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Dealing with angry customers

The other day we took a call from someone who was terribly angry. They weren't angry at us, rather they were angry at the world and this was making them very upset. Everything seemed to be wrong with the world.

The caller began at a very fast pace and it was difficult to work out what was causing the anger. The discourse was discharged at the speed of a machine gun. It was confused or at least we were confused listening to it. There was a huge temptation to interrupt the caller and get them to slow down. We decided to let the discharge flow and offered grunts of encouragement to show we were still there. We wanted the caller to off load and hopefully, in doing so to calm down a little.

It was then necessary to let the caller know that their message has got through. It would have been no good trying to explain or offer defensive arguments. We needed to show recognition that we had been listening and felt empathy. This meant a brief reflection and clarifying of the situation. It indicated that we were listening and gave the caller chance to draw breath and see that we could even be on their side.

Some open ended questioning doesn't go amiss either. We asked for more insights with some open ended questions. We hoped that our listening and open questioning would get the caller to reflect and possibly see another point of view.

The last thing we wanted to do was to challenge the caller's views. It was clear that these were held deeply and it would have caused offence and possibly more anger if we had tried to contest them.

All this takes time, but it was worth it. In the end we were thanked for listening. We were also rewarded with the thought from the caller that their anger may have been over the top.

This incident reminded us of some principles of customer experience management. We need to be able to deal with customers who have had a bad experience and, for whatever reason, feel angry. So here are our suggested steps:

1 Listen. It is so important to let the customer have their say. However tempting it is to get them to shorten their diatribe, be patient and take it all in. Listen to everything they say even though it may be confusing. Bit by bit you will get the picture and it is far better to do so at the customer's pace of telling rather than the more structured one you would prefer.

2 Acknowledge. Let the customer know that you have listened. You don't have to agree with the customer but you do have to show empathy. Acknowledgement of what has happened to the customer will give them some solace.

3 Clarify. Use open ended questioning to find out a bit more and also to give the opportunity for further explanation. This provides the chance for the customer to get some more off their chest.

4 Summarise. It is worthwhile after giving the customer time to talk to draw together the threads of the discussion. Hopefully this will show that listening has taken place and the customer may now show agreement – at least they will see you have understood the situation.

5 Explore. Find out what the customer wants. In some cases it may be sufficient that they have been listened to by someone who seems to care. If the customer has had a chance to expound their grievance and talk about it, they may suggest a solution that is less than you would have offered.

6 Evolve. You need to conclude and move on. It may be that you need to do some further digging and give some further consideration to the problem. If this is the case, suggest a plan and timetable. If it is something that can be solved there and then, try and be generous. If you can offer what the customer wants and a little bit extra, you will be surprised how much loyalty you will win.


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