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Anyone who has ever worked as a customer service representative understands the perils of an irate caller. Some are angry from the moment you pick up the phone; others become progressively agitated over the course of the call. But in any event, an angry caller is not to be taken to be taken lightly.

But there’s an upshot to an irate-caller situation. When a customer service rep properly diffuses the situation to everyone’s satisfaction, there’s a good chance that your angry caller will have been converted to a loyal customer. That’s why it’s so important that your phone-answering team be well-versed in the art of dealing with angry callers.

Why Customers Become Angry
An article published by Psychology Today points out that companies spend millions researching their customers’ needs and desires in order to better understand what it is they’re looking for. All the same, the article notes, many of those same companies have problems maintaining consistent customer service.

What’s often missing, the article says, boils down to respect. This is an essential component of successful customer service, and the lack of it can lead to an irate customer. Let’s take a closer look at a few ways that a lack of respect (or at a perceived lack) can manifest in a potentially irate customer:

ü  Not respecting a customer’s time
We’ve all heard the adage ‘time is money’, and there’s certainly some truth to it. Many employees are paid by the hour; and those that aren’t still probably know how much they make in a fortnight, month or year – depending on the situation. So a caller can become understandably agitated when placed on hold, or transferred back and forth, or – perhaps worst of all – forced to try and communicated with an automated voice via the keypad. A well-executed customer service system handles calls quickly, efficiently and with minimum hassle to the customer.

ü  Not respecting a customer’s position
In this case, we’re taking ‘position’ to mean status as a customer, subscriber, client, etc. But you could just as well be speaking of the customer’s human dignity. When speaking with a customer service rep, it’s common for callers to feel that they’re being treated rudely. Or that the person on the other end of the line couldn’t be more bored with their enquiry. That’s often just the result of the potentially routine nature of the call (at least from the rep’s point of view), but that’s no excuse for less-than-engaging service. Telephone-based customer service is at its best when the caller feels that they were taken seriously and treated with genuine interest and respect for the duration of the call.

ü  Not respecting a customer’s intelligence
Customers understand the reason that you have loyalty programmes or why you bother calling a branded key fob a ‘free gift’. They realise that when an automated voice says ‘We value your call’, they’re really saying, ‘We don’t invest enough in telephone answering services, but we still hope you’ll shop with us’. Niceties are, well, nice – but an excess of them begins to feel fake. When your customers call in, they’re much more concerned with having their issue addressed than they are in listening to overly rehearsed lines or branded jargon. If your customer service rep treats like callers sane, intelligent adults, the company will reap much better rewards as a result.

The above are three prime examples of how a sales call or customer service interaction on the phone can be derailed. If a caller feels that they’re being denied respect in any of the above ways, they’re likely to start feeling agitated. And that can, in turn, lead to even greater problems down the road.

However it’s also worth mentioning that a call taking a turn for the worst doesn’t have to be chocked up as a loss – not just yet anyway. In the next section, we’ll look at a few ways that you can actively diffuse a live situation with a potentially irate caller.

Tips for Dealing with Angry Callers
When you sense that a caller is becoming agitated, there are a few steps you can take to defuse the situation. Here are a few that we have found effective:

ü  Prioritise listening
With all the talking that takes place on the telephone, it’s easy to forget how crucial listening is. The better you understand the caller’s situation – be it a need, a grievance or something else – the better you’ll be able to resolve it. Listening is, perhaps, the powerful tool in a customer service representative’s toolbox.

ü  Take notes
Part and parcel with listening is jotting down what you’ve learned, ideally in a digital format so that it can be attached to the customer (or the number they’re calling from) for future reference. That way, if the call has to be transferred, the next rep will have access to all of the same information without asking the caller to repeat themselves or start over.

ü  Practice empathy
Place yourself in the caller’s shoes. What would you feel like if you were in their situation? When you do this, it’s easy to see how something you view as a relatively minor hang-up could be seen as an enormous problem from their perspective.

ü  Stay calm
Situations like this can easily escalate, but it only takes one calm link in the chain to keep this from happening. Anger is contagious, but so is calmness, and you can accomplish a great deal of good with a meditative commitment to keeping things cool for the duration of the call.

The most important thing to remember is that everyone involved in the call is really just trying to get on with their life. The faster you can resolve the situation to their satisfaction, the better they are going to feel about it. And if you can do this in a way that inspires brand loyalty and repeat patronage then all the better. That’s why it’s so important to have a well-trained team handling the lines.

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