Oh boy. The customer who’s sought you out hasn’t even started to speak yet. But from his flushed face and clenched jaw, you can tell he’s ready to explode over something that happened to him at your business.

Moments like these are among the biggest challenges you face as a manager. It’s difficult enough to regulate your emotions when an enraged person is hurling complaints and maybe even personal insults at you. But at the same time, you also have to figure out how to resolve the complaint and, hopefully, retain the customer.

Ticked-off customers will never go away. And they’ll never be any manager’s favorite part of the job. But these strategies can help you defuse their anger, expedite solutions and maybe even turn seething complainers into raving fans of your business.

Set the Stage for Resolution

As soon as you’re faced with angry customer, take steps to calm the situation. Simply finding a place where the two of you can sit down to talk instead of standing dials down the emotion. Sitting without barriers — like a desk — between you conveys to the customer that you’re on the same team.

Just as you set the stage physically for a more constructive conversation, you can also prepare yourself mentally. The MindTools blog calls this getting into the “customer service mindset.” Remember that your focus is on solving the issue causing your customer’s anger, not on defending your business or refuting the complaints. It’s hard, but don’t take harsh words personally. Resolve to stay calm and to not reciprocate the customer’s yelling or insults.

Of course, if the customer is being threatening, obscene, abusive or otherwise making you feel unsafe, you may have to take other action, like asking her to leave or calling authorities.

Listening Actively and Attentively

Listening is the most important part of dealing with an angry customer. Much of what the customer wants when he approaches you is simply the chance to vent and feel heard, Forbes says. Effective listening may even be enough to defuse situation.

But even if it’s not, giving the customer a chance just to blow off some steam might be a necessary step before he can talk with you more calmly. That’s why you should resist the temptation to interject when the customer is unloading on you, even if you think you’ve identified a solution to his issue. With his emotions still running high, he might not process what you’re saying.

Give the customer your full attention helps make sure that he feels heard and acknowledged, according to WikiHow. Ignore interruptions like your phone. Maintain eye contact (even if it feels a little uncomfortable) instead of letting your gaze wander.

Your role as listener doesn’t end after the customer has voiced why she’s so upset.

The next step, according to MindTools, is to repeat back to the customer what you’ve heard her say to confirm that you’re on the same page. This further reduces her anger and shows that you want to partner with her to make things better.

Express Empathy and Apologize

Taking the time to ensure you understand the customer’s complaint also helps you offer an apology or solution that fits his needs. Sometimes the key to winning over an angry customer isn’t just addressing the issue he’s complaining about. It can also involve dealing with the emotions behind the issue, according to the Business Know-How blog. For example, a gym customer might not be satisfied even if you quickly waive the fee she complained about because what really has her steamed is the time the billing glitch took out of her busy day. Similarly, a comped dessert to make up for a service delay might not soothe a restaurant patron who wanted a family birthday dinner to go perfectly.

An expression of empathy that speaks to what’s really bothering the customer goes a long way toward easing tensions. The gym customer might need to hear something like “I know how frustrated you must feel having to make a special trip here to resolve the bill.” For the restaurant customer, you could say, “We hate dropping the ball any time, but especially on a night that’s so important to you.”

An apology is still the right thing to do even if you think the customer is just being overdramatic or his complaint isn’t legitimate, Forbes says. Apologizing isn’t the same thing as saying that you’re to blame. Think of it instead as saying you’re sorry that the customer’s experience with your business didn’t meet expectations.

Make Things Right

If venting and receiving an apology hasn’t soothed your angry customer, it’s time to work out another solution. MindTools suggests that you propose your own solution if you have a sense of what might work. If not, ask the customer what would solve the situation for her. Here’s the phrasing MindTools suggests:

I’d love to hear what will make you happy. If it’s in my power I’ll get it done, and if it’s not possible, we can work on another solution together.”

That makes clear that asking for her ideas doesn’t obligate you to do what she suggests. The Velaro blog has a similar message: What you offer to resolve a problem should be fair to both you and the customer. For the sake of your business, don’t overcompensate, even when you feel tempted to grant some outrageous requests just to make an irate customer go away.

After you arrive on a solution together, follow up with the customer to see if you’ve met her needs, MindTools says. Did she, for example, find that you had fixed your service timing issues on her return visit to your restaurant? See if you can find some way to exceed her expectations in your follow up response. It doesn’t have to be expensive. A handwritten thank-you note is an inexpensive way to show the customer she really matters and you want to continue to serve her.

 

Lisa Andersen
Lisa Andersen Content Editor
Part of Planday’s content team in Copenhagen, Lisa is into yoga and loves good writing. Her experience includes working with communication and PR for international grassroots organizations in Argentina and Bolivia.