How to Deal with Irate People

#1 of 3

Nicole Brienzi has a difficult job, dealing with angry customers in the service department of a car dealership.  She is Western Slope Auto Service and Parts Departments Director.  Nicole does her job well I know you’ll agree.

Mike asked that I email you in response to your inquiry on how to handle the irate customer or employee.  As Service and Parts Department Director, he thought I may be able to touch on this subject.  🙂

In the perfect world, employees and employers would be able to perform at the level of expectation of the average consumer or employee, thus minimizing the ability to reach the point of being irate.  Since this is neither logical nor realistic, effective handling is the next best practice.

I have found that when I encounter a situation of this nature, and please know that this doesn’t work 100% of the time, I take the following steps:

1. Take them to a quiet place with no interruptions.

2. Stop talking, asking questions and feeling the need to add feedback.  Allow the individual to vent through the entire story.

3. Full eye contact and empathetic looks and head nods to let the individual know that you are PRESENT.

4. Lower your voice when responding.  Turn your volume way down and they will lower their volume, as well.  I talk at barely above a whisper (and I’m pretty loud normally).  This will help calm anyone.  Also talk slower than you would normally, talking fast is a sign of lack of control…and that is like blood in the water.

5. Repeat their concern.  Sometimes hearing  what they just let fly out of their mouth is humbling enough to calm or quiet most individuals.

6. This trick doesn’t always work, use it with caution:  If they have finished and you start to talk and they interrupt and continue to interrupt….I tell them “I know you just want to vent….so I’m going to stay here and listen and you just scream as long as you like”  they will get quiet and then say “No really, I insist….get it out…yell away!”  This will also shed some light on the level of professionalism (or should I say lack thereof) that they have climbed to.

7. Once they have calmed a bit then say, look I know that we have caused frustration / inconvenience / doubt / concern etc.  Now lets (as a team) work out how we are going to get through it.  Offer suggestions and kind understanding.  Most people are not trying to get something for free…..they are trying to get someone to listen.

1. 8.  Once a compromise has been met.  THANK them for their input.  I always end with “I greatly appreciate you taking the time to speak with me on this.  I know your time is important, and that we work to get better every day and the only way we know how we are doing is by client / employer input….really, thank you for that.”   I also always say “Thank you for the opportunity to help you”

8. Follow up, follow up, follow up!!  I teach all my team members this.  We are going to make mistakes, everyone does but it goes a very long way to listen to the concern, admit shortcomings, say thank you and follow up with genuine sincerity.

It really depends on the person in front of you.  Stay calm, quiet, attentive and appreciative.  Please feel free to email or call with questions.  If I can be of further assistance, please don’t hesitate.

#2 Dealing with Complainers

From Susan Knezovich, First National Bank of the Rockies, Corporate Trainer

When working with an irate customer, use a non-directive approach.  This approach does not give the person the feeling of being “conned.” It helps relieve customer tension and is most effective in building better customer relationships.  It takes more skill and thought in using this approach, but the benefits justify the effort.

¨ Listen, listen some more and keep listening: Interrupting with denials or possible justifications before the customer has had his or her complete say will only make that person more angry.  At appropriate moments, however, do ask questions that will help clarify the situation

¨ Empathize: The customer really feels he or she is in a terrible situation.  Recognize this.  Once the customer knows they are talking to an empathetic human being who understands their problems and really wants to help, the way is cleared for rational conversation.  A good early response would be: “I understand exactly why you are upset.”

¨ Don’t take things personally: Remain calm.  One unnerved employee mixed with one irate customer leads only to greater chaos.  Remember, the customer is yelling at you, but the real target is the company as a whole, and at the situation in which they have been placed.

¨ Get the facts from all sides: If feasible, go on a fact-finding mission.  Make it clear to the customer that you will do everything possible to solve the problem.  Talk to everyone involved and investigate all sides of the story.  Find out what is really happening.  Ascertain the true status of the job.

¨ If the facts warrant it, apologize: One sincere apology placates customers’ more than 20 lame excuses.  It is best not to put the blame on any one individual.  Say we made a mistake, and we intend to make it right.

¨ Let the customer know what you can do: you cannot promise the impossible.  A possible consultation with others may be needed, especially with your supervisor.  Find out what they are able to do.  Try to put them in a frame of mind to do their best.

¨ Learn whether that will satisfy the customer: There is not point in having other employees go to great effort, and even incur expenses, only to learn that what was done still did not satisfy the customer.

¨ If not, find out what will satisfy the customer: Ask questions, such as: “What would you like me to do?”, “How would you settle this if you were me?” and “What will make you completely happy?” At this point, you may have to speak to your supervisor to get a more favorable solution for the customer.

¨ Agree upon a solution: Naturally, if you cannot reach an agreement, you will probably have to bow out gracefully and turn the problem over to somebody else.  If there is agreement, restate it, and make sure it is clearly understood.  A letter of confirmation is also a good idea.

¨ Ensure follow-through: If, after all of that back-and-forth there is no follow-through, you have blown it.  You should keep a close watch over events, and either you or your supervisor should call the customer with progress reports.

Remember the best way to deal with irate customers is to avoid giving them a reason to become angry in the first place.    A well kept log shows the kinds of mistakes that keep happening.  All employees of the bank should work together to eliminate poor procedures that lead to customer dissatisfaction.  Then new methods need to be implemented, applied consistently and improved upon.

Remember that the customer may have been upset before he reached the bank.  The balloon may burst at your window, but he sees you as a non person, a conduit for his business.

Susan Knezovich, Corporate Trainer, First National Bank of the Rockies

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