How to deal with angry customers

Handling difficult customers can make or break your business. This guide will give you all the tools you need to handle the most aggressive complainants...

Almost every business, at some stage, has to deal with a client or customer flying off the handle. It’s never fun, and sometimes it can get downright nasty – even weird.

Chaz Brooks, owner of Chazbrooks Communications, recently told Startups about a time when he was working as manager of a frozen food store in Hastings, and “a customer came in and waved a frozen chicken at me, shouting “I bought this here and it’s ten pence cheaper in Sainsbury’s!

“He was ranting and demanding his money back – but thankfully, he’d left his dog outside and it ran off, so he had to leave. He never came back – nor did the frozen chicken.”

When people come in brandishing preserved poultry, it can be difficult to keep one’s composure. Thankfully, there are plenty of tips and hints you can harness to deal with angry customers.

Her’es how to handle angry customers:

  1. Understand the importance of valuing the complaint

    Effective complaint resolution is impossible if you don’t value the person making the complaint – empathy and respect are fundamental. Mike Dalloz, owner of customer service coaching company Performance in People, told us:

    “Before looking at how to deal with a customer, it’s important to step back and understand the relevance of great service. In a retail environment where customers are making purchases of low value, you have to think of their potential lifetime value; someone spending £15 in your restaurant may not seem much, but if they come in three times a week it mounts up.

    “Customers typically tell eight people about a bad experience, while they only tell one person about a good one. But, if you deal with a complainant effectively, you can turn them into an advocate of you and your brand.”

  2. Listen to the customer

    As well as respecting the customer, you have to respect what they’re saying – by listening attentively.

    Listening isn’t just a case of sitting there vacantly – you have to listen actively, showing you’re paying attention. Make sure your body language is right; always make eye contact, nod at the right times, and don’t cross your arms as this can indicate annoyance.

    Sometimes all a customer wants to do is have a good moan. Once they’ve unloaded their frustration, they may be satisfied, and might even realise they’re in the wrong.

    Paul Tanner, managing director of Alan Day Volkswagen, told us about a time when “a customer walked into the showroom, shouting and banging the showroom desk, complaining that he could not get through on the phone and asking what sort of company he was dealing with. When he had finished sounding off we spoke to him, and found that he was in the wrong showroom and had been dealing with Audi!”

  3. Take notes

    Sometimes, with a long complaint, it’s hard to remember everything the customer is saying – and the last thing you want to do is forget the details. Taking notes can be a great way of keeping in touch, and showing the customer you care.

    Gemma Layton, account manager at rsvp.co.uk, told us about an occasion “where the delivery company one of our clients used had delivered half a package to one of a customer. They had carried it up three flights of communal stairs and dropped half of it on the way, leaving it as and where it fell! Naturally the customer was livid.

    “I spent a long time listening to him, and made detailed notes of his complaint. By the end of the phone call, I had all the information to resolve the issue.”

  4. Apologise

    Apologising is perhaps the simplest part of the process, but it’s the bit many people miss. When listening to a customer’s tirade, it’s easy to forget to give an apology, or refuse to do for fear of seeming weak.

    According to Gemma Layton, “when you are being shouted at, it’s easy to feel that they are blaming you personally. It’s extremely rare that this is the case. But you are representing your company and an apology for the experience they’ve had whilst using your company should not be seen as you holding your hands up and claiming the fault as all your own.

    “The power of the word, ‘sorry’ is immense. An apology early in the conversation is often the key to managing the complaint, without having to escalate it.”

  5. Deal with the problem – quickly

    Even if you think the customer is madder than Lady Gaga riding a unicorn, you should do everything in your power to satisfy them, without delegating. The longer the complaint is allowed to fester, the angrier the customer will get.

    Mike Dalloz said: “We recommend first-time resolution; don’t pass the problem to someone else. The person handling the complaint initially should do everything in their power to resolve the problem. Customers respect that and are prepared to listen to it.”

    Swift resolution can pay real dividends – as Paul Tanner told us:

    “We once had a customer who called saying he had a minor problem with his car and was going to drive it through the showroom window if it wasn’t changed, because he expected wiper blades to clear the screen properly!  It turned out he was associated with the Krays, so our decision to replace his car immediately was probably very wise!”

  6. Utilise all available channels

    If a customer has a problem, they shouldn’t have to come to your premises to get it sorted. If they wish to discuss their issue over the phone, by email or online, they should have the facility to do so.

    Jesse Engle, CEO of CoTweet, told us social media provides the “perfect platform” for companies to make positive gains from a customer complaint, proactively responding to the grievance and learning about the customer in the process.

    “Engaging stakeholders directly can go a long way toward defusing a heated situation before it gets out of hand. Everyone knows it’s easier to get mad at a nameless, faceless company than with ‘Bob in Customer Service’ who just reached out via Twitter or Facebook to solve your problem.”

  7. The customer isn’t always right

    Having said all the above, there’s no guarantee the complaint will always be justified. As Paul Tanner told us, “the customer’s not always right and some of them do try it on.”

    Dealing with angry customers can be about firmness as well as openness; as well as respecting the customer, you have to respect yourself – if you give ground automatically without considering the background, you risk getting seriously ripped off.

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