5 ways to successfully deal with angry customers

Published on: February 16, 2016
Author: Pauline Ashenden - Marketing Manager

Given the complexity of business today and the rising expectations of consumers, most organizations will be on the receiving end of customer complaints. It could be down to a problem with an order, overcharging, or a complete failure to provide services, such as when a telco’s network goes down.

What all of these examples have in common is that it will be the customer service team that is on the receiving end of consumer dissatisfaction and that often the calls, emails and tweets they receive will be angry or even abusive. Additionally, solving the issue may be outside the agent’s immediate control (such as in the case of a network outage or missing package), which is likely to inflame the situation further. No wonder that many agents report increased stress levels, panic attacks and decreased confidence after conversations with particularly aggrieved callers.

However, angry customers are unlikely to take the agent’s feelings into consideration – for them they are a representative of the company that is failing to deliver and they want to vent their frustration as well as get a solution.

So how can companies ensure that they equip agents to deal with angry customers? Here are five areas to look at:

1. Show empathy
The first thing that customers want to feel is that their complaint is understood and is not being ignored. Agents, therefore, need to show empathy and sympathize with the problem, demonstrating that while they work for the company they can see the customer’s point of view. This can be relatively easy on the telephone where factors such as tone and language are obvious, but more difficult on digital channels such as email where vocal clues are not present. In fact, 61% of agents surveyed by Eptica said they found it difficult to understand the language used by customers, with 32% saying it was hard to recognize anger or upset in digital communications. Technology such as natural language processing can help here by automatically analyzing incoming messages, recognizing anger or upset and flagging it to agents, along with specific responses that they can use.

2. Be prepared
Receiving an irate phone call or email unexpectedly can be a real shock to even the most experienced agent. As well as training on how to de-escalate angry customers, companies should look to provide early warning of issues that are likely to result in an increased number of complaints. So, if your telecoms network goes down or your logistics supplier unexpectedly can’t deliver to a particular area make sure your contact center knows – and has answers prepared to give to customers. In severe cases issues should be flagged on the company website, helping to show the problem is being taken seriously and potentially deflecting callers by giving them up to date information.

3. Listen and apologize
For many companies “sorry” seems to be the hardest thing to say. While organizations may not wish to admit legal liability for specific cases, the one thing that is virtually guaranteed to de-escalate the situation is a simple apology. Agents should listen to what customers have to say, without interrupting them, double-check that they have the facts straight and make sure they offer sympathy for their plight. As an agent, never let the customer’s anger rub off on you – don’t raise your voice, be disrespectful or interrupt unnecessarily. Remember that the customer isn’t angry with you as an individual, so don’t take it personally.

4. Empower them to act
Being unable to solve a problem is extremely frustrating for both agents and customers. This is particularly true if internal silos mean that the agent can’t access the information or systems they need to help the customer. Join up your infrastructure, particularly in the back office and with key suppliers, so that agents have the ability to make changes and get a full picture of the customer’s grievances. If necessary involve other departments, but make sure they treat the issue with the same urgency and seriousness and come back to the customer quickly. Provide agents with some leeway, so that they can deal with minor issues and compensate customers where applicable without needing to wait for management sign-off.

5. Learn from your customers
It may not feel it at the time but complaints provide valuable feedback into issues that need to be sorted out. Analyzing incoming interactions for trends provides valuable insight into what requires fixing, for example, it could be something as minor as a badly designed checkout page that is causing a spike in emails and calls. After all, nothing annoys a customer more than having the same problem more than once.

Complaints are a way of life in today’s complex world but what sets customer service leaders apart is how they deal with them. By combining empathy, listening, preparation and empowerment mistakes can be rectified and even the angriest customers re-engaged and brought back onside.

Tags: agent, angry customer, Complaint, contact center, Customer engagement, Customer experience, Customer Service, empathy, Eptica, insight, Natural Language Processing
Categories: Best Practice

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