must experience and express their anger – and often this is done through venting. We should not interrupt an angry venting customer or tell them to “calm down.” This would be as futile as trying to tame a volcano. A volcano erupts and eventually subsides. Your angry customer will vent and eventually calm down.

Always let angry customers vent. In most cases, your customer will only need to vent for 15-35 seconds. Venting beyond 35 seconds can become ranting and cause you to lose control. After a few seconds of venting, you’ll want to jump back in and move the conversation forward constructively.


Apologize…whether the fault lies with the customer OR the company.
It’s amazing; the mere act of apologizing sincerely to a customer can result in an immediate calming effect and move the customer right out of a hardball mentality.


But a lot of companies advise their employees NOT to apologize to customers because they want to be careful not to assume responsibility for a problem that may actually be the fault of the customer.

You need to know that it’s possible to “safely” apologize to customers. Here’s an example of a “safe, but sincere” apology offered when the problem is clearly NOT the fault of the company:

“Mr. Smith, please accept my apology for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”

Notice, this apology does not blame the company OR the customer…it’s offered simply to create goodwill. Always apologize and be sure your tone sends the same message.


Try a little Verbal Aikido
In my live Handling Difficult Customers seminars, I demonstrate the martial art Aikido and offer it as a strategy for diffusing anger. I began teaching this unconventional approach to managing conflict after having my breath taken away as I watched Steven Segal effortlessly defeat his opponents without violence or aggression in half a dozen of his movies. Aikido is a nonviolent martial art that can be effectively applied to conflict situations with customers. Here are a couple Aikido principles that you’ve gotta try out with you next difficult customer:


(a) Never meet force with force. In Aikido there are no direct attacks and very little striking or kicking. When dealing with angry customers it is natural to respond to an attack with an attack. If the customer yells, we might be tempted to escalate our voice. When the attack gets personal, we may become defensive and less willing to work with the customer. While we may feel justified in launching our attack because we’ve been attacked, we must realize that a defensive (forceful) response only escalates the original problem. Let’s learn from the Aikido masters and not attack back defensively. Instead, we will respond carefully and strategically.

(b) Work to strategically calm down the attack. In physical Aikido this is done by both the use of relaxed body posture and open hands. Verbal attacks from irate customers need the same calming strategy. In Aikido, the master will step aside rather than confront the attack. This takes the power and speed out of the attack and allows the master to stay centered and calm. When you respond to your customer with “Clearly, we’ve upset you and getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” anger begins to dissipate. You’ve addressed the anger directly and non defensively and you haven’t been pulled into the drama of the attack. Strategically choose your words and tone so that you come across with confidence, control and credibility. This “strategy” will calm down the most ballistic customer.

Pull out the tried and true “Broken Record” technique.
If your customer is ranting, raving, or rambling and you feel you have lost control of the conversation, you can quickly regain control using the Broken Record technique. Use this technique by simply repeating a sentence or phrase over and over again until your ranting customer hears you. It can be as simple as:

“Mr. Jones, what I can do is send you coupons for three bags of potatoes chips.”


“Mr. Jones, what I can do is send you coupons for three bags of potatoes chips.”


“Mr. Jones, what I can do is send you coupons for three bags of potatoes chips.”


This example would be effective for the customer who is demanding more, but three coupons is your limit. The reason this technique works is that typically, repeating yourself, verbatim, in a non-confrontational tone, will force the upset customer to stop talking – if for no reason – than to get you to stop repeating yourself. It’s very much psychological.


In Summary
Acknowledge your angry customer’s “pain”, let them vent a bit, don’t be afraid to apologize, and always have one or two verbal self defense techniques on stand-by. When you do, you will be thrilled with how effective you are at getting angry customers to back down. And once you’ve gotten a taste of how easy it truly is to get angry customers to back down, I believe you’ll be completely STOKED and actually look forward to the challenge of facing tough customers.

26 little ideas to help you be nicer to unhappy or complaining customers

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Here are 26 ideas you can print off and share with your customer service employees. Or, you could share these ideas in a quick 3-minute training.

 

The ABC’s of Customer Recovery

Act as if every lost customer’s value to the company comes out of your paycheck.

Believe the best of customers. Don’t make the mistake of assuming most customers are out to simply get something for nothing. The truth is, less than 1% of customers contact companies with ulterior motives in mind.

Communicate with diplomacy and tact when your final answer is “no” and when explaining company policy.

Don’t tell a customer she is wrong. Telling a customer they are wrong never makes them want to agree with you. It only pushes them more forcefully into their original position.

Empathize with unhappy customers and allow this empathy to season your responses.

Find a way to say “yes” to customers. Instead of saying “no” or telling the customer what you can’t do, think critically about what you actually can do.

Give a token item such a coupon as a concrete form of apology.

Have a sense of urgency. Demonstrate with your words and speed of response that getting to the bottom of the problem is just as important to you as it is to your customer.

Involve customers in the problem resolution process. Sometimes it’s very helpful to simply ask, “How do you see us resolving this?”

Jot down the customer’s name and details of the problem they are describing so you don’t have to ask the customer to repeat information.

Keep customers apprised of your timetable and progress toward resolving their problems.

Listen with the intent to truly understand your customer, not with the intent to interrupt, reply, or correct. Continue reading “26 little ideas to help you be nicer to unhappy or complaining customers”

7 Questions About Negotiating with Customers with Myra Golden

 

 

1. Is it wise to make concessions when negotiating with customers?

Every negotiator, even savvy executives, concedes from time to time and as long as the concession makes good business sense, it’s okay. BUT – and this is a BIG but – you need to be aware of what your concessions are saying to customers.   A large concession on your part tells the customer he can get a lot more, so he may press you for more. Rapid concessions undermined your company’s creditability. Only make concessions if you have considered all of the alternatives, you feel it will maintain the customer’s loyalty, and when it balances the interests of both your customer and your company.

  2. How do you respond in a negotiation with a customer when the customer’s demand is unreasonable?

I use 5 little magic words: “That sounds a little high.”  And then you pause. No matter what dollar amount the customer puts out, just state the 5 magic words and then sit back and wait for their response. Most people become increasingly uncomfortable with silence and will feel compelled to respond. Most likely, your customer will either make a more reasonable request, or they will try to justify their request.

 3.  What do you do when you find yourself in a deadlock with the customer in negotiation situation? That is, what do you do when the customer isn’t accepting your offer and you are not willing to concede?

Don’t allow the customer to push you into a corner. Here’s a phrase that will help you set and enforce your limits, while at the same time moving the conversation forward: “We see this differently, and I am going to have to put more thought into the perspective you have shared with me. It’s helpful to me to understand how you see things. In the meantime, here is what I can do to solve the immediate problem.”

4. Is it appropriate to negotiate with a difficult customer who is actually responsible for the problem they are complaining about?

I am not for compensating customers when the problem is clearly their fault. Never forget, today’s exception becomes tomorrow’s expectation. Customers have eternal memory, and they’ll expect you to give in again if they encounter the same “human” error. Here’s how I’d respond to the customer when the problem is clearly their fault:

“We appreciate hearing about your experience, but we cannot compensate you in this matter because you failed to follow instructions (or misused the product, etc.)”

Negotiate Like a Diplomat  (Immediately downloadable Webinar Recording)

10 Simple Strategies for Negotiating with crafty, cunning, and unreasonable customers Learn more!

 5.  Should frontline customer service employees be involved in negotiations with customers or should this always be the responsibility of supervisory or management employees?

As long as employees are trained, empowered, confident, and known to make good judgment, they can negotiate with customers.  Having said that, it’s often a good move for frontline customer service representatives to admit early on that they don’t have the final say in a negotiation. (Even when they do have the final word, this is a good move.) Admitting this gives the representative a graceful exit, should negotiations become deadlocked.

 6. What are some of the most common tactics customers use to paint companies into a corner in a negotiation situation?

There are many tricky tactics customers will use when negotiating.  When it comes to negotiating a settlement in a product liability complaint, a common tactic is the use of hypothetical questions. An example hypothetical question is “If my 3 year old son had bitten into the hamburger that had the piece of glass in it, don’t you agree that he could have been in serious condition?” This is clearly a setup and you cannot answer the question.  Get the customer focused on solving the actual problem that did occur and nothing more.

7. Is it appropriate to negotiate with customers via email?

Yes, it is. Ten years ago I would have answered differently, but today email is the preferred communication medium of many of your customers. You need to know that email negotiations tend to take longer than phone and face to face negotiations and email negotiations are less likely to end in agreement. If things become tricky via email, pick up the phone and call your customer.

Myra’s gift to you…9 Phrases – word-for-word for how to handle difficult negotiation situations. Download your free handout now.

Do you ever find that you’ve spent more money to resolve complaints than you know you should have? Do you sometimes “pay a customer off” just because it’s easier to “get rid of them”? Do you wish you had more confidence in your ability to negotiate with customers?

Introducing…

Negotiate Like a Diplomat  (Webinar Recording)

10 Simple Strategies for Negotiating with crafty, cunning, and unreasonable customers Learn more!

“Give Me 90 Minutes And I’ll Have You Negotiating Like a Diplomat.”  

Myra Golden

From the desk of Myra Golden:

I promise, after this 90-minute How to Negotiate with Customers webinar, you will be inspired and thrilled with how active you are at negotiating with customers.  And once you’ve gotten a taste of how easy it indeed is to get angry customers to back down and reach win-win resolutions, you will be wholly STOKED and actually look forward to negotiating with customers!

How to Negotiate with Customers is CLEAR, CONCISE, and geared to give you QUICK RESULTS that will empower you to reach agreements that balance the interests of both your customers AND your company.

Get the full story here.

Jack Nicholson’s famously hilarious chicken-salad-sandwich speech in Five Easy Pieces

I actually feature this clip in my full-day customer service workshops. It gets hilarious laughter for sure, but after the clip we discuss how the waitress could have handled this customer better.

Watch the video, paying careful attention to the waitress. Note your first impression as she approaches Jack’s table, her facial expression, attitude, etc. Next, flip the script. What might she have done differently to have the situation end MUCH differently?

Enjoy!

The lesson here, of course, is to be flexible and friendly. These two attributes will take you a long way with customers, even the most difficult of customers.

Special Webinar Teaches How to Handle Difficult Customers

How to Get Angry, Irate or Unreasonable Customers to Back Down

Imagine your next phone call is from an angry, irate customer and you’ve only got a few seconds to gain control.

Are you 100% confident you can handle it?

If not, I’ve got the perfect program for you.  Attend my special webinar entitled “Stop Screaming at Me” and you’ll be able to Handle Any Difficult Customer. Learn more about this special webinar.

How to Get a Chatty Cathy to Cut to the Chase [Customer Service Tip]

Stressful day at work

Research shows the average business call lasts two minutes longer than it needs to. The bitter truth is most of us spend far too much time on the phone with customers and co-workers in idle small talk or listening to the whiner, rambler, or storyteller.

So how do you politely end a call when you know it’s no longer productive?  I’ll give you six of my favorite strategies for graciously bringing a long-winded caller back to focus.

One. Apprise of a time limit early

This doesn’t mean you state that you only have a couple of minutes.  It’s the reverse of that, and it works like this:  “I don’t want to take up too much of your time.” Or “I’ve taken up enough of your time” (even when they’ve called you.) “I’m sure you’re busy, so I’ll make this quick.” “One final thing I need to cover...”

Statements like these setup time parameters for you and help you end the call quickly and politely.

Two. Interject with a question when the caller pauses – This is something you’ll do with the long-winded caller, the rambler, and the storyteller. As they are going on and on, wait for a pause and interject: with a statement like…

  •  “The first thing we need to do is…”
  • “The reason I’m calling is …” 
  • “Listen, I need to get some information from you.”
  • “Real quick, I just need a couple of numbers from you…”

Three. Use the point question technique

Point questions help you bring the conversation back to focus…back to the point of the call after a few seconds of small talk (or rambling). Examples of point questions include:

  •  “How can I help you?”
  • ”What can I do for you?”

Four. Give a minimal response

When your customer asks you an open-ended question like, “How are your children?” you can give a minimal response this way: “My kids are great. What can I do for you today?

Five. Ask closed-ended questions

Avoid asking a talkative caller an open-ended question because they will go on and on in their response. Ask closed-ended questions that require only a one-word answer like, “Will tomorrow at 10:00 am work for you?”  Generally speaking, asking two to three closed-ended questions back to back will put you back in control of the call.

In this video, I discuss the Ask 3 Closed-Ended Questions Back to Back Technique. Share this video with your employees for quick training on call control.

Six. Use closing statements

You’ll use closing statements to signify the ending of the call. Closing statements help you get out of a conversation with a rambler or long-winded caller. Here are two simple closing statements:

  • “Before we hang up, I need to make sure I tell you…” Informs the caller that the call is ending.
  • “One final question for you…”

Don’t let calls get out of your control. The call should last just long enough to be productive. Rambling, storytelling or any idle talk is wasting your time and the customer’s time, and it negatively impacts service with callers who are waiting. Use these call control techniques, and you’ll get the storytellers and ramblers to cut to the chase, and you’ll be polite in your approach.

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.

7 Questions About How to Handle Difficult Customers with Myra Golden

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These questions are from a live audience at a training Myra recently delivered in New York.

 

1. How do you handle the customer who immediately demands to speak to a supervisor or manager without giving the Representative a chance to handle the issue?

What you don’t want to do in this situation is flat out refuse to let the customer speak to a manager because that will only escalate the situation. You also don’t want to dismissively transfer the caller to your manager. Even though the transfer would be honoring the customer’s request, you are actually teaching customers to escalate.

The best approach is going to be for you to sincerely try to help the customer while leaving the door open for a conversation with a manager if you cannot solve the issue. Here are a couple of phrases that have proven to be very effective in getting demanding customers to give frontline Representatives a chance to help them:

  • “I’m sorry you feel you need to speak with someone else, but that’s the reason I’m here. I have been given full authority to help resolve your concerns. May I have the opportunity to resolve this first?
  • “Please give me an opportunity to try and resolve this for you. That’s why I’m here.”

2.  I’m not paid enough to put up with callers who yell or cuss. Do you feel it is appropriate to hang up on abusive customers?

No one should have to endure verbal abuse from irate and unreasonable customers. We all have our own thresholds of tolerance of difficult behavior and only you determine your threshold. Once you’ve reached your threshold, I believe terminating a phone call is appropriate providing you have (a) sincerely attempted to create calm and diffuse anger and (b) you end the call as diplomatically as possible.

Here are four diplomatic phrases I share in my customer service workshops that you might consider using before hanging up on a verbally abusive caller:

  • “I’m sorry. It isn’t possible to help while listening to that language. If it stops, I can help.” (This statement is made in an attempt to create calm and prevent the need to terminate the phone call.)
  •  “I’m trying to help you, but if you continue to yell and swear, I am going to ask that you call back another time. It’s up to you…which would you prefer?”
  •  “If a few minutes helps you calm down before we continue, that would be fine. You can certainly call me back.”
  • “I want to help you, yet the language is getting in the way.”

Note: Your tone is critically important with the above statements. You must come across calm, neutral, and non-threatening.

3. What would you say is the single biggest mistake companies make when speaking with angry or unreasonable customers and what can we do about this?

A common mistake customer service professionals make is not acknowledging the fact that the customer is upset.  I realize it might seem logical that you would not want to point out the fact that your customer is angry for fear that it might only exacerbate the issue, but actually, just the opposite is true.

It just isn’t helpful to ignore anger or tip-toe around the customer’s anger and here’s why. There is something known as the communication chain. When people communicate, they expect the person or persons they are communicating with to respond or react. This reaction is a link in the “communication chain.”  A failure to respond to communication leaves the communication chain unlinked (or broken). For example, If I walk into my office and say… Hi Terasita, how are you?” ….and she says absolutely nothing, she’s broken the communication chain. And that leaves me feeling awkward, perhaps embarrassed.

If a customer expresses anger and we fail to respond to it, the communication chain is broken and the customer feels like they are not getting through, that you are not listening. So, the customer may speak louder to make his or her point. They might become even angrier and more difficult; as they are resorting to whatever it takes to feel heard and understood.

You can keep your angry customers from getting angrier by acknowledging their anger and responding to it. You can respond to anger with a statement like, “Clearly you’re upset and I want you to know that getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.”  This statement directly and professionally addresses anger – without- making the customer even angrier. Now that the anger has been acknowledged, you have completed the communication chain.

4. Is there truly a benefit to letting (angry) customers vent and if so, how long is appropriate?

There truly is a benefit in letting angry customers blow off steam through venting.  An Angry customer can be compared to an erupting volcano. When a volcano is erupting, there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t speed up the eruption, you can’t put a lid on it, and you cannot direct or redirect it…it must erupt.  When a customer is angry, they must experience and express their anger…through venting. We should not interrupt them or tell them to “calm down.” This would be as futile as trying to tame a volcano. A volcano erupts and eventually subsides. Your angry customer will vent and eventually calm down.

A good vent doesn’t need to last very long at all. I suggest allowing your customer 30-45 seconds for venting. This is enough time for your customer feel heard, but not so much time that the customer flies off the handle. After about 45 seconds, the venting often becomes redundant or rambling and customers may be even making themselves more upset so you will need to regain control of the conversation after this window of time.

5. Dealing with difficult customers over the phone is one thing, but how do you diffuse anger when the irate customer is 2-feet away from you.

Psychologist, Dr. Terry Riley has observed: “Today’s customers are more harried, more demanding, and more dangerous than ever.” I agree with Terry and my main objective when working with professionals who service customers in retail environments, is to keep the employees safe. I’ll give you 3 pieces of advice for dealing with difficult customers in face-to-face interactions:

a)      Avoid the appearance of a physical challenge. Body language is powerful in any human interaction and especially so with angry or hostile customers. Your body language needs to send the message that you are cooperative and open. The best stance is going to be to the side of the customer. This way, you pose no physical challenge to the customer and you’re also in a less vulnerable position should the customer become violent.

b)      Help customers feel they have choices, options, and control (Bacal, 1998). It’s very important for customers to feel they have some control over the outcomes of their situation. Give them options and let them make choices, even small ones. Reducing choice and removing privileges tends to encourage aggression.

c)       Use a calm tone and non-inflammatory words. Deliberately use your voice to create calm. Speak slowly (so that you can think before you speak). Avoid escalating your voice, and never threaten the customer with inflammatory statements like: “If you don’t calm down, I can’t help you.”

6. How do you explain to a customer that you cannot honor their request for a refund or exchange without having them get really upset with you?

I know this is a tough situation, but trust me, you can diplomatically refuse a request for a refund or exchange. Here are 3 responses you can use, depending on your specific situation:

  • “It is our company policy that we cannot pay a claim that involves consumer error. We have a responsibility to the company to uphold the integrity of our products. When a product performs as expected and has no deficiencies, we cannot take responsibility and accordingly can offer no financial assistance.”
  • “Although you might not agree with my decision, I’d like to explain it so you can at least understand.”
  • “We appreciate hearing about your experience, but we cannot compensate you in this matter because you failed to follow instructions/did not read instructions/misused the product.”

7. How can I safely apologize to a customer for a problem that is not the fault of the company? I want to apologize as a way to rebuild the relationship with the customer and yet I don’t want to assume blame for the problem.

I salute you for apologizing to your customers both when the problem is the fault of the company and when your company is not at fault. Here’s how you can apologize when the problem is not the company’s fault:

  • “I’m sorry that you had to make this call today.”
  • “I’m sorry for any frustration you may have experienced.”
  • “I’m sorry for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”
  • “I’m sorry, I feel awful about your problem.”

 

Now you can give your representatives even more great skills for delivering the best customer experience and for handling difficult customer situations. Sign up for my email list and learn specific tips, approaches, and phrases to help your employees help your customers.