Managing Challenging Customer Situations

Reviewed Sep 7, 2017

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Summary

  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Listen to the customer.

Inevitably it will happen: the encounter with the challenging customer. No matter how competent and pleasant you are, you may have to deal with customers who are angry, upset, or frustrated. A customer may have good reason to be upset, or may just need to express frustration with a situation that feels out of control. The key element in managing difficult encounters: Even if you think the person is overreacting, remember a time when you were an especially frustrated customer who felt unfairly treated.

Planning, good communication, and patience will serve you well in all interactions with customers, and especially in tough situations.

Plan for contingencies

  • Be prepared. Talk with your supervisor about scenarios that may arise, and how to handle each one. For example, if a caller or customer is threatening violence or suicide, you need to be prepared by knowing and following your company’s policies and procedures for handling such a situation. You can also consult with a manager about your company’s policy on how to handle this issue.

These situations can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming. Be mindful of how the encounter may affect you, and seek a supportive supervisor, spouse, friend, co-worker, or behavioral health professional (if the uneasy feelings persist) afterward if you need to “de-brief” and talk about your concerns. It is also good to talk about these types of encounters as a team, so you can support one another and develop a strategy to better handle these situations in the future.

  • Have backup. Agree that you may need to involve your supervisor for help with especially tough or complicated issues.

Keep the lines of communication open

  • Don’t lose your temper. You want to defuse, not escalate the situation. Maintain a calm demeanor, but don’t be artificial. Don’t yell under any circumstances.
  • Listen to the client. A customer wants someone to confirm or validate her concerns. Don’t talk over the person. And don’t give the impression that you’re ignoring or brushing aside her problem. Repeat what you think you’ve heard her say, and let her clarify if necessary.
  • Don’t lecture. The last thing an upset customer wants is to be reprimanded. Offer a sympathetic ear and good information, not a stern speech.
  • Don’t be a robot. People spend lots of time “talking” to automated customer service lines and that can create more frustration rather than giving quick solutions. When he speaks to a real person, a customer doesn’t want to hear the same canned lines parroted repeatedly. Be cordial and pleasant, but not dismissive. Have a real conversation with the customer.
  • Accentuate the positive. Put an optimistic spin on the situation. Frame the discussion in terms of a resolution that will work for everyone involved. Instead of using negative phrases, use affirmative ones. For example, rather than saying, “We don’t do that,” say, “Let me see what we can do. I think I know how we can better help you.”
  • Don’t pass it on. If the interaction involves a telephone conversation, try to avoid transferring the customer right away, and minimize the number of transfers the person must experience. As a customer, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of being transferred from department to department without finding who can actually help resolve your issue. Avoid adding to the customer’s aggravation.
  • When in doubt, ask the boss. Make sure you have backing from your supervisor when you make big decisions about how to deal with a challenging customer situation. Don’t make pie-in-the-sky promises just to end the conversation. And, don’t agree to something you know can’t happen. If necessary, tell the customer you’ll get back to her as soon as possible, and then talk to your supervisor before resolving the situation.

Be patient

  • Don’t take it personally. Keep in mind that the customer isn’t angry with you, but rather with the situation.
  • Don’t panic. If a customer becomes upset, tearful, or makes a hurtful or desperate comment, remain calm and assure the person that you will make an attempt to find the best resolution to the problem. Using a calm respectful voice can help stabilize the situation. You may want to call a supervisor if you need more support.
  • Be flexible. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Tailor the resolution to the situation.
  • Go out on a high note. At the end of the conversation, ask if there’s anything else you can do to help. Make sure the customer remembers you for a positive reason, not a negative reason.
  • Follow through. Do what you say you’re going to do. Call back if you say you will. If necessary, have someone else get back to the customer.
  •  If all else fails, call in reinforcements. Refer the customer to your supervisor if necessary.
By Kristen Knight
Source: Customer Service for Dummies, Third Edition by Karen Leland and Keith Bailey. Wiley Publishing Inc., 2006; Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, Fourth Edition by Performance Research Associates. AMACOM, 2007; Exceptional Customer Service, Second Edition by Lisa Ford, David McNair and Bill Perry. Adams Media Corporation, 2009

Summary

  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Listen to the customer.

Inevitably it will happen: the encounter with the challenging customer. No matter how competent and pleasant you are, you may have to deal with customers who are angry, upset, or frustrated. A customer may have good reason to be upset, or may just need to express frustration with a situation that feels out of control. The key element in managing difficult encounters: Even if you think the person is overreacting, remember a time when you were an especially frustrated customer who felt unfairly treated.

Planning, good communication, and patience will serve you well in all interactions with customers, and especially in tough situations.

Plan for contingencies

  • Be prepared. Talk with your supervisor about scenarios that may arise, and how to handle each one. For example, if a caller or customer is threatening violence or suicide, you need to be prepared by knowing and following your company’s policies and procedures for handling such a situation. You can also consult with a manager about your company’s policy on how to handle this issue.

These situations can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming. Be mindful of how the encounter may affect you, and seek a supportive supervisor, spouse, friend, co-worker, or behavioral health professional (if the uneasy feelings persist) afterward if you need to “de-brief” and talk about your concerns. It is also good to talk about these types of encounters as a team, so you can support one another and develop a strategy to better handle these situations in the future.

  • Have backup. Agree that you may need to involve your supervisor for help with especially tough or complicated issues.

Keep the lines of communication open

  • Don’t lose your temper. You want to defuse, not escalate the situation. Maintain a calm demeanor, but don’t be artificial. Don’t yell under any circumstances.
  • Listen to the client. A customer wants someone to confirm or validate her concerns. Don’t talk over the person. And don’t give the impression that you’re ignoring or brushing aside her problem. Repeat what you think you’ve heard her say, and let her clarify if necessary.
  • Don’t lecture. The last thing an upset customer wants is to be reprimanded. Offer a sympathetic ear and good information, not a stern speech.
  • Don’t be a robot. People spend lots of time “talking” to automated customer service lines and that can create more frustration rather than giving quick solutions. When he speaks to a real person, a customer doesn’t want to hear the same canned lines parroted repeatedly. Be cordial and pleasant, but not dismissive. Have a real conversation with the customer.
  • Accentuate the positive. Put an optimistic spin on the situation. Frame the discussion in terms of a resolution that will work for everyone involved. Instead of using negative phrases, use affirmative ones. For example, rather than saying, “We don’t do that,” say, “Let me see what we can do. I think I know how we can better help you.”
  • Don’t pass it on. If the interaction involves a telephone conversation, try to avoid transferring the customer right away, and minimize the number of transfers the person must experience. As a customer, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of being transferred from department to department without finding who can actually help resolve your issue. Avoid adding to the customer’s aggravation.
  • When in doubt, ask the boss. Make sure you have backing from your supervisor when you make big decisions about how to deal with a challenging customer situation. Don’t make pie-in-the-sky promises just to end the conversation. And, don’t agree to something you know can’t happen. If necessary, tell the customer you’ll get back to her as soon as possible, and then talk to your supervisor before resolving the situation.

Be patient

  • Don’t take it personally. Keep in mind that the customer isn’t angry with you, but rather with the situation.
  • Don’t panic. If a customer becomes upset, tearful, or makes a hurtful or desperate comment, remain calm and assure the person that you will make an attempt to find the best resolution to the problem. Using a calm respectful voice can help stabilize the situation. You may want to call a supervisor if you need more support.
  • Be flexible. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Tailor the resolution to the situation.
  • Go out on a high note. At the end of the conversation, ask if there’s anything else you can do to help. Make sure the customer remembers you for a positive reason, not a negative reason.
  • Follow through. Do what you say you’re going to do. Call back if you say you will. If necessary, have someone else get back to the customer.
  •  If all else fails, call in reinforcements. Refer the customer to your supervisor if necessary.
By Kristen Knight
Source: Customer Service for Dummies, Third Edition by Karen Leland and Keith Bailey. Wiley Publishing Inc., 2006; Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, Fourth Edition by Performance Research Associates. AMACOM, 2007; Exceptional Customer Service, Second Edition by Lisa Ford, David McNair and Bill Perry. Adams Media Corporation, 2009

Summary

  • Don’t lose your temper.
  • Listen to the customer.

Inevitably it will happen: the encounter with the challenging customer. No matter how competent and pleasant you are, you may have to deal with customers who are angry, upset, or frustrated. A customer may have good reason to be upset, or may just need to express frustration with a situation that feels out of control. The key element in managing difficult encounters: Even if you think the person is overreacting, remember a time when you were an especially frustrated customer who felt unfairly treated.

Planning, good communication, and patience will serve you well in all interactions with customers, and especially in tough situations.

Plan for contingencies

  • Be prepared. Talk with your supervisor about scenarios that may arise, and how to handle each one. For example, if a caller or customer is threatening violence or suicide, you need to be prepared by knowing and following your company’s policies and procedures for handling such a situation. You can also consult with a manager about your company’s policy on how to handle this issue.

These situations can be scary, confusing, and overwhelming. Be mindful of how the encounter may affect you, and seek a supportive supervisor, spouse, friend, co-worker, or behavioral health professional (if the uneasy feelings persist) afterward if you need to “de-brief” and talk about your concerns. It is also good to talk about these types of encounters as a team, so you can support one another and develop a strategy to better handle these situations in the future.

  • Have backup. Agree that you may need to involve your supervisor for help with especially tough or complicated issues.

Keep the lines of communication open

  • Don’t lose your temper. You want to defuse, not escalate the situation. Maintain a calm demeanor, but don’t be artificial. Don’t yell under any circumstances.
  • Listen to the client. A customer wants someone to confirm or validate her concerns. Don’t talk over the person. And don’t give the impression that you’re ignoring or brushing aside her problem. Repeat what you think you’ve heard her say, and let her clarify if necessary.
  • Don’t lecture. The last thing an upset customer wants is to be reprimanded. Offer a sympathetic ear and good information, not a stern speech.
  • Don’t be a robot. People spend lots of time “talking” to automated customer service lines and that can create more frustration rather than giving quick solutions. When he speaks to a real person, a customer doesn’t want to hear the same canned lines parroted repeatedly. Be cordial and pleasant, but not dismissive. Have a real conversation with the customer.
  • Accentuate the positive. Put an optimistic spin on the situation. Frame the discussion in terms of a resolution that will work for everyone involved. Instead of using negative phrases, use affirmative ones. For example, rather than saying, “We don’t do that,” say, “Let me see what we can do. I think I know how we can better help you.”
  • Don’t pass it on. If the interaction involves a telephone conversation, try to avoid transferring the customer right away, and minimize the number of transfers the person must experience. As a customer, you’ve probably experienced the frustration of being transferred from department to department without finding who can actually help resolve your issue. Avoid adding to the customer’s aggravation.
  • When in doubt, ask the boss. Make sure you have backing from your supervisor when you make big decisions about how to deal with a challenging customer situation. Don’t make pie-in-the-sky promises just to end the conversation. And, don’t agree to something you know can’t happen. If necessary, tell the customer you’ll get back to her as soon as possible, and then talk to your supervisor before resolving the situation.

Be patient

  • Don’t take it personally. Keep in mind that the customer isn’t angry with you, but rather with the situation.
  • Don’t panic. If a customer becomes upset, tearful, or makes a hurtful or desperate comment, remain calm and assure the person that you will make an attempt to find the best resolution to the problem. Using a calm respectful voice can help stabilize the situation. You may want to call a supervisor if you need more support.
  • Be flexible. Don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. Tailor the resolution to the situation.
  • Go out on a high note. At the end of the conversation, ask if there’s anything else you can do to help. Make sure the customer remembers you for a positive reason, not a negative reason.
  • Follow through. Do what you say you’re going to do. Call back if you say you will. If necessary, have someone else get back to the customer.
  •  If all else fails, call in reinforcements. Refer the customer to your supervisor if necessary.
By Kristen Knight
Source: Customer Service for Dummies, Third Edition by Karen Leland and Keith Bailey. Wiley Publishing Inc., 2006; Delivering Knock Your Socks Off Service, Fourth Edition by Performance Research Associates. AMACOM, 2007; Exceptional Customer Service, Second Edition by Lisa Ford, David McNair and Bill Perry. Adams Media Corporation, 2009

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