“How many of you have faced an irate customer,” I ask my audiences. Every single hand goes up!
“How many of you think your team members have faced the wrath of an irate customer?” Once again, every hand goes up.
It’s inevitable. When you are in the service business, eventually you will have an unhappy customer and they will let you know it. In fact, let’s hope they let you know it before they let the rest of the world know it.
While it’s never fun to face an irate customer, it’s important that you and your staff members be prepared for it, so you can do your best to turn the situation around. In fact, many of the best customer service stories come from initially unhappy patrons who are thrilled with the way you responded!
The first thing to do is accept that it will happen. When someone is complaining or even yelling at us, our natural instinct is to go into fight or flight mode. We want to duck out of the room and let someone else deal with it, yell back at the customer, or blame someone else. We teach students in our customer service courses to quickly take care of their own emotions by accepting that irate customers are inevitable and to use silent mantras to calm themselves. For example, you might think “It’s okay. Let me be here to help.”
Then, you’re ready to TREAT upset customers to red-carpet customer service.
Tune in and Listen: Really listen to what they have to say. You may think you’ve heard it all, but it’s only by tuning in and listening that you’ll understand how you may be able to help. Your job in this moment is to keep your mouth closed, and really listen to what they have to say. This also gives your customer an opportunity to vent, and that’s exactly what they need in this moment.
Respond with Empathy and Regret: When the time is right, express empathy. “I can hear your frustration and I’m so sorry you’re having this experience!” In this way, you’re not necessarily taking blame, but you are letting them know that you understand why they would be upset. More often than not, this simple acknowledgement will at least calm your irate customer down. Of course, if whatever they are upset about is your fault, you would indeed want to own it and apologize.
Explore Solutions and Fix the Issue: Once everyone is a little calmer, it’s time to take action. If you know how to fix, you can say something like “The good news is, I can definitely take care of this for you.” If you’re sure, you can ask “Do you mind if I ask a few questions, so I can determine how to help?” Or, you might say something like “Rest assured, I will do everything in my power to resolve this to your satisfaction.”
Don’t say: “There is nothing I can do,” “I’m sorry, but the policy is…” or “If you had only done this, you wouldn’t be having this problem.”
If you can’t give them exactly what they want, explore a few solutions and offer them options. Or check in with your supervisor. Strive to come up with something that will satisfy you both. If you absolutely can’t give them what they want, provide them with reasons other than “the policy is.” (Is it for safety reasons? Fairness to other customers? etc.) Remember, however, that a happy customer is often one creative solution away.
Add a Little Extra: Once you’ve come up with a satisfactory solution, offer a little something extra! A free dessert, a gift card, or something to surprise and delight them. However, make sure you’ve come to a resolution before offering the extra kindness. Most customers don’t care about the free dessert until you bring them the order the way they wanted it.
Thank the Customer: Why would you want to thank someone who had been yelling at you? Because instead of taking their complaints online, they came to you and gave you the opportunity to resolve it.
Try it. It works most of the time!
If you have done all of this and sincerely tried to help the customer, and they are still being verbally abusive, terminate the conversation. Let them know you’re happy to help them when you can have a respectful conversation. Get help from a manager if you need it.
What about you? What works for you when you’re faced with an irate customer? Comment below and let me know!
Donna Cutting is the author of 2 books on customer service, including 501 Ways to Roll Out the Red Carpet for Your Customers: Easy-to-Implement Ideas to Inspire Loyalty, Get New Customers and Leave a Lasting Impression. As the Founder and CEO of Red-Carpet Learning Systems, Inc., she leads a team of customer service consultants who offer tools and training to help leaders engage their teams to improve the customer experience. She has spoken in 45 of the 50 United States and is part customer service speaker and part funny motivational speaker. For more customer service tips, SUBSCRIBE to our YouTube channel.