When Things Get Heated: Communicating effectively with a rude or angry customer

Published on November 10, 2014

round_tableIt’s just a fact of life that if you have customers, at some point you or your staff will have to deal with a frustrated, rude or angry customer. In fact, some dissatisfied customers can be so emotionally charged that it’s like having a blowtorch in your face. It is no wonder that communicating effectively in this situation can be one of the most challenging conversations you will ever have.

How we respond, though, will have a significant impact on whether the customer feels treated fairly or feels his needs were dismissed. If it’s the former, that customer might even be retained. If the latter, he might vow never to do business with you again — and will probably badmouth your company from here to the next ice age.

To prevent being blown back on our heels and/or escalating a challenging situation, it is important, ahead of time, to possess such a high level of knowledge of — and trust in — a proven system that it enables us to focus on the process instead of being caught in the emotions of the moment.

Not All Upset Customers Are the Same

Do not assume that all upset, emotionally charged customers are all coming from the same place psychologically. They are not! The vast majority will quickly become very congenial, provided we professionally create the proper atmosphere. Consider the following five types of upset, rude or angry customers:

Hate Confrontation: These customers will “sound” extremely angry and will want to explain their issue in detail before you have a chance to interrupt. Actually, they hate confrontation so much that they have to “psych themselves up” to even make the call for the anticipated fight. Use the proper problem-solving steps and they become the sweetest people you’ve ever talked to.

A Really Terrible, Awful Bad Day:
They are more frustrated with one more problem to solve than they are with you. Can’t anyone do anything right these days? Does anyone really care anymore? A calm, empathizing voice does wonders.

The Intimidators:
They feel they get what they want in life through intimidation. It is just who they are. An agreed upon “problem-solving agenda” works well with the intimidator, and most will calm down once they know there is no fight here.

The Rude One:
They are annoyed that they even need to explain anything to you. “Here’s my problem, just fix it. I am the customer, after all.” This is just another form of the Intimidator. Listening, compliments and empathizing are key when dealing with the Rude One.

Demanding Anger:
No matter what you do or say, this customer just won’t be happy unless you meet their demands. Maybe you can … maybe you can’t. It happens.

The Solution

The first objective is to reduce emotions to a level that allows us to turn an ugly situation into a positive experience, both for you and for the customer.

Create an Atmosphere That Allows the Customer to Emotionally Vent

1. Remain Calm and Speak Softly –
Do not take the customer’s emotions personally. Trust in the process and respond by speaking with a calm, steady voice.

2. Apologize and Empathize –
When a customer first tells you they are not happy, simply state, “I’m sorry; that has to be frustrating.” This statement will help de-escalate the high level of emotions.

3. Offer a Verbal Contract –
This helps customers know, early in the conversation, that you are interested in helping them with their situation and are willing to listen and work with them. Offer an agenda for the process. If you ask, they feel in control. If they agree, you have a verbal contract. “Ma’am, would it be OK with you if you first tell me about the situation and then we can work together toward a solution?” Their demeanor will become calmer 90% of the time.

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