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The art of dealing with angry customers (without losing business) 

To most people the person on the other end of a 1-800 customer service call is little more than a machine. But to business owners, they are angels on earth. Why? Because business owners know just how draining it must be to deal with disgruntled customers all day. 

Nearly everyone who works in a service-based industry will encounter an unhappy customer at some point. And in the worst cases, “unhappy” may be putting it mildly. Too many of us have been chewed out over the phone or in person by a customer who feels snubbed or slighted. Sometimes their anger is perfectly valid, and the business they bought from has some explaining to do. But other times a minor inconvenience or miscommunication can send people into a frenzy, creating a particularly frustrating situation for the business owner if the matter is out of their control. But no matter how tempting it is to shout, “Well, have you tried turning it on?” back into the phone, the ability to provide excellent customer service in the face of angry customers sets businesses apart. Here’s how to keep your cool – and save a customer relationship in the process.

Shift your mindset 

People tend to react in one of two ways when confronted with an angry customer: the first is by deflecting blame completely, and the second is by taking their frustration far too personally. Both extremes will only set you up for failure in the conversation – and a whole lot of overthinking later. Try to focus less on finding blame (what or who caused this problem to happen) and more on finding proactive solutions. You can’t change what happened in the past, but you can control what happens now. 

Don’t make excuses

If you haven’t heard the saying, “Everything after ‘but’ is BS,” then you need to commit it to memory. If you or your team made a mistake, then your first inclination might be to protect yourself – and your business – by explaining your side of the story. Responding with statements like, “I understand, but…” isn’t going to end well. Instead, practice reflective listening. When the customer is done explaining the issue or why they’re upset, try responding with a reflective statement like “What I’m hearing is…” or “Can you tell me more so I can better understand the issue?” Making the customer feel heard will likely de-escalate the situation to a point where real progress can be made. 

Sympathize, empathize and apologize

Usually the first thing that angry customers are looking for is validation. Apologize clearly and unequivocally, then respectfully show you understand why they’re upset. For example you might say, “I’m so sorry that our landscapers ran over your daughter’s wildflowers without seeing them in the yard. I can understand why you’re upset. They must have taken quite some time to grow.”

Offer specific solutions

This is it, what the conversation all comes down to. You should offer the customer a solution that directly addresses their concern. While many businesses offer one-size-fits-all consultation prizes, tailoring your offer to the customers’ needs will make them feel heard. Your upset landscaping client won’t care about getting their hedges trimmed for free if their beautiful flower bed is ruined, so offer replanting the bulldozed garden instead. 

Keep calm and carry on

Sometimes customers aren’t interested in making things right, they’re only interested in expressing their frustration. And while it’s undoubtedly upsetting to be yelled at about something that might not have been your fault, especially if it’s something minor, the adage, “The customer is always right” still rings true. You have far more to lose by taking the low road and stooping to the customer’s level of hostility. If you’ve done all you can, that’s all you can do.

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