Talking Tips

Three things your team may be doing to further enrage difficult customers

Managing difficult or angry customers is a teachable skill. Even the best customer service person can become rattled when subjected to the spewed venom of an irritated patron. Refraining from allowing personal emotions to affect the response is a behavior that can be learned. Without proper training, your team can inadvertently exacerbate a bad situation.

Here are three things your frontline may be doing that can worsen a sticky situation and enrage an already annoyed customer:

They fail to create rapport. Rapport is an essential elixir between customer and service representative. Rapport is mutual respect and is usually birthed out of commonality. If you have a customer who is emotionally charged, a super laid-back attitude on the part of the professional may only spur that anger. In this situation, laid-back will probably be interpreted as aloof or unconcerned. A professional has a much better chance of creating rapport if they match the customer’s energy with a sense of urgency that conveys the customer’s business is important to the company.

They use the wrong words. Words like “no”, “we don’t” and “you can’t” are all negatively charged words that create an unconstructive conversation. Even bad news can be delivered without using negative words. Instead of telling a customer what we can’t do, we can deliver the same message by telling them what we can do. For instance, instead of, “No we can’t give you your money back,” try “What we can do is give you a store credit for whenever you choose to use it.” The message is the same, but the words help to make it a more positive interaction.

Two of the worst words you can use with someone who is already amped is “calm down”. It is much like trying to place a band aid on an erupting volcano. Allowing them to vent, and conveying to the customer that you get them, is so much more effective.

They take the bait. The bait could be misdirected attention, among other things. If a customer service rep. allows the customer to take their attention off the issue at hand, it sets the stage for a downward spiral of the interaction. For example, if the customer says something like, “You people always make mistakes” and the rep. gets defensive by saying, “That’s not true, we don’t always make mistakes,” you can see how the response is not focused on solving the real issue at hand. The ability to recognize the bait and take control of the conversation can help to direct the outcome to a favorable one.

Learning to recognize when they are being baited, learning how to respond and what responses to avoid, can empower your team to better represent your organization. Through preparation and practice, your team can master the art of turning angry customers into your company’s biggest cheerleaders and most loyal fans.

If you would like to give your team more tools and techniques to better direct outcomes, send me an email for information on my upcoming workshop: “How to Handle Difficult Customers and Situations,” which is scheduled for Dec. 5.

• Kim Welcome is the chief executive officer of Influential Voice. A communication trainer and coach, she assists businesses and professionals to achieve their goals by helping them to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills. Contact: or call 242-225-9013.

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