Customer Experience News & Trends

5 intelligent ways to handle irate customers

Irate customers can trigger some angst in the people trying to help them. When those volatile situations come your way, here are five clever strategies for handling them.

“Front-line employees and customer service reps have to deal with irate customers all the time,” says Mark Goulston, psychiatrist and author of Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone. “It’s part of the job, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy part of the job.”

To make it less difficult, Goulston offered these strategies for dealing with irate customers:

1. Adopt: FUD

To defuse upset customers before moving on to solutions, try the FUD method. Find out what caused the customer to be:

  • Frustrated
  • Upset, and
  • Disappointed.

Ask them to explain their experience and rate how much they felt each emotion (a little, moderately or a lot) along the way. To help calm them, you might say, “That sounds frustrating. How upset were you at that point?”

2. Have them tell their story

When customers realize that their emotions are heard — and mean something to the person they’re communicating with — they should start to become rationale again. That’s when they’re more likely to share the facts and not just their feelings.

Invite them to tell their story like this, “What happened from when things were going right to when something went wrong?”

3. Take notes

Customers will more likely share their story in a realistic, rational way if they know they’re being “recorded,” so to speak. Taking notes serves two purposes in this case: It allows service professionals to keep a solid account of what customers share, and it reminds customers to slow down and get their facts straight.

Address it like: “This is important for me to get exactly what you have said right, and I don’t want to miss anything. So I’m taking notes. Then I’ll read them back to you to make sure I understood what you said.”

4. Adopt: FDT or TDF

Customers will feel understood, if you ask clarifying questions to match their emotional state at this point.

For those who are still a little upset — and, as a result, confusing — during or after sharing their stories, ask clarifying questions in the FDT (Feel, Do, Think) sequence. For instance, How did you feel when …? What did you (or we) do then …? What do you think now? These more open-ended questions allow customers to express more emotions they may still need to get out of their system — and can help clarify what happened.

For those who are more calm and logical, ask clarifying questions in the TDF (Think, Do, Feel) sequence. For instance, Do you think …? When did you (or we) do when …? Do you feel that …? These close-ended questions allow you to move closer to a resolution now that emotions have been hashed out.

5. Use the mind’s eye tactic

Once you help customers uncover the reasons behind their emotions and defuse the situation, try the mind’s eye tactic to help customers start to think about how the situation can and will get better.

Say, “In your mind’s eye, what can I do now to make this better for you?” Just hearing “make it better” can help customers move from a feeling of “It’s so bad” to “It’ll be better.”

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