5 ways to handle calls from upset customers

Even if you don’t work as a customer service representative, there are situations where you may end up having to speak to a disgruntled or upset customer and it’s never a pleasant situation. No one likes to be shouted at over the phone and nothing ticks us off more than a passive-aggressive bully on the other side that is trying to coerce us into giving them something they don’t deserve.

However, there are occasional situations where the person on the other end of the phone does have every right to be upset. Even though it’s not nice being shouted at, it’s understandable if the issue isn’t the customer’s fault and they simply just want a refund, some assistance or to reach an understanding. So to help you out, we’ve put together five useful ways to help you handle a call from an upset customer.

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#1. Listening is more important than arguing your point

Don’t just listen for the sake of listening either. This means you really have to actually listen to the person on the other side of the phone and not just respond with “um”s and “ah”s as if you understand them. Difficult callers can be hard to understand because their thoughts are jumbled and they’re frustrated. They might not have a coherent argument to give but they’re not calling just to give you grief; they really do have a problem and want it to be fixed.

It’s important that you read between the lines here and try to understand what it is that the person is upset with. You can’t just assume things and it’s best to only speak when you’re unclear about something they’ve said. When you do have a chance to speak, do not under any circumstances patronize or frustrate the customer even further. Instead, focus on trying to reach an understanding and be sympathetic towards the customer by showing concern and understanding their problem from their point of view. Even if you have something positive to say, you should never speak over them and allow them to finish before you respond.

#2. Leave your emotions out of it; this is a business conversation

One of the most critical points to grasp is that you absolutely need to leave your emotions out of any kind of customer phone support call. You cannot get upset, you cannot get angry and you cannot let your emotions get in the way. Leave your emotions at your desk and pick up the phone as a blank slate.

There will always be times when your patience will be tested. They may make personal attacks, they may react in anger and they may frustrate you to a point where you really want to shout back. However, keep in mind that it will only make the situation worse and the last thing you want is for the conversation to end up in a heated back-and-forth with no conclusion. The only ending when the situation gets that bad is that your company ends up with negative reviews and potentially even public shaming on forums and message boards.

You don’t want to hurt your business reputation so make sure you separate your emotions and think purely from a business perspective. Repeat to yourself that reacting in anger will only make your business situation worse. Instead, you want to diffuse the situation so that your business will be seen in a positive light.

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#3. Search for the root of the issue

At this point, you should have a fairly good understanding of what the problem is. However, it’s also understandable that you might not have progressed anywhere and that the customer on the other end is still barraging you with insults and rude words. The key here is to gather the information that you can make out and turn it into a possible problem and cause for phoning. Having a piece of paper and a pen handy can help you write down any notes that could be helpful, but if you haven’t reached the root of the problem then it’s worth attempting to ask some questions.

Before you do though, you have to remember that you cannot aggravate the customer any more. Make sure you’re not pushing them with passive aggressive questions and make an honest attempt to find the root of the issue. Write down anything of use to help you search for the problem so that you can avoid causing the customer on the other end to repeat what they’ve already said.

Eventually, you should be able to reach some kind of root to the issue. Once you know the root cause, it shouldn’t be long until you can diffuse the problem and put down the phone with a smile on your face.

#4. Offering solutions to the problem

Eventually, you’re going to need to offer a solution and having multiple choices can help the customer feel like they’re in control. Of course, the solutions you offer need to be within the realm of possibility and if possible they shouldn’t break any rules.

Of course, some exceptions can be made if you’re feeling generous, such as replacing an item that is a few days out of its warranty period, but do remember that offering several options it always going to be better than just one good option because it allows the customer to feel like they’re in control and that they hold all the cards.

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#5. Hang up and call back later

Sometimes you won’t be able to diffuse the situation if the person is angry. If this is the case you should advise them that you will need to call them back at a later time or get another person to call them back. Some people unfortunately just won’t listen and they might occasionally start slinging insults and swearing. A few personal attacks might be bearable but if they keep going then it may be best to give them time to calm down. Take down their details and call them at a later time. Hopefully by this stage they will be a bit calmer.

If it still gets worse, you can escalate it to a manager or respond in writing.

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