Dealing With Angry Customers – The Pressure Cooker Syndrome
In almost any business that one can think of, dealing with angry customers is unavoidable at some point or the other. The reasons why customers get angry may differ according to the situation. However, when one analyses the root cause of the problem, it has to do with just one thing – expectations. Customers have expectations from a service provider or a seller of goods, which are almost always based on what is portrayed by the service provider in their advertising campaigns or claims made by them, either in the media, in their brochures, catalogues or verbally to a customer. While dealing with customers one should never lose sight of the fact that these expectations are in fact created by the service provider or the seller in the first place. Having created these expectations, companies must live up to them. In case they fail to do so, then they have a big problem on their hands – an angry customer.
Many companies are quick to blame the customer, but this is never a good practice. One should not forget the businesses exist to serve the customer, and if there were no customers, there would be no business either. Period. A customer is a person – a human being with emotions and feelings, and above all, a rational being. It would be criminal to assume that customers are irrational, because they are not. Rarely will a customer get angry without good reason. The degree of anger too would differ from individual to individual – some are more reactive than others, others less so. Nevertheless, the degree of anger notwithstanding, an irate customer needs to be dealt with carefully. More often than not, the service provider handling the customer has no clue as to how the situation should be dealt with.
It is not surprising, therefore, that many times in a Customer Service training programme, I am asked by the trainees as to how an angry customer should be dealt with. Some customer focused organisations have a well-structured policy to deal with such cases, while others usually fumble in the dark whenever such a situation presents itself. Here is what I recommend:
Whenever you come across an angry customer, imagine that you are handling a pressure cooker full of steam. Those who are familiar with how a pressure cooker works will know that as the heat increases, so does the steam inside the cooker, and creates a pressure inside the cooker, which continues building up till the time it forces the safety release valve to open and gives of some steam, allowing the pressure to subside inside, till the time the application of further heat increases the pressure again. The release valve is an inbuilt safety mechanism that prevents the cooker from exploding from the pressure within, and in case it is blocked, it is almost certain that the cooker will explode, which is an extremely dangerous thing to happen and can cause injury to all in close proximity.
An angry customer is the equivalent of a pressure cooker inside which steam is already building up to dangerous levels. Don’t try to block the steam, or it will explode. The most important thing to remember here is that the customer MUST be allowed to vent. Whatever you do, never ever commit the blunder of trying to intervene or interrupt while the angry customer is yelling at you – you would be cutting of the release of steam and risk having the situation blow up in your face. Allow him or her to vent their anger, which is actually a form of release. Having vented his / her feeling, 99% chances are that they will then be more willing to listen to you. God help you if you make the mistake of interrupting them, because then you can be sure that you are going to get the brunt of it. Always remember one thing – it is NOT personal between you and him / her. The customer is not angry with you personally – you just happen to be the face of the company in front of them, and since you do represent your company, you should take it in your stride and overlook the yelling.
Essentially, it is recommended that you apply the L.E.A.R.N formula to handle the situation. Here is a quick and simple summary of the L.E.A.R.N formula for your future reference:
Listen. Empathise. Apologise. Respond. No Delay
Listen : Listen to the complaint…. Sincerely. With full attention. Do not interrupt. Allow customer to vent. When I say full attention, I mean with complete focus, applying all the principles of attentive listening. Do not let your attention wander. Don’t let your body language give the impression that you are taking him lightly. Don’t make any incredulous expressions like rolling your eyes etc to convey disbelief. In short, pay complete attention and keep a straight expression on your face.
Empathise : Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Understand the problem from their point of view. Show that you care. Be SINCERE. If you need more information, ask questions politely, so that you COMPLETELY understand what is bothering the customer. Sometimes the problem may not be very apparent to YOU, but from the customer’s perspective, it may be huge issue.
Apologise : You may not be personally responsible for making the customer unhappy, but do apologise for the inconvenience caused. Be sincere with the apology. If the customer is unhappy with the service, the situation merits an apology. This is the first step to complaint redressal. It is also extremely important for mending the relationship.
Respond : Respond to the complaint. Offer a solution. Solutions could include – Replacement, Refund, Fixing, Discount on next purchase etc. If you can’t handle it, call your supervisor. Unfortunately, many service persons fail at this point, for not fault of their own. Many organisations do not believe in empowering their front-line personnel to take important decisions which could help resolve the issue just as soon as it arises. Empowered employees are far better at handling these types of customers, and also help to keep the complaint rate low. However, many bosses fear that employees will misuse this authority and cause losses to the company, little realising that such measures actually serve to build customer loyalty. However, this would, in most cases, be a policy issue, so do be careful in exercising such decisions.
No Delay : If a solution is possible on the spot, do NOT delay. Act now. If implementation will take time, do advise them the exact, or at least approximate, time frame. Do ensure that you actually stick to the time frame as far as possible.
To sum it all up, the next time you are dealing with angry customers, just remember dealing with them is not all that difficult. Just behave as if you are handling a pressure cooker, and apply the L.E.A.R.N. formula and you will probably find that you can actually help in creating happy customers.