Angry customers on the phone: how to deal with them

Angry customers on the phone are no fun, but if you know how to handle them well, it can be very satisfying to calm them down. We give you 8 tips for dealing with angry customers on the phone in a calm and professional manner.

Door Renée Müller

10.6 min read

26 July 2021

Angry customers on the phone

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Ai! You pick up the handset and screams can be heard on the other end. Soon your heartbeat is hardcore and your adrenaline level is rising fast. Calm down! Angry customers on the phone are no fun, but if you know how to handle them well, it can be very satisfying to calm them down. Knowing how to deal with an angry or complaining caller without losing patience is crucial. Here are 8 tips on how to calmly and professionally deal with angry customers on the phone.

We live in a world that is all about the customer. That makes sense, because without customers, your business won’t grow and you won’t make a penny. As the market becomes increasingly saturated, companies are inventing ever more crazy things to take their customer experience to the next level. Customers know this and are becoming more demanding about what they want from companies, what they like and especially what they don’t like.

You might not expect it from looking around on social media, but most customers are not so quick to write a negative review or actually make that angry phone call. Research shows that 91% (!) of customers just leave without saying a word. Why? Well, because 79% of the customers who contacted a company about a bad customer experience were simply ignored.

Customers may not call you immediately if they are not happy, but they will certainly tell their friends and acquaintances about their bad experience. The average Dutchman even tells about 15 people.

So chances are you’ve already lost a few customers because they weren’t satisfied, even when excellent customer experience is your priority. It is important that you treat a customer who calls with a complaint or posts a negative review extremely well, especially since this can have huge benefits for your business:

  • Negative reviews increase trust in a company. It’s really easy to buy five-star reviews on social media these days, everyone knows that. So then it’s not surprising if customers expressly look for complaints or negative reviews, because these actually tell a lot more about the product or service. Because we also know: it is really impossible to have only satisfied customers. A website full of rave reviews quickly suggests that the company concerned removes all negative reviews or even writes them themselves. Turn it around. Responding to negative reviews shows that you are willing to listen to criticism and learn how to improve your products or services.
  • Customer complaints and negative posts can highlight your exceptional customer service. Trolls and spammers aside, complaints or negative reviews are actually customers giving you a ‘second chance’. If you respond by contacting them directly and resolving the problem, you are well on your way to increasing trust in your business and turning a dissatisfied customer into a loyal one.
  • They are an exceptional showcase for what customers expect from your business. Complaints and negative reviews – if constructive – are a good source of data on how to improve your service.The tricky thing is that dealing with written complaints is a lot easier than with angry customers on the phone.

How to properly deal with angry customers on the phone?

With written criticism, you have a moment to take a deep breath, analyse the situation and think about the best response to the issue – you don’t react until everything is prepared. But what if you get a disgruntled customer on the phone demanding immediate attention?

Any call centre agent will tell you that dealing with impatient or rude callers is one of the most difficult aspects of working in a call centre – especially since agents answer such calls almost every day. It is made even more difficult by the fact that agents must respond to such calls with professionalism, confidence and composure. How? Here are our eight tips on how to deal with customer complaints without ruining your own nerves.

1. Stay calm

First and foremost, keep a cool head, no matter how difficult that can be. When a customer shouts at you or insults you, you might be tempted to react in the same way, but that really is the worst thing you can do. Getting angry, arguing or shouting only escalates the argument and makes you lose control. Take a few deep breaths and remind yourself that your client’s anger is not directed at you.

It is the situation that makes your customer angry. Suppose your service has stopped working during a hectic day – that frustrates any normal person, doesn’t it? They are angry at the company and the product, but if you let them insult you, you will only get more stressed.

2. Be nice to the caller

A calm and friendly response is the last thing an angry caller expects and chances are you will throw him or her off balance. A good way to start the conversation is to tell them that you appreciate them getting in touch and that you want to help them as soon as possible. This shows that you are on their side, ready to listen and can actually help. Do not raise your voice, as this will only add fuel to the fire.

Because responding professionally to customer complaints and remaining calm during a conversation takes a lot of practice, you can (and should) work on maintaining a calm and pleasant tone during difficult conversations – for example, by participating in call centre training.

3. Listen!

It’s true that sometimes people just call companies because they are having a bad day and want to tell their story to someone who really listens to them. In such cases, it is smart to let the caller talk until they calm down. However, most callers have a problem that they cannot solve themselves and that is why they call you. Let them explain the reason for their dissatisfaction and tell you what you want them to do. In some cases, just listening is good enough.

Of course, this does not mean that you should listen to a caller who is threatening you or calling you names. In such cases it is better to end the call and report it to management. If your company’s policy allows it, of course.

4. Acknowledge the problem

After listening to the reason why the caller is calling, acknowledge that their problem is important to you. Don’t trivialise or dismiss their concerns, as this will only make the customer feel ignored and even angrier. Reassure the customer and say that you will do your best to help them.

A good way to do this is to confirm the main issue by repeating a summary of what the caller said. This shows that you have listened carefully to the customer and gives them a moment to cool down.

5. Apologise

This is a golden tip for dealing with angry customers on the phone. If a customer calls with a problem with your product or service (shipping or billing issues, the product doesn’t work as expected, the latest software update is full of bugs, etc.), offering a simple apology and showing understanding for why the caller is frustrated can instantly put them in a better mood and make solving their problem much easier.

Thanking the caller for contacting you with their problems or questions shows them that you are willing to help when needed, and that you treat their call as an opportunity to improve your service rather than a burden.

6. Ask angry customers questions on the phone

Has your customer finally calmed down? Then it’s time to ask questions to find out where the real problem is and what he expects you to do. You can try to solve the problem right away, but if you can’t, you’re wasting your time and that of your customer.

By asking detailed questions about the customer’s current needs, you can also solve the issue on the first phone call and thus improve customer satisfaction.

7. Don’t promise too much

The sooner you find a solution that makes everyone happy (especially your customer), the happier your customer will be and the sooner you can hang up again with peace of mind. But beware: you might fall into a trap if you try to solve a problem too quickly. Never promise anything you are not sure you can deliver. Also, do not give a time or date when the problem will be solved if you are not 100% sure.

The caller may be satisfied with the result for a moment, but chances are you’ll get a second angry call when they find out you didn’t keep your promise. Or they go to someone else, that’s also possible. Tell what the current situation is and what options you have to help. If you can’t help at the moment, tell them you’ll call back as soon as possible with a solution.

8. Send a follow-up email

After you have incurred a customer’s wrath, the last thing you want to do is contact them again. However, a simple follow-up email can show your customers that you are thinking of them and want to check if they have any questions or concerns. In such an email, you should thank the customer for their feedback, summarise their original problem and how it was resolved, and ask if they have any other questions or concerns that you can help them with.

A follow-up e-mail also gives the customer a chance to apologise for his earlier behaviour and explain why he acted as he did.

Three typical reasons why people call with a complaint (and how to deal with them)

Angry customers on the phone usually have the same problem:

1. The product is damaged or does not work as expected

This is surely the most common of all customer complaints: the product they ordered is damaged or doesn’t work as they thought it would. In some cases the damage is clearly visible (the product won’t turn on, the software often freezes, or the case has visible signs of wear and tear), so you can ask the customer if they want a replacement or a refund.

The situation is a little trickier when a customer uses the product in the wrong way. Ask them what they wanted to do with the product and then gently explain how to use it correctly. If the customer wants to return the product because it is not what they actually needed, you can ask them to replace it with another product.

2. You let it lie

This is what happens when you promise a customer that his product will ship or his problem will be solved by a certain date – but it doesn’t happen. The situation is especially bad if the customer has previously called or emailed you and you either didn’t notice or forgot to reply.

If you have an angry customer on the line with exactly this complaint, the best thing you can do is explain the situation and tell them what you can do about it. Admit you made a mistake, apologise and give them an honest estimate of when the problem will be resolved. Can’t solve it right away? Then explain the situation to the customer and offer to call them when you know when their problem will be resolved.

3. Bad customer service

Calling customer service is already pretty stressful, and many things can make the experience even worse for the caller:

  • Long waiting times
  • Support staff ignoring the caller’s questions or concerns;
  • Caller service is a very stressful experience.
  • Sent from agent to agent repeating the question;
  • Having to hear two different things from two different agents

When these things happen, it is normal for callers to become frustrated and call in with a complaint about the customer support agent. Apologise to the customer for the inconvenience, ask for details about their previous support experience and try to answer the complaint.

After the conversation, investigate what caused the bad customer experience so that it does not happen again.

Angry customers on the phone: stay calm

Angry customers on the phone are the daily reality of call centres. Most of these calls are simply requests for help – the caller has a problem they cannot solve themselves, which leaves them stressed, frustrated and angry. If you can handle the call in a friendly and professional manner, you will gain loyal customers. Solving problems quickly and effectively increases trust in your company.

But that doesn’t mean you should take the “customer is always right” approach at all times. If a situation gets out of hand, and the customer starts acting vulgar or threatening, it’s your right to hang up and report the conversation.

Also read: 8 common mistakes in customer contact and how to avoid them

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