Dealing with Irate Customers (And How to Turn Them Into Marketers) by @RakheeGhelani

by Rakhee Ghelani  | Featured Contributor

Dealing with complaints and just generally irate customers can be one of the biggest challenges for any business, but how you handle customer complaints can make a huge difference to how you and your business is perceived by future customers. After all, word of mouth is the cheapest and probably one of the most effective marketing tools. It is not uncommon for a customer to become even more loyal after a bad experience, simply because it was dealt with well, just proving that good customer experiences are a great retention tool.

So here are my top 5 tips for dealing with an angry customer.

1. Hit the Pause Button

When someone is screaming at you over the phone or becoming agitated in front of you, it can be hard to stay calm, but that is exactly what you should do.  Hit the “pause” button, or in other words, just breathe, and resist saying whatever comes straight to your mind.  You are better off saying nothing to someone who is angry, then saying the wrong thing.  By remaining calm and pausing your own actions, you may even disarm your customer and help them see reason on their own.

This can be the hardest thing to do for many people, I always find it helps to remember that the person I am speaking to actually pays my salary, which does make it a little easier to keep my finger pressed on the pause button when all I really want to do is let go.

2. Actively Listen

If your customer is aggrieved, they will have things that they want to say, so just listen to them.  Don’t pull the phone away from your ear and pretend to listen though, actually hear what they are saying.  They will tell you what they think is wrong, they will probably also tell you what would fix the problem for them.  Whilst you may not agree with what they are saying, just listening to them and letting them get it off their chest will make them feel a bit better, which should in turn make it easier for you to then help work through the problem with them.

3. Ask questions

If your customer is willing to talk, ask them plenty of questions, especially open-ended questions.  The intention here is to find out exactly what the issue is so that you can then work out how you can fix it.  It isn’t necessary to offer solutions unless you know you can resolve the problem quickly.  By asking lots of questions you can let your customer know you are gathering information so that you can then take it away and work out how to solve their problem.  Most people will be happy to know someone is making an effort, and again it gives them a chance to get things off their chest.

4. Don’t Be Afraid To Apologise

Some business owners and managers are afraid of apologising, for fear that it may imply guilt or weakness. If you have done something wrong, then you should apologise, it is after all just common courtesy.  Even if you don’t think you are in the wrong, just apologising to a customer for inconveniencing them will go a long way towards making them feel comfortable with your approach.

Remember customers are just people like you, and being humble is usually a good way to endear someone, even when they are trying hard to stay angry.

5. Keep Communication Open

If you don’t have a solution that is readily apparent, then it is perfectly fine to just tell your customer you will get back to them. This will give you time to take stock and think about the problem and come up with the best solution.  Just be sure to let your customer know when and how you will get back to them with a response and actually stick to it. If you can’t meet the timeline you promised them, then call or email them and let them know in advance that you are working through the problem, have been delayed and when you will actually get back to them.

The key thing for all these tips is to retain control of yourself. Even when it is hard not to, remaining calm will not only help you keep a customer who may otherwise walk, but is likely to bring in more by positive word of mouth.  When you deal with a problem well, you gain your customer’s respect, and give them a story to tell to their friends and family, which is all good for your business.

Photo Credit: Madalin Matica via Compfight cc


Rakhee Ghelani Customer Experience Specialist – Mumbai, India

RG High ResRakhee Ghelani is an Australian woman who abandoned her successful corporate career to move to India in 2011.  She now works as a freelance consultant, writer and entrepreneur in Mumbai. Her extensive skill set allows her to add value to businesses in industries as varied as travel, manufacturing and publishing.

Prior to leaving Australia, Rakhee was head of Customer Experience for ANZ Bank’s Mortgages division, responsible for over 850,000 customers. Customers don’t generally “like” banks or having a mortgage, so it was a challenging but rewarding role that also sparked her interest in helping other companies wow their customers. She believes customer experience extends far beyond how you speak to a customer in a retail store or on the phone, it is about understanding what they want and need, and getting it right every time.

Rakhee is also a travel writer and photographer, and a co-founder of Gourmet Pop-Up shop in Mumbai called Potluck Me. She has a few other entrepreneurial efforts in the pipeline and is currently writing her autobiography. An extensive traveler, you can follow Rakhee’s adventures across India and the world here:

Blog: Aussie Girl in India
Facebook: Rakhee Ghelani
Twitter:  @rakheeghelani 
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