12. May 2019 Blog

15 Tips On How To Deal With Tough Customers On The Phone

In support centers, difficult callers are impossible to avoid. Agents need to handle customers who are not only losing their temper, but also an interest in a product. When talking to clients flooded with complaints, reps should be ready to handle any situation with highest professionalism. If they won’t manage it properly, the issue will remain unresolved and a valuable client may rather choose a competitor next time.

Tips for Handling Difficult Call Center Calls

How to make sure that as a support agent, you keep your cool and manage to stay professional even with the toughest customers

We offer tips on how to offer top-notch customer service under challenging circumstances.

#1 Listen Actively  

During each call, the agent’s role is to make customers feel valued. That can be done only by precise understanding of the issue that upset them. Always pay attention to the client’s words, not to an anger behind them. By listening, you also show honest concern. Instead of simply calming customers down, focus on how to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.

For this, you need to read between the lines, understand what truly lies behind the issue and respond accordingly. 

Let’s demonstrate it on a practical example: 

Imagine that a customer says: “I purchased your product two days ago and I already have issues with it. I’m really surprised that it doesn’t work the way you presented.”

Now, don’t say that you understand why the client is angry. Why? Because he didn’t explicitly say that he’s angry. He claimed that he’s surprised. It’s a simple psychology: By telling them you see why they are angry, you may as well make them realize that they are angry

Instead, say something like this: “It’s certainly understandable that this surprised you. Please, let me look into it and figure out where the issue lies.”

Further, always avoid talking over the clients. Even if they are still shouting at you but you already have a solution for them. Also, don’t mute yourself. Show them that you listen by providing occasional verbal feedback, such as “I see”

Pro tip: While listening carefully, take a piece of paper and write down the major point of the customer’s issue. Angry callers may talk incoherently and keeping notes help making an order in chaotic thoughts. 

Watch our video to learn more about effective communication:

#2 Offer Multiple Solutions

When dealing with angry customers on the phone, putting them in charge of their own troubleshooting process may be a good strategy. Offer more than one solution on their issue and let them take control over which one suits them the most. 

Also, don’t only inform clients on their options, explain how and when each of them can be implemented. Choosing a solution without knowing all the details prevents customers from making informed decisions and makes them even more frustrated. 

If clients are not satisfied with any of the options you presented, ask what they would need to change and do your best to find a compromise. Search for a middle ground. 

#3 Eliminate Scepticism

Let’s say that your customer’s frustration lies in being sceptical about the product you offer. It is natural that we all make decisions based on previous experiences. In these cases, we often don’t think rationally.

Clients may be asking questions like “What’s the catch?”, delaying the deal closure or acting rude because their past service provider lied to them. You definitely shouldn’t pressure these kinds of customers. 

Ask questions that help you see through their eyes and understand the root of the mistrust. Try something like this: “I see that you are skeptical about our offer. What information do you need from us in order to relieve your fears?” This may lead the customer into believing you are trustworthy and transparent

#4 Be Strategic

Strategic and thought through approach is crucial for understanding the problem. What we are about to explain is called the beginner’s mind, or zen mind. The key is to think about issues as if you were a beginner. 

It may sound strange, because you surely are a skilled professional who knows the product there and back. But a beginner’s mind actually is proven to help with handling difficult customers

It helps to stop thinking egotistically – in “should” terms. Sometimes, when people are experts in some field, they assume that only because they understand, other people do, too. The beginner’s mind eliminates an anger on clients being unfairly rude about something that they “should have known about in prior”. 

For example, don’t say things like: “You said that you wanted to increase your lead generation by 30 % by the end of next month, but with the delays, it’s obvious it will not be possible.”  It is obvious to you. But not necessarily to the client.

Rather, try this approach: “It seems like with the delays, you won’t be able to meet your goal. Let’s see how I can help you to gain satisfactory results.” 

#5 Break the Issue into Smaller Chunks

While dealing with a difficult customer on the phone, sometimes you have to play the role of detective to get more details. This means breaking one complex chaotic mixture of information into smaller, clear statements and, in the end, put together the whole case. An easier, more manageable one. 

This way, you can start dealing with the issue much faster. Also, you turn an angry client’s focus more on the solution than a problem, by making him see the case from a different perspective. 

Ask a customer to help you analyze the issue step by step. Remember to ask close-ended questions.

For example:

“You haven’t received the product, correct?” 

“I see it isn’t the first time you ordered from us. Did you have any issues before?” 

“Can you tell me if we have your address correct, please?”

“I’m sorry, It seems like your current order was marked to your previous address.”

#6 Provide Validation

Many agents have a tendency to try talking customers down. But that rarely makes them calm. Instead of saying “Please, don’t stress about it”, show clients that their concern is valid: “I agree, this is a problem. Let’s look for a solution”. This sounds much more helpful and much less defensive. It is important to show clients that you are on their side

Once you know the root of the client’s issue, you can also practice some reflective listening. Repeat customers’ statements to make sure you got their point right: “So, as I understand, the plan that you subscribed for doesn’t work. Am I correct?” 

This shows a genuine interest.

#7 Don’t Put the Caller on Hold

Unless absolutely necessary, don’t place customers on hold. Many support agents who are dealing with angry clients on the phone believe that the waiting time gives callers a space to calm down. Opposite is true. It will only make them more frustrated, getting an impression that you don’t care about their issue and don’t value their time

In fact, 75 % of customers are highly annoyed when they have to wait to talk to an agent unreasonably long. Instead of putting a client on hold, talk to them while searching for the solution. 

In case you really need help from a supervisor, it is always better to use features like  call monitoring. This way, other agents can provide real-time advice during the call, without the customer hearing them. They may even join the discussion, if needed. 

#8 Don’t Give in to Your Emotions

It’s easier said than done, but in stressful situations, you should always stay professional. In any case, avoid irritationirony and inappropriate phrases. That will only make the situation worse. Here are some examples of what wrong and correct reactions:

  • Wrong reaction: “I don’t know” – Now, nobody expects that you have a Google-sized database in your head and that you remember everything. Nevertheless, for a customer, you are the one who should have the answers to their questions.
  • Correct reaction: You could say: “I can’t give you an answer right now, but I’ll check and get back to you as soon as possible.” 
  • Wrong reaction: “Please, calm down.” Don’t act like clients’ parent or mentor, it’s never good to tell them how to behave. 
  • Correct reaction: Stay professional and say something like: “I understand why you might be upset. Let’s check it together and we’ll see what can be done.”
  • Wrong reaction: “Unfortunately not, It’s impossible.” 
  • Correct reaction: There’s always an alternative. Some requests really can’t be accommodated, but try to offer the caller an alternative: “I’m sorry, but we can’t do that. What if we tried to…?”
  • Wrong reaction: “It’s not our fault.” This, in other words, means: “It’s our fault.” 
  • Correct reaction: Instead of making up excuses, be sure that you do everything to solve the client’s problem. 

We also collected some tips on how to stay calm while dealing with angry customers on the phone: 

  • Don’t take the negativity personally: Always remember that customers are not angry at you. Quite the opposite, they rely on you as their ally. It’s you who should make the issue they are facing right. 
  • Use an even tone while speaking: Don’t sound angry, but also don’t try to be fake positivity. Customers sense that. Simply, stay neutral. 
  • Keep your zen: Take deep breaths and calm your nerves down before you continue talking.

#9 Show That You Care

Each person is different – some clients will be angry for no reason. Others may be kind, even if they face a negative issue. In any case, don’t show indifference. Your lack of interest in their inquiry can amplify irritation and frustration

Instead, use empathy. Therefore, you need to show that you care – genuinely. Express that you will do everything you can to help them resolve their issues. This approach can calm down even the most furious clients. Sometimes, it is enough to simply show people that someone understands

You may use phrases like: 

“Let’s solve this issue together.”

“I am as surprised as you that this happened in our company. Let’s sort it out.”

“I will do my best to do everything I can to help you resolve this issue.”

#10 Personalize the Communication

While dealing with angry customers on the phone, use their name and emphasize the word “you”. This creates a feeling of paying attention to customers on a personal level. Callers know that they are being taken care of and treated with respect. 

Let’s look at an example. Addressing customers with “I’m very sorry, sir” is too formal and a bit cold. Using their name sounds more sincere. The conversation feels more as if a real human is talking to another real human, instead of faceless voice communicating with a call center robot. 

Suddenly, the customers become unique individuals and their issues feel more personal. Therefore, rather switch your communication to: “I understand, John. Let me take care of it.”

#11 Don’t Make Promises You Cannot Keep

When agents get into a stressful situation, they fall into the trap of telling customers what they want to hear just to finish the call as soon as possible. Yet, that doesn’t really solve the issue. 

Quite the opposite, you just ensured more unpleasant conversations for the future, since the clients will keep calling until their inquiry is closed. And they will only get more and more frustrated

Always be sincere. Giving false promises may lead towards losing a valuable client. Instead, stay realistic in what you are and aren’t able to offer. Sometimes it happens that you simply don’t have an answer or the situation is out of your hands

It is only natural, no agent has access to everything and a built-in encyclopedia in their brain. Yet, rather than lying, either advise the client who to contact or say this“I am very sorry Jane, I don’t have a solution right away. But don’t worry, I will find an answer for you and get back to you as soon as possible.” 

Just be sure you actually will do so. 

#12 Express Empathy

Empathy has a lot in common with psychology. You should be able to recognise whether customers’ issue is “physical” or “emotional”Physical, for example, means that the clients don’t have something they are supposed to. In this case, it is enough to provide an assurance that they will be refunded.

Emotional issue lies in frustration from a negative interaction with a support agent who doesn’t understand how customers feel

Now, we know that customers who are calling you are usually complete strangers to you. It may sound difficult to empathize with them, mainly if you are dealing with angry clients. Yet, there is a reason why empathy is one of the most important skills a call center agent can master. 

Try to imagine that what’s happening to the client is happening to you. How would you feel in their shoes? Empathising with customers will make you understand them much better and calm them down.

The sooner you show empathy, the better. Try to use phrases like: “I see. I myself was once in this situation and I completely understand. Let me solve this issue for you.”  

#13 Make Sure Customer Leaves the Call Happy

Around 68 % of customers claim politeness is the key factor to what they perceive as a good service. Even though it may not be visible, always smile while talking to callers. They will sense it, and as the saying goes, a smile is contagious. Also, always thank them for contacting you and for being patient. By creating a positive vibe, you can beat the anger. 

Further, use positive sentences. For example, instead of saying “Sorry, it will last a few more minutes,” try to use: “I will be back in no time. Thank you for your patience.”

If the customer cannot be consolidated with simply a positive approach and your policy allows it, offer something extra. Such as a refund or voucher. It shows that even though you couldn’t resolve the issue the way a customer imagined, you feel genuinely sorry and want to compensate for their loss. 

We are sure that with an attitude like this, clients will leave the call with a smile on their face. Or at least with a peace in their voice. 

#14 Don’t Forget to Apologize

It may be counterproductive sometimes, since angry customers are eager to say something like “Your sorry solves nothing”. Yet, if your company made a mistake, it’s common sense to apologize for inconvenience

Also, sometimes you simply run out of all possibilities and there is nothing else left then an honest sorry. If you know you tried everything you could, apology is the best you can do. Maybe it will not calm the customer down at first, but it will show the company as polite and empathetic

#15 Use Your Technical Resources

Tools you can utilize within your call center software can also help you to deal with angry customers on the phone. There are several features that may be handy assistants during interacting with difficult clients. 

With tools like real-time customer cards, you see all clients’ information and interaction history in one place, which helps you to react faster. That assures the angry customers that you are well-informed and care about their inquiry. 

Having an ability to make call notes in your call center software directly while speaking with a customer also helps to summarize the issue, and save it for the future. 

Furthermore, you can benefit from skill-based routing or routing to a preferred agent. With skill-based routing, customers always get to an agent that is the most knowledgeable in a specific area, which boosts the probability that they will resolve their issue successfully. 

By utilizing a preferred agent tool, clients are connected to a person with whom they already had interacted before. Familiar agent knows their inquiry well and provides a feeling of security and trust. 

In CloudTalk, we offer all these features and more. Handle every customer interaction smoothly with an advanced cloud-based call center solution.

Try it for free!