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a blog by Don R. Crawley

Keynote Speaker on
IT Customer Service and Compassion

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Nobody likes dealing with an angry customer. In IT, where you’re far more likely to interact with someone because things are going wrong rather than because things are going right, it’s inevitable. Part of providing exceptional customer service in the workplace is understanding how to de-escalate an upset customer. Here’s what you need to know.

Understanding Anger

Before learning how to communicate with an angry person, you need to understand where anger comes from and how it works. Anger is a physiological response to a threat, which triggers an adrenaline rush, and results in a “fight-or-flight” reaction in the brain. This self-preservation mechanism bypasses rational thinking, making an agitated person less able to make thoughtful, fact-based decisions, or communicate clearly. 

When working with an angry individual in a customer service situation, it’s necessary to take steps to reduce this fight-or-flight response before you can make significant progress working through the problem. Here’s how you can de-escalate the situation and restore healthy communication.

Communicating with an Angry Customer

Practice Empathy: Empathy involves putting yourself in another person’s shoes to understand their feelings in a specific situation. Recognize the frustration of the situation and gently acknowledge the customer’s anger. This helps them feel heard and removes the need to continually revert to angry rhetoric to ensure you understand their urgency.

Try: “I can see why that would be really frustrating. I’d be upset if that happened, too. Let’s see how we can solve this problem so it doesn’t happen again.”

Note: That is an example of something you might say. It’s important to find your own words so you don’t sound scripted.

Offer Assurances: Assure the customer that you are committed to solving the problem. Though it may seem redundant, a personal assurance that you will do everything you can to make the situation right goes a long way to de-escalate an angry customer and help them calm to a point where communication is productive.

Try: “It’s my goal today to make sure this is fixed. Before I can do that, I just need a little more information. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions to help make sure I understand what’s going on?”

Listen Carefully: Few situations are more frustrating than feeling like you’re not being listened to. Listen carefully and objectively to your customer’s complaints. Allow them the chance to speak. Don’t get defensive, but ask straightforward, clarifying questions once they’ve finished explaining the problem. If there are situations that you or your department are responsible for, warranting an apology, don’t hesitate to apologize. If you do need to apologize, make sure it’s specific and sincere. A fake apology is one where you say, “We apologize for any inconvenience.”

Try: “Thank you for that explanation. It was really thorough, which is very helpful. I’m pretty sure I understand the problem, but I just want to make sure I have the complete picture.”

Make Them the Expert: You may be the technology expert, but your customer is the expert of their current problem. Treat them as such, bringing them into the problem-solving process. This helps restore feelings of control, which reduces the perceived threat to their well-being that triggered their anger response in the first place.

Try: “I need a few details about what’s going on. Can you help me with that?”

Maintain Your Composure: Nothing is more difficult than responding kindly when a customer is hurling personal attacks or blaming you for a problem they are experiencing. However, it’s the best customer service trick to prevent an already tenuous situation from escalating further. Don’t take criticism personally and always maintain your composure, speaking in a calm tone. This simple trick helps to subconsciously calm the customer!

Set Boundaries When Necessary: You should never remain in a situation in which you feel physically threatened, nor should you have to endure abusive behavior, either face-to-face or on the phone. If repeated attempts to de-escalate your customer is not effective, it’s okay to assert healthy boundaries and end the interaction if necessary. Afterward, make your supervisor aware of the situation so they can follow up as needed.

Try: “I want to help you with this problem, but I insist you treat me more respectfully and stop yelling. If not, I will need to end this conversation and we won’t be able to fix this today.”

Customer Service for IT Professionals

Take your career to the next level with customer service skills to complement your work in IT. Whether you’re front-line tech support, a DBA, coder, server administrator, MSP owner, CIO, or work in any other IT career, Compassionate Geek’s online training courses will help you build your career by giving you the tools to gain the respect and support of your customers, colleagues, and bosses. Learn more now!

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  1. Mary Ross says:

    “Nice outlook, Don. The only way to handle an angry customer is to approach them as calmly as possible. Proper training should be provided to gain customer confidence and let them know that agents are willing to help them. Agents should learn to be empathetic in attitude and no need to get personal with the customer’s anger. With patience, this will lead to happy satisfied customers at the end. Following links may be useful to find some more tips on how to handle angry customers->

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