December 20, 2009 spout

How To Handle Angry Callers in 7 Not-So-Easy Steps

When I was first in technical phone support for the software I was building, I found out that I wasn’t exactly a… um… natural” at putting customers at ease. I used the following information from an AT&T magazine (I was working for a AT&T VAR at the time) in the fall of 1992 to start my education:

  1. Don’t react. Stay calm. When confronted with an irate caller, everyone has the urge to return fire. But don’t fight back. And don’t take it personally, or you’ll become an emotional basket case. Keep relaxed by breathing deeply. And remind yourself that this discussion will not change the destiny of mankind.
  2. Let them vent. Remember, you simply cannot get customers to deal with the logic of a situation until you’ve dealt with their emotions. Trying to attack the problem before people have fully vented their anger or disappointment just won’t work.
  3. Defusing the anger. When a tirade is winding down, try asking - sincerely - Is there anything else?” By this point, they’re usually exhausted and willing to talk. If you hear profanity, try saying: I know the words you’re using right now aren’t directed at me personally.” If the caller replies, Oh yes they are!” you’re no worse off than you were. But generally they’ll apologize, realizing it’s not your fault. At which point, a real dialogue can begin.
  4. What do they want? Once they’ve calmed down, that’s the time to find out what they want: Money back? A defective part replaced? Find out quickly to determine whether you can solve the problem on the spot.
  5. What can they have. Once you’ve figured out what they want, what can you do? This will be set by bounds of your company’s policies - such as warranties or guarantees - as well as any flexibility that management may give you (which should be clearly spelled out).
  6. Customer solutions. Sometimes, the best solution you can deliver is one the customer suggests. And, surprisingly, it can end up being less than what you yourself were willing to offer. Recently, at a major department store, a customer wanted a discounting an imperfect blouse. The cashier was willing to take 35% off the marked price, but first asked the woman what discount she wanted. The answer: 20% off. Of course, some customers will make outrageous demands. In that case, ask them what they’d consider to be a fair solution.” Instead of confronting the customer, this reply opens up the discussion to a more equitable resolution.
  7. Follow up. Don’t make an angry customer even angrier by not doing what you said you’d do. When a promise is made, keep following up internally to be certain that what was promised has been implemented. Even if that means making a minor pest of yourself!

Fred Gleek