Tips on Managing Angry Customers

Learn how to effectively manage angry customers with these tips for home service business owners. From communication strategies to de-escalation techniques and issue resolution, this guide has you covered.

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Even the most successful businesses will have the occasional dissatisfied customer. What matters is how you handle those customers. Learning how to work with difficult customers, identify the issues they're having, and reach a positive resolution is an essential skill for any contractor.

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Handling Angry Customers Through Different Communication Styles

Dealing with angry customers is never easy, and it's useful to have some strategies in place for handling unhappy customers when you encounter them. This guide offers some general tips to help you deal with angry customers in all situations, but there are some strategies that are specific to different communication mediums.

Dealing with Angry Customers Via Telephone

Talking on the phone can be stressful for some people. You need to be able to choose the right words to respond to the customer and still keep your tone of voice neutral.

It can be helpful to have some prepared phrases in mind that you can use to defuse a customer's anger while also buying yourself time to think. That's not to say you should have a full script for handling complaint calls. Scripts often sound rehearsed and can make a customer feel dismissed. Rather, have some simple phrases you use to acknowledge what the customer is saying, such as:

  • "I'm sorry to hear that. Could you explain [x part] in more detail so I can help you?"
  • "I understand that must be frustrating for you. Let me check into this on my side so I can find a way to make things right."
  • "It's clear this has been incredibly distressing for you. Would you like me to call you back later to discuss a solution?"
  • "I'm very sorry, and I'll do everything I can to help you, [name]. For me to do that, I'll have to ask you some questions. Would you prefer to do that over email?"

Some customers who are angry at the start of a call calm down quite quickly once they feel they're being taken seriously. If you find yourself on a call with a customer who just wants to shout at you, remember you don't have to sit there and take it. Passing the call over to someone else who can serve the role of "a supervisor" could be an option. Alternatively, calmly tell the customer you don't wish to continue the conversation at this time and you'll call them back later.

Dealing with Angry Customers Over Email

In some ways, responding to angry customers over email is the easiest option because it takes away some of the emotion. The customer can't interrupt you or shout at you, and you have time to think about their message before you respond.

However, emails do have some downsides. It's easy to miss emails, and if you go too long before responding to an emailed complaint, you could find a dissatisfied customer becomes even more frustrated due to the extended wait.

Make a point of checking your email every day. Prepare some templated email responses that you can send out to customers to acknowledge their messages while you investigate their complaint and think about a response.

When responding to angry emails, draft your response and then do something else for an hour or two before coming back to re-read it. Does it sound calm and polite? Have you followed all the other advice in this guide about active listening and empathy? Have you addressed the customer's concerns? Do you offer clear options to move the complaint forward and reach a resolution?

Revise the email if necessary. If you're not sure how to reply, try to get a third party to look at the message before sending it.

Responding to Angry Customers Over SMS Texts

Responding to complaints over text messages can be difficult because of the character limit on SMS messages and the relatively informal nature of the communication. A customer's short message typed on a smartphone could come across as more hostile than intended or could be missing a lot of information that could help you resolve the complaint quickly and to the customer's satisfaction.

Rather than engaging in a long back-and-forth conversation over SMS, acknowledge the complaint via SMS and tell the customer you'll need to speak to them in more detail to resolve the issue properly. Offer them a choice of email or phone call, and then follow up within a reasonable time period via their medium of choice.

Staying Calm And Practicing Active Listening

When someone is angry, it's natural to want to respond to them in a similar tone. This is counterproductive and more likely to escalate the situation than drive it to a positive outcome.

It's important to remain calm and try not to take anything the customer says personally, even if you feel their complaints are incorrect. Often, an angry customer is simply frustrated, and while they've decided to complain to you, the real reason behind their outburst could be something entirely unrelated to your business.

Try to understand the "why" of their complaint. If you're a plumber and you're faced with an irate customer because you arrived a few minutes late to a call-out after getting stuck in a traffic jam, think about how the customer is feeling. Their bathroom is flooded and the house smells of sewage, so their patience is probably wearing thin. Empathize with the customer, and make it clear you understand how they're feeling.

Try to use active listening when speaking to a customer. This means hearing what the customer is saying and trying to take it in, remember it, and ask follow-up questions. Reflect on what the customer said and ask them to clarify things you don't understand. Even if you think you understand what they've said, rephrase it and repeat it back to them to confirm your understanding. 

These techniques can help make a customer feel listened to and understood, which is the first step in de-escalating a tense situation.

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Acknowledging the Customer’s Issue and Taking Steps to Resolve It

Active listening and empathy can help calm down an angry customer in the short term, but it's still important to resolve the underlying issue. Sometimes, that's simply a matter of visiting their property and fixing something that's broken or providing a customer whose furnace isn't working with a space heater they can use while you wait for a part to be delivered.

Sometimes you can't fix the issue immediately, and you'll need to work with them to reach a practical solution that they're happy with and that you can deliver.

The first step toward resolving any issue is to acknowledge it exists and explain what you're going to do to fix it. Ask them if they're happy with that offer, and set expectations for how long it will take for you to complete whatever it is you're promising.

Once the customer has agreed to your proposal, reiterate what's been agreed to and be sure to follow through. Keep the customer updated throughout the process, especially if anything happens that may delay the resolution of the issue.

Following Up and Showing Sincerity

Communication is an essential part of customer service, and it's especially important when you're dealing with customer complaints.

Following up on a customer's complaint goes a long way toward ensuring the customer feels recognized and valued. As a part of the follow-up, acknowledge what went wrong and apologize sincerely for any inconvenience caused by the issue.

Depending on the nature of the complaint, you may wish to consider offering compensation for the issue. For example, if you were doing some work in a customer's garden and damaged their fence, you may deem it appropriate to offer to fix the fence for them. You might give them a token gift to acknowledge any frustration caused by not being able to let their children or pets into the garden while the fence was broken.

If the customer is claiming serious damages, you may wish to seek legal advice before admitting (or attempting to attribute) fault and offering compensation. For smaller issues, however, a sincere apology and a small gift can often go a long way toward mending a damaged working relationship and regaining the customer's trust.

Learning from the Experience

Treat every dissatisfied customer as a learning experience. Sometimes, customers who complain have a valid point. Thank those customers for bringing the issue to your attention, and make sure you fix it not just for them but for other customers, too.

Even if the customer's complaint wasn't valid or was blown out of proportion, you may still be able to use it as a learning opportunity. Let's consider the example of a plumber who was late to a call-out once again. You may feel a customer being irate over you being less than 15 minutes late is excessive. However, you could improve your customer service by sending a message to the customer when you're on the way to their site or even sharing your GPS location with the customer so they know when you're nearby.

If a customer complains that you left the site without a job being fully completed and you discover that one of your team failed to check something before leaving, don't just write that off as an honest oversight. Consider implementing checklists and quality control processes to prevent that mistake from happening again.

Every complaint is an opportunity for you to reflect on your current procedures and make the service you offer to your customers that little bit better.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with angry customers isn't easy, but it's a part of the job even for the most professional and accomplished contractors. Learning conflict resolution skills can help you turn an angry customer into a loyal one.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are Some Common Triggers that Can Make a Customer Angry?

Customers can become angry for several reasons, including if they feel the quality of the product or service is not what they expected. Customers may also become angry if they feel they aren't being listened to and taken seriously.

How Do You Handle a Customer Who is Being Unreasonable or Aggressive?

If a customer is being unreasonable or aggressive, it's important to stay calm. Practice active listening and empathize with the customer while attempting to reach a mutually agreeable solution.

How Do You Maintain Your Composure When Dealing with a Difficult Customer?

When dealing with a difficult customer, try not to take anything they say personally. Approach the issue from the perspective of being on the customer's "team," and calmly repeat what the customer is saying back to them as you try to understand their issue and work out what will make them happy.

How Can You Turn a Negative Customer Experience Into a Positive One?

It's possible to turn a negative customer experience into a positive one by listening to the customer and proactively fixing the complaint they have. Rather than making excuses, focus on solving the problem and making things right for the customer.

How Can You Train Your Team to Handle Angry Customers Effectively?

Offer team members training in active listening and empathy to help them handle angry customers effectively. Consider role-play exercises to help your team gain confidence, and offer your employees support if they find it hard to deal with very angry or hostile customers.