Angry Customers – Part 4: Do the Opposite

Try kindness. Angry customers will often come at you with a negative tone and accusatory language. They are convinced, before they even picked up the phone, that you aren't going to be helpful. They are expecting to have to claw, bite and fight for any kind of resolution. Usually, by the time the customer has reached this point, it's because our service delivery system has already failed them, perhaps multiple times.

While it's hard not to react to the customer with the same attitude, the fact is that a similar response is only going to escalate the customer further. If the customer starts the call by being snippy and accusatory and we respond in an equally accusatory or snippy manner, the customer thinks, "Aha! I was RIGHT! They ARE going to be difficult to work with. I have EVERY RIGHT to get ticked off and yell at them!"

We can't control how a customer is going to react or respond to us. We CAN control how we react and respond the customer. By refusing to respond to the customer in a similar angry, snippy, accusatory manner, we will often give the customer no place to emotionally go with their anger. They want to get angry, scream and yell, but if we refuse to respond in a like manner, the caller will often begin to calm down.

But, we're not done.

There's an old proverb that goes like this: "Bless those who curse you, and in so doing it will be like heaping burning coals on their head." In other words, if you act the opposite of the customer by being extra nice, friendly, helpful and attentive – you will frustrate their desire to be angry. The customer begins to think, "I'm going off on this person, but they're being nothing but kind and helpful to me!"

I've heard many calls through the years in which a CSR calms and angry customer and turns them around. It is almost always because the CSR refused to react in anger, and instead they proactively "killed 'em with kindness" by being appropriately friendly, empathetic and helpful.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickrand louisa_catlover

  10 comments for “Angry Customers – Part 4: Do the Opposite

  1. January 13, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    That’s a good tip. It’s just hard to remember to be kind to someone who’s been yelling at you ever since you met them.

  2. January 14, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    This is exactly why I enjoyed talking to irate customers. Yes, that one person is me. I always saw it as a challenge: I didn’t feel I was doing my job right if I wasn’t able to make an angry customer happy.
    The one thing I hate is when I hear the word “ma’am” or “sir” used in a derogatory manner. “Ma’am, like I was trying to TELL you…” That does not scream great customer service: that screams “you’ve ticked me off, pushed me over the edge, and now you’re going to listen to me. You have no other options: this will go my way nor not at all.”

  3. Whatever
    January 17, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I will be so glad when garbage like Tom have no influence on how business is done in this country. He pretends to care about customers, but anyone who knows about the type of dysfunctional slave workplaces he fecklessly advocates knows better. Angry customers exist for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s small, sometimes it’s silly, but the rationally indefensible nonsense he dispenses–the stock-price-driven antithesis of customer service that people like him advocate–is a lion’s share of the source these days.
    Customers want customer service representatives who regard them as human rather than numbers, and have the time to help them, and to follow up on their issues. All of the person-management techniques he advocates have some basis in theory, to be sure, but it’s a shell-game. The purpose is to use the 10.00/hour slave to insulate the corporate overlords from the wrath of people who usually have some reason to be angry to begin with.

  4. January 20, 2009 at 9:08 am

    I apologize, Whatever, if I’ve offended you in any way. I respect your right to your own opinions.
    I would guess that your generalizations and characterization of me, and my clients, may come from your own experiences. To be sure, there are plenty of call centers that could be aptly described as “dysfunctional slave workplaces.” You won’t find those places on my list of clients. Their approach to business is as dark as you describe. Nevertheless, there are also companies with call centers who pay their people well, provide pportunities for advancement, and desire to treat their customers well in the process.
    Likewise, there are “corporate overlords,” as you call them, who care a great deal about their employees, their customers and what their customers expect and experience. They approach their quality program as a means of keeping a better handle on the pulse of the customer rather than insulating them from it.
    You raise a very real issue. There are, indeed, call centers where customer service is paid lip service to cover up terrible business practices. However, it is a false assumption, I belive, to think that all call centers are the same.
    I wish you all the best.

  5. January 20, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Whatever: You must be a former call center worker. If so, I promise you not all call centers are bad. I’ve been in several over the last 15 years, and they all have their good and bad points. But for a lot of us, it’s a job we love: and for me, a job I am passionate about.
    There is no excuse for bad customer service. None.

  6. January 20, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    Thanks for adding your two cents, Ann. Well said. I appreciate your passion and your professionalism.

  7. January 20, 2009 at 6:18 pm

    I could have added four cents, but I’m trying to be somewhat professional… 😀
    Your answer was spectacular, and exactly what I would expect from a QA professional. You practice what you preach, and I admire you for that.

  8. Lazarus Banda
    February 18, 2009 at 1:40 pm

    Great ideas for boosting biz of any size.
    i like the truth behind the article

  9. February 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks, Lazarus! I appreciate you stopping by and posting the comment.

  10. Peter McGuire
    December 19, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    This is true and how I will continue to work as a CSR. However, I want to point out a glaring deficiency in the mindset of American people. They are employing the “squeakyist wheel gets the grease theory” However, if they were in a retail story they would be arrested for disorderly conduct. But from the “safety” of their homes they believe that they can get away with an otherwise criminal act.
    In any event, these people are low -rent scum ( regardless of their socio-ecomomic status) who have none of my resprect; regardless of the number of times I repeat their full name, say I am sorry or thank you and apologize.
    If calling a CSR who is in a substantially weaker position and yelling at him or her makes you feel good you have problems.
    See a shrink before you do this in public and you see the inside of a jail cell.

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