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Gears Magazine | Handling the Irate Customer
Other Articles - September - 2017

Handling the Irate Customer

Admittedly I am not very familiar with transmissions. In fact, the first time I even saw one; was when I spoke at ATRA in 2015. But that’s OK – it’s not my job to be familiar with transmissions; it’s YOUR job. My job is to be familiar with your customers and how people, primarily your customers, like to be treated. And I’m as good at that as you are working with transmissions.

Fair enough?

Occasionally, your job will entail taking calls from unhappy, even irate customers. When that happens, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Your employees who deal with customers are also especially vulnerable to outbursts from customers who are already going through an emotional, stressful time.

Just like working on a transmission, handling these types of customers takes time and training, but it can be accomplished effectively. To help you along, here are some of the Telephone Doctor’s best techniques for turning unhappy customers into satisfied customers.

Get Off on the Right Foot – Realize upset angry customers are not unhappy with you, it’s the situation. Don’t take a customer’s hostility personally. You are merely the lightening rod that redirects the violent lightening. You can do a great deal to diffuse a customer’s anger before you ever pick up the phone. How? By smiling before you answer that call. You can really “hear” a smile over the phone. It’s very difficult to be rude to someone who is warm and friendly to you.

Anatomy of a Hostile Call

There are four basic steps to handling an irate customer. Telephone Doctor calls them our ASAP technique.

A Acknowledge the person’s feelings and immediately apologize for the inconvenience the customer has encountered. Late apologies make it worse. Make an effort to be sincere. In today’s impersonal society, it’s incredibly rare to hear the words, “I’m very sorry that happened. Let me get the ball rolling to fix it.” You’ll probably spend about 80 percent of your time massaging the customer’s feelings and 20 percent solving the problem.

S Sympathize and empathize with the customer. If it’s your fault or even the company’s short phrases like “I don’t blame you for being upset ” can help soothe ruffled feathers. Pretend you’re the caller. How would you like to be treated? Then get busy solving the problem.

A Accept 100 percent responsibility for the problem. This is probably the toughest part. You may have had nothing to do with the problem. However, it’s your job to take the responsibility and help initiate a solution. If you answered the call; you own it.

P Prepare to help. Begin by reintroducing yourself. Customers don’t usually remember your name. Names are so important. Give it up early in the conversation. Make sure you let them know you will help. Know the name? Use the name. Don’t have the name? – again, introduce yourself before asking theirs. Like this: “My name is BOB I’m the manager (or whatever title, if you have one) ….and I’m speaking with….?” It’s the “AND” technique. You’re letting the caller “fill in the blanks” This tip helps to diffuse anger. Names are very important. Also, a willing attitude is essential, because if the customer senses insincerity or indifference, it will cause them to stay angry. It’s exasperating to complain to someone who obviously doesn’t care.

Excuses – Never make an excuse to a complaining customer. No one wants to hear “The computer is down” or “I’m the only one here.” Even worse? “We’re soooo busy” That’s your problem, not the customer’s. When you give an excuse, the customer automatically hears “I’m not going to help you.”

The ASAP technique works! Try it and see!


Nancy Friedman, The Telephone Doctor is back for her 2nd appearance at ATRA with more tips, ideas skills and techniques for you. President of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training, Nancy is a featured customer service speaker at franchise, association, and corporate meetings around the world. Oprah, The Today Show, CNN, FOX News, Good Morning America and CBS This Morning, called on her for her expertise, and so did ATRA.