How Do You Handle an Angry Customer?

One of your big customers is angry on recent service provided, how do you handle this important customer so that the customer will not go to one of your competitors.  

Answer

Mitch Lieberman (Vice President of Marketing, Sword Ciboodle)
My first thought is that 'Handle' sets the wrong tone in the approach. No one likes to be 'Handled' any more than they like to be 'Managed'. More often the response to a problem situation is more important than what made him/her angry in the first place.

While channel approach does depend, I would be inclined to pick up the phone and talk to the person. The simple fact that someone is reading and responding to a survey should actually show a few things, one of which is that you read and act on surveys. Other than that, the basics seem to be the best course of action - be human, empathize and work to solve the problem if it can be solved.
27 Additional Answers
Joseph Carrabis (CRO & Founder, The NextStage Companies)
First determine the cause of their anger ('Anger is never without a reason, but seldom a good one.' - Benjamin Franklin).
Is the cause you/your organization's fault? Admit the error and ask how they'd like amends taken (http://www.nextstagevolution.com/principles.cfm#6).
Is the cause on their part? Ask if they'd like your/your organization's help (http://www.nextstagevolution.com/principles.cfm#17 and 18).
Lastly, decide if this customer is one you wish to keep. No customer is that big or that important, and sometimes the biggest clients need to the freedom to become someone else's headache.
Craig Brennan (Corporate Software Trainer/Business Analyst, Education Management Solutions)
If there is anything that I have learned from dealing with clients directly, it's that a situation where a client is angry has two basic root causes:
1. It's your fault (either your screw-up personally or on the part of your organization)

2. It's their fault (a problem with a client's business process that is causing frustration which is misattributed to your product/service/software/etc.

Both need to be handled with care. The first, while nobody wants to think that they themselves or their company makes mistakes, is really the easiest to handle. You find the source of the problem on your own turf, you deal with it quickly, you make whatever amends with the customer need to be made, the customer gets happy again and you move on.

The second needs to be handled a bit differently. This involves saving face. It's an exercise of basically saying to the client 'You screwed up, not us,' without making the client feel the shame of screwing up. This involves a customer service attitude of 'Fix the problem, not the blame.' Handled correctly, a successful resolution to this kind of issue does not just result in the client complaints going away, it results in the feeling of the service provider/client relationship being more of a partnership rather than just them righting you a check and you just giving them stuff.

This could be the result of a faulty or inefficient business process, a lack of training of an employee, a simple typographical error (I've sifted through thousands of lines of data thinking our process corrupted something when it turned out the client simply typed a lower-case L (l) instead of a one (1) using courier new font into field that was supposed to be numeric)or simply the misreading or non-reading of a scope of work.

One other thing I learned from watching really good, experienced PMs and salespeople, is when, and when not to use the word 'no.' This is an extremely powerful word in that it can either make or break a client relationship with one swift stroke. I've watched really good PMs use it to avoid feature creep in development projects, where a client requests a feature that seems reasonable enough, but was not initially agreed upon for an initial deployment. It's just a client trying to get bang for the buck, but it creates headaches for developers and turns a realistic timeline to unrealistic. For example, 'No, I'm sorry. In order to make sure we get the features we promised you in your phase 1 deployment on time as per our agreement, we will have to include this request for the second release.'

For an example of when not to use know, it's a similar scenario except the request is completely outside the scope of the agreement, so it's gonna cost the client money if they want it. So in the case of the question of 'Can we have this feature?' The answer when it costs money is never 'no.' Instead it's 'Yes, but...' as in, 'Yes, you can certainly have that feature, but it's outside the scope of the agreement which will incur additional development costs of...' This puts the ball back in the client's court. They then need to decide how bad they really want that feature.
Laurie Brown (Owner, The Difference)
As Michael said there is no short answer, however I too would like to add a few thoughts.

The first thing an angry customer wants, is to be heard. It may seem that fixing the problem even before the customer has had a chance to finish would be effective. Not so. Often, if we fix the problem, the customer can still remain unhappy or even angry.

Slow down and listen effectively.
Listen for not only the content of what they are saying but also what is not being said. A great technique is to ask permission to write down your notes when they are speaking. This has two effects;
1. It shows the customer that you are taking his or her complaint seriously.
2. It makes the person slow down. Rarely does an angry person speak slow enough for you to take notes.

Acknowledge what you have heard in order to make sure that you are understanding the complaint and to let the customer know that you have heard them. Show empathy to their issue. 'I see how that really was a problem for you.'

Explore the issue thoroughly with good open ended questions in order to get the full picture.
Find out how the customer would like to see the issue resolved. This does not mean you have to do what the customer asks for but it is at worst a starting point for negotiation,

Only after you have listened , acknowledged, explored should you attempt to respond and resolve.

This process takes longer, but will impact how your customer feels about the solution. After you truly understand the issue and how the customer wants it to be resolved you can either fix the issue immediately or make sure that customer can see that you are doing all you can to fix the issue.

Manage your state.
Nobody likes to deal with an angry customer. If you can manage your own state you are more likely to be productive in managing your customers state,

Remember to breathe. When you are being yelled at it is easy to hold your breath. Good abdominal breathing, lowers your blood pressure, lowers your heart rate and gets oxygen to your brain. Also, slow breathing is 'contagious,' if you are breathing well it will subconsciously impact your customer's breathing.

However polite you might be, no one has the right to yell at you or curse at you. Calmly let the person know that you want to help them but if they continue to talk to you that way that you will have to walk away or find someone else to help them.

All customer service is 'I' to 'I'. Which means that there are two human beings involved. Not a 'customer' and a 'customer service rep.' Treating people as a group (i.e., 'Customers.') or creating a solution for a group doesn't allow the flexibility to handle the individuals involved. One size does not fit all when it comes to customer service and dealing with angry customers.

Start by remembering that the person in front of you has a personal story and history. Everyone has something really great in his or her life and something really difficult, just like you do. Whatever the customer (person) in front of you is angry about may relate to or be exacerbated by his or her story. Remembering this allows you to be more empathetic to your customer.
Lori Richardson (Founder & President, Score More Sales)
great question!

I have found, growing up in a family-owned retail business - that if you can help disarm the anger, you can go a long way.

Say: 'You sound REALLY upset.'
This can almost immediately disarm their frustration - because finally someone is listening.

Then let them know that you want to hear the story of what happened - don't seem rushed and encourage them to share it all. In this day of the possibility to socially rant about your company - why not take an extra minute or five and listen - THEN see what you can do to resolve it.

If it can't be resolved, what is the next best thing that can happen?

You could lose a customer over the situation, but they still can be a champion for you depending on how you react when they are angry.
Guy Stephens (@guy1067) (Social Media / SCRM Consultant, Capgemini)
Just came across this post which I thought was of passing interest to this post: The Science of Effective Apologies - http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201012/the-science-effective-apologies
Guisun Han (Director, Xener systems)
Hi all,

I think as follows;

Firstly, you should listen well what customers say!

Second, then you should find what their problems, complaints and others!

And last, you should show your soultion for them!

With my regards,

Guisun Han
Richard Whaley
There are two types of angry customers: (a) the customer that is angry because you or your firm (it's till your fault) did something wrong, and (b) the customer that is angry because they have learned they get more that way and want to be angry.

With the first, I have found that you have to listen, and listen, and listen. Let them vent. Let them tell you everything that is wrong and that they belive happened without contriduction on your part. Then ask them what you can do to correct the problem. Now you many need to offer suggestions, tell then what is truely impossible but what you really could do, and work out a plan. Be prepared to give until it hurts. But this hurt will be overcome when the customer refers you in the future.

With the second, a different approach is needed. I had a customer like this once. He called support one day and lit into the dispatch operator in such a profane way. Very non-professional and uncalled for since she had never done anything to cause the attack. Her boss was out and she came crying to me to take the call. I took it.

'Charles' lit into me as well. None of my team had been involved in his issue but we were part of the company that was supposed to help him. But the unprofessional way he attacked got to me. I let him rant and rave until he had to stop and catch his breath. Then, and I don't recommend this to anyone...I gave it back to him. I didn't give him a break to get a word in while I told him why people didn't like to talk to him or work with him. I told him how insensitive he was to demean some of the smartest and most capabile support people in the country. And I ended my 'rant' with, 'Now, Charles....just exactly WHAT do you want us to do?'

Silence filled the phone line. Several people that had drifted into my office stood in silence, their chin on the floor. See, I had also put Charles on the speaker phone. Finally, from the other end of the line came a meak and mild, 'Richard, can you get my problem fixed?'

And we did! I dispatched the top people I had available and promised resolutions in twice the time I knew it would take to complete the tasks. All tasks were thus finished on time. All committments were met.

From that day on, whenever I visited that client, my money was not good. Any exec from our firm that visited the site had to take Charles and his crew to lunch on them. But Charles would not let me pay a dime. He took me to the best resturants in town. He make my hotel reservations, at the top places in town. See, no one had ever stood up to Charles AND delivered. And he respected people that could take it, give it back, and, most important, deliver.
Stein Sektnan (Managing Director, SuperOffice SoftwareLtd)
There are already a lot of good answers so I'll focus on a comment which I have seen help regarding the customer service representative who is taking the call. I think very few people really like like taking a call from a complaining customer. As a company, though, you are much better off getting a complaint than having a customer who is not satisfied and simply do not care to tell you. One who complain you can make the situation right for if at all possible, one who does not complain is most likely on the way to the competitor.

Making sure you see the complaint as a positive and an opportunity has worked well and improves the 'handling', 'managing' and structured approach to dealing with the request. And as much as I would like to say our easy to use customer service system makes all the difference, I still think this human factor is a very important factor in dealing with the request.
Walter Erikson (Privacy Officer, Waste Of Energy, Inc.)
Tell the truth, confront the problem promtly and fix it at no cost.
Michael Dennis
I do all of the following:

1. Listen patiently and without interrupting
2. Take careful notes while the customer is speaking
3. Ask for clarification on issues that are not clear to me
4. Ask what I can do - or what the customer would consider to be a satisfactory outcome
5. Promise to look into the issue
6. Indicate how soon I will should have an update
7. Promise to call back
8. Keep my promises
9. Represent the company in dealing with the angry customer rather than handing off the problem to someone else
10. Provide an update, suggest a solution and ask if this outcome is acceptable. If not, continue to work toward an outcome that the customer and my company consider acceptable

Michael Dennis
Shep Hyken (CAO (Chief Amazement Officer) and customer service expert, Shepard Presentations, LLC)
Here are seven steps to dealing with an angry customer:
1. Apologize for the problem.
2. Acknowledge the problem.
3. Apologize again!
4. At this point it is time to move into fixing the problem.
5. Make sure you do all of this with the right attitude.
6. Create a sense of urgency.
7. Stay in touch and/or circle back.

Always remember that service recovery isn’t just about fixing a problem. It is also about the renewal of customer confidence.

I've written a short article that expands on these steps. Go to:

http://www.hyken.com/articles/service-recovery-love-means-never-having-to-say-you%E2%80%99re-sorry/

Shep Hyken, http://www.TheCustomerFocus.com
Robert Bacal (Ceo, Bacal & Associates)
As I've authored three books on customer service, two of which are specifically about difficult angry customers, I'd have to say you have two choices with the topic. You can skim the surface with generalities like 'treat them with respect', and 'empathize' or you can really get serious and learn how defusing works.

I've trained thousands (note I'm not giving links here). I've identified over 120 specific tactics and behaviors to use in these situations.

There are so many specific options and ways to do things right, but there are many more dumb inflamatory things.

Ok. one link. Customer Service Zone http://customerservicezone.com where there's lots of book excerpts and all. I will monitor this topic and gab if it gets beyond superficial.
Titus Kaloki (Customer Relations Officer, Palsoft Group Ltd)
An angry customer is like an angry spouse. You need to remain calm and serious first. Be objective and seek to understand why they are angry by asking pointed questions like, ' Apologies, How can I help you?'. Apologies should be brief as repeated ones serve to empower the anger in the client. If the client is very agitated, seek to have them served by another person, mainly a higher authority. You should also draw boundaries on acceptable behavior and comments. Make them aware of additional costs or consequences and ask if they are sure of taking their action. In the end you need to know some people are just difficult to deal with.
febri Dirgantara (owner, CSQUAD)
1. Listen! Give room for them and listen.
2. Say your sorry.
3. Explain why.
4. Solution.
5. Give a bonus perhaps.
Walter Erikson (Privacy Officer, Waste Of Energy, Inc.)
I have a full C Corp. since 1987 and have never not go paid in full.

Most problems come from not communicating correctly and or warning the customer he/she is makeing a mistake. I have walled from jobs due to the application will not work. Usually the customer comes around or comes back to us to fix the problem.

Walter
Dale Little (Business Strategist & Speaker, Business Strategist, Dale Little)
First and foremost, make every effort to ensure that your customer understands that you're interested in their issue and that you, and your employees, are working to rectify the situation. Here are some Do's and Don'ts:
1. DO remain patient and calm.
2. DO allow your customer to share, in full detail, their complaint. Some times this must occur on several occasions, simply to alleviate the ongoing frustration.
3. DON'T assign blame to your customer or to anyone in your organization, this includes vendors and contractors.
4. DO accept responsibility.
5. DON'T become emotional. Your customer is already emotional due to lost time, money, product, etc. Your professional handling of the matter will provide emotional security for your customer.
6. DO apologize with sincerity.
7. DO ask what reasonable solution your customer expects. Use that as a guideline for resolving the issue.
8. DON'T back-burner the problem. This will only cause the situation to escalate.
9. DO maintain communication via phone or email.
10. DO learn from this issue and take action to prevent repeat occurrences.
Sukumar Jena
Recently i joined this website ..Really this is a nice website and this article is very interesting...

In my opinion i will try to understand my client what you promised and how much you keep his promised and after that i will understand to him to give a short time period to full fill all the client requirement as soon as possible...

Thanks
Sukumar Jena
www.objectfrontier.com
Michael Hess (President/CEO, Skooba Design)
There is no short answer to this question. But a few quick high-level thoughts:

First and foremost--no matter how simplistic or cliche people think it is--is the 'golden rule.' Treating people as you would wish to be treated should be at the core of *all* customer service practices and decisions. And it will get you to the best possible resolution more times than not.

Second is to begin by genuinely *wanting* to help--too many companies and employees start out by being defensive or passive-aggressive, and this is never, ever appropriate.

Third is by having the power to help, and reaching the inevitable conclusion in as few steps as possible. For example, if a customer is unhappy about a shipping charge, and you have the authority to reduce or refund it, and you know that's what you are likely to wind up doing if push comes to shove, skip all the stuff in the middle and just do it.

Here are 3 of many other articles I've written on this exact subject that I hope will be of further interest:

http://www.bnet.com/blog/customer-relationship/don-8217t-torture-your-customers-cut-to-the-chase-already/114?tag=content;drawer-container

http://www.bnet.com/blog/customer-relationship/-8216good-enough-8217-customer-service-is-not-good-enough/480?tag=content;drawer-container

http://www.bnet.com/blog/customer-relationship/i-turn-disgruntled-customers-into-loyal-fans/103?tag=content;drawer-container
Mark Williams (Major Accounts Executive, Ricoh Americas Corporation)
I'm not going to play semantics on whether to 'handle' or 'manage' the situation....that'd be like calling this a 'challenge'. (Don't you just detest political correctness?) The only way to handle (there I go with the handle) the PROBLEM (which is what it is, not a 'challenge') is to address it head-on. Access what exactly it is that the customer is angry about. If it's a technical solution provided, ascertain if the issue is on your side or the client's side (i.e. a configuration problem...oops 'challenge') and go from there. I like to set realistic resolution timelines as well. Don't say you can have the situation 'handled' by tomorrow if you know it will take until the end of the week...set proper expectations throughout the process. This way the customer gets to know you and know that when you say something will happen when you say it will, it will. They call that 'conditioning'.

As JC points out, some clients aren't worth having when you consider the benefit to pain-in-the-ass meter...and most of the problem clients are the small, easy to close deals, not the large, time intensive deals. Strange how that works out...
Chris Adams
I have been in sales & customer service for over 17 years. The best way to work with an angry customer is to treat them how you want to be treated. Make it clear you are listening; repeat the problem back to them so they know you have it straight. Even if you cannot correct it immediately give them a time line that it will be corrected in. If they ask for a manager GET A MANAGER! Never, never tell a customer you are the only one capable of helping them especially if you are stonewalling them, if a manager is not available get their number & make sure a manager calls them back. If there really are no 'managers' have a different employee call them back, it may just be a personality conflict. No customer is dumb enough to believe that unless you are an ity bity company that you are the sole person that can deal with them. If the customer has not clearly stated how you can help them ask. Don't ever answer the question if this was happening to you tell me you wouldn't have a problem with no that wouldn't bother me. We all know if you didn't get your order or your order was wrong you would not be happy unless it was a free upgrade & maybe not even then. It never hurts to say so is the main issue that you need help with? Be honest, most people can tell when you are full of it. Make it clear you are on their side. If you or the company made a mistake fix it at your cost, including shipping! Say you’re sorry right away; even if you can’t really help them just saying I am so sorry for your trouble can make a world of difference. If the customer made a mistake try to meet them at least part of the way. Follow through after the issue is resolved & make sure it is fixed. Customer service is a dead art! Especially large corporations seem to be unable to deal with their customers driving many who would be loyal customers to look elsewhere. Personally there are at least 3 major retailers I will not work with if I have a choice & it mostly boils down to I had an issue & they grossly failed to address issues of their own making. Some customers are never happy even if you are perfect, nothing you can do about them except wish them a nice day but only after you have beat your head against the wall trying to help them. Even a nasty customer will appreciate that you did not shout back or be rude.
Leanne Hoagland-Smith (Chief Results Officer, ADVANCED SYSTEMS)
Since anger is an emotion, this is the time to truly know your emotional intelligence as well as your own decision making styles both externally and internally. Also using the skill of active listening is critical as well. By listening for Clarity (what is the real problem?), Legitimize (What needs to happen to make the customer happy?), Emotions (What emotions are fueling this anger?); Agreement (Where can we find mutual ground?) and Retention (What do I need to remember?) will help to ensure CLEAR communications and diffuse the customer's anger.
Adele Berenstein (Consultant and Trainer, Customer Satisfaction and Reputation Management)
There are many excellent responses to this question in this thread. I would like to add a new thought specific to long running projects or service projects, where a misunderstanding about what is or is not included in the contract is the issue.

H.W. Sit and Ling Bundgaard’s book, Lateral Approach to Managing Projects, makes the point that services contracts cannot be exact. In the purchasing process, the purchaser may think they understand the products and services being purchased and the sellers may think they understand the customer needs. Despite the best efforts of both the supplier and the customer, there are bound to be some contractual obligations that will be gray areas of understanding. Set up the customer to be prepared for ‘gray’ areas of understanding in the selling process.

Then set up a process to resolve gray areas..One example might be to set up a services contract with a 'fund' to deal with fixing gray area problems and require both sides agree to dig into the fund.

Michael Hess (President/CEO, Skooba Design)
With sincere respect to my expert colleagues and all of the well-thought and well-informed posts in this thread, I think that to some extent, the level of analysis and 'science' suggested in some of the comments can be part of the problem, or at least emblematic of it.

There is great knowledge and advice in these posts--and certainly many commenters with tremendous credentials. I am by no means dismissing (or intending to insult) any of it, or the wealth of psychological, sociological and other data and research that surrounds this topic. But unfortunately, many companies abuse this information and get too 'smart' or 'fancy' about basic human interactions. And when they do, we often wind up with things like offshore call centers, hellacious voice recognition systems, and other customer service abominations.

Of course I realize that not all situations are simple or clear-cut -- some industries and customer interactions can be extraordinarily complex. But a solution should always be made as simple as possible within the context of a given problem. I am a big fan of Occam's Razor -- a 14th century philosophy that says, in essence, that the more complex a solution is, the more likely it is to be wrong. Or as we more commonly say in the modern era, 'K.I.S.S.'.

As I suggested in my earlier comment, starting with the golden rule and adding the desire and power to help people, with the fewest possible steps, rules, constraints or complications, will steer you right more often than not. All human beings have the same basic desires and emotions, and sometimes overanalyzing a situation can make us forget that and miss the easiest path to a solution.

Ronni Sherman (owner, Creative Images Advertising Specialties)
No one in business has a perfect record so mistakes & miscommunication will happen that will result in an angry customer. How the problem is handled & how he's treated in the process will usually make a bigger impact than the problem, itself.

Whatever happened to anger your customer shouldn't send him to a competitor as long as it's not a repeated issue & it was handled fast & to their satisfaction.

I agree with almost all the answers above & don't want to repeat the obvious or what has already been said. However, I would like to stress when listening to your client & discussing what happened NEVER make excuses or blame someone else--especially the customer.

Listen to him before you even begin to speak--let him vent & don't react to his anger, no matter how rude he may be. Then talk to him......acknowledge what he has said & the problem he has. Be open, polite, positive & resolve the issue as fast as possible.

I hope this helps.
ahmad zamani
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Terry Ulsperger
This is a quote I wrote after hearing other employees complain about calls from angry customers. I actually like those calls. I enjoy hearing the angry customers voice calm down and they say an appreciative thank you at the end on a call.

'Working with a disatisfied customer is your greatest opportunity for success in customer service'
Terry
Jesse Domingo (Leadership Adviser, Strategist)
If one is angry or upset, it means he is not getting what he wants
or he does not understand what's going on. First, one has to know
what he wants and what happened. The 'what happened' maybe
the result of not being able to understand what went on and
'what went on' is the product of inaccurate details.

In human dealings, if one is well informed, he has more accurate
and realistic expectations that he could decide better and
accept the results and consequences.

Now, if things has gone unaccordingly, this is what would make
the customer angry... bridge this gap or face the consequences.
For you part, understand that the customer is just in the heat
of the moment, so do not be discouraged... exercise patience.
Get his attention by meeting in a relaxed atmosphere
other than the place where he got really outraged.
Let him narrate. Listen. Apologize. Offer solutions.

Say and do everything with sincerity.

This is @TheGreatLight.
Q&A Related to "How Do You Handle an Angry Customer"
When faced with an angry customer, take a deep breath and remind yourself not to take it personally. A lot of times, the client has no intention of being rude or hostile, but is frustrated
http://www.ehow.com/how_4698646_handle-angry-custo...
1 Remain calm and adjust your mindset. No one likes to get confronted by a yelling, heated person in a public space. However, your job in this situation is to stay cool and collected
http://www.wikihow.com/Handle-Angry-Customers
Kick that mo fo in the shine then yell i quit, get the hell outta there.
http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_you_handle_a_angry_c...
Arguably, the most effective way to lodge a complaint is to do it in a calm manner, and by presenting the facts and proposing a solution. But if you're on the other end of the complaint
http://www.howtodothings.com/business/how-to-handl...
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