Keep your Cool [Step 3]: 5 Steps to Diffusing an Angry Customer
Keeping your composure, especially when working with intense people, is really what separates the Masters from the Novices. Sometimes when a customer is frustrated, they will direct their frustration at the technician. When you feel like you’re getting verbally attacked or being yelled at, it is extremely difficult to not get into a yelling match. Realize that by raising your voice or making verbal attacks back only escalates the situation, makes everyone more angry, and no one feels good afterwards.
What you should NOT do:
– Make personal jabs back at the customer.
– Mirror whatever they do to match their emotional level.
– Try yelling over them.
– Hand off the customer to someone else so you don’t have to deal with them.
What you can do:
– It is okay to dismiss yourself from the interaction if you’re having difficulty keeping calm.
– Keep your voice quieter than theirs.
– Remember to breath, and push yourself to take your time when speaking.
– Use statements that are in alignment with the “3 As”.
It’s not okay to put up with abuse.
Keeping calm and cool does not mean that technicians need to be okay with accepting abuse from their customers. First, make sure you’re calm and excuse yourself from the interaction, if necessary.
For your safety and those around you, personal threats should be taken seriously, and authorities need to be notified if a customer threatens you or another employee.
It is okay to let the customer know that their actions are keeping you from helping them. You can even ask a customer to lower their voice, to not use profanities, and in extreme situations, ask them to leave.
Here’s a few examples of statements for difficult scenarios. When being firm, it’s extremely important to keep emotionally separated from your statement and say them in a calm manner. In these, it is helpful to use the 3 As whenever possible:
– “I am here to help people, and I can and want to help you. However, this is a family environment, and I need you to not use profanities.” If it continues, you can even give the customer a warning by saying something like, “The language that you’re using is not appropriate for our store. If you are unable to change your use of profanities, I’m going to need you to leave the store. This is the last warning I’ll be giving you.”
– “We are in the business of helping people, and I would like to get you with one of our technicians. I can see that you’re really frustrated with how your computer is functioning, and I’ve been in similar scenarios when my devices have stopped working at bad times. However, I cannot allow you to treat my people disrespectfully and yell in my store. If you think you can lower your voice and respectfully cooperate with my people, we can still help you.”
– “I feel pretty blindsided by your comment and personal jabs are not necessary. I would like to help you get this resolve and I’ll need your cooperation in order to successfully resolve this. Please avoid comments like that going forward and I can continue to help you.”
Take control of the conversation and let them save face.
After a firm statement like before, most people will back down, begin to cooperate, and even try to be extra nice. However, DO NOT PAUSE. In some people, they may feel the need to argue back or give excuses. Maybe because they realize their mistake and feel embarrassed or they may not like that they’re not control of the interaction.
Quickly move forward in a positive way by offering a kindly stated question that causes the customer to engage with you in a respectful manner—together.
Examples of this, could be:
– “Would you be willing to work together on this?”
– “Is it okay if we figure out a good solution now?”
Going from a strong statement to close ended question avoid the customer from letting their pride get in the way and feel like they have to have an argument statement back. It’s a constructive way to control and guide the conversation and focusing them back on the common goal of helping them solve their problem.
It’s also a subtle way of entering into a “social contract.” You’ve stated the terms of the contract (i.e. avoid yelling or verbal abuse), and you’re asking them to agree to the contract. If they cannot agree to the social contract, then they must leave and they will not get their device fixed. Not only will most people agree to your requirements, but I’ve found the interactions going forward will even be pleasant.
Let bygones be bygones
The crucial aspect of this is to also assure them that they have come to the right place to get help and you want to do everything you can to help them. Then move on! Don’t dwell on their inappropriate actions, forgive them, and start with a fresh slate. Realize when most people think of “customer service” they quickly think of all the bad moments they’ve had poor customer service. So, when they go to get help they switch into “battle mode”. The goal here isn’t to “win” but it’s to redirect their “mode” to a conversation more productive. Going forward, if the customer has decided to agree to your “social contract” and continue working together, you can actually have a really enjoyable interaction after that point–sometimes even better than your nicest customers.
Think about a time when you’ve gone through an emotionally strenuous situation and then think of the connection you had/have with those that were around you through it. This piece is just my opinion, I don’t have any phycological research or studies to back it up. But I imagine that is what’s going on here. You’ve taken a journey with someone whose gone through an emotionally troubling time, and you stayed with them through to the end.
This is possibly the most human piece of a technician’s job. This is when you’re not just helping fix computers, but you’re actually helping people.
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