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How to Handle Angry Callers for Customer Service Success

Whether you work in a call center or provide customer service regularly over the phone, odds are that you’ve had to deal with a few upset people along the way. Here’s the secret for how to handle angry callers and transform the call into a positive experience.

Image of a customer who is an angry caller speaking with a call center agent over the phone

We have all had that one customer (or maybe we have drawn the short straw and had multiple customers in a day) that are very unhappy for one reason or another.  How we deal with these clients will help determine if we clock out that day with our head held high, or slink out like a punching bag that’s seen better days. Over my 20 years in Customer Service I have developed some tools that help me quickly and efficiently turn an angry caller into a satisfied one.

Dealing with angry customer on the phone can seem difficult, but when you are handling difficult customers in a call center setting, the first thing you should know is that you must:

Control the call from the beginning. If you let the caller take control you might as well chalk that one up to Customer – 1, You – 0.  Establish control straight away, and then you can move on to step two, which is figuring out what type of angry caller you’re dealing with.

Greg Ciotti, a writer for Help Scout said it best, “Know your caller.” While not everyone is going to fit perfectly into one category, generally callers can be categorized into 5 basic categories: the Meek Customer, the Aggressive Customer, the High Roller, the Chronic Complainer and the Barnacle.

  1. The Meek Customer: They are usually hesitant to call on their own and if you proactively reach out to them they don’t usually tell you if anything is wrong. They don’t want to be a burden or they think you don’t care. As a Customer Service professional, it’s our responsibility proactively reach out, dig deeper, make them feel they do matter and get to the heart of the issue. Otherwise, they may stew in quite resentment that only finally manifests as a bad online review.
  2. The Aggressive Caller: Whoa Nelly, have we all dealt with this one! I love a challenge and these are definitely mine.  They are outspoken and not the least bit shy about letting you know what’s on their minds.  Going straight to a defensive tone or mirroring their tone is bad juju.  Be pleasant, polite and to the point.  We all deserve respect!
  3. The High Roller: The big dogs so to speak. These clients are fully aware they are paying us a pretty penny and they want the full service treatment. Never stammer or point the finger elsewhere with these folks, they don’t care. I find addressing myself and my team as their full time account managers makes them feel we are being efficient and precise with their issues.
  4. The Chronic Complainer: This one is a tricky one.  A client that complains a lot may have legitimate reason to do so.  Follow the trail, see beyond that one call and find the pattern.  Being polite and genuine every time they call will cause them to praise us to others.
  5. The Barnacle: You have implemented every tool in your arsenal, fixed all issues, kept constant communication open and they still are not happy. They are not looking for a smooth running account; they are looking to get a handout. Maintain your composure, smile in your tone and be polite.  I have in my tenure as a Customer Service professional never given a “courtesy credit.” I will solve the issues or retain the client based of my relationship with them and the swift resolution to any issues.

Again, I’m not saying you can lump every angry caller into these five categories, but most clients have one type of trait similar to one of these. So always try to identify which one you are dealing with as quickly as possible and you’ll be ahead of the game when it comes to how to handle angry callers.

Between knowing who you are dealing with and following these next five pieces of good customer service advice, you’ll be equipped to handle all kinds of angry callers.

Brand Yourself from the Beginning
How often is a client transferred to you from another department or escalated up to you? It happens quite frequently. But how many times has the caller been told who they would be speaking with before getting transferred? NEVER. “Thank you for holding. You’re speaking with our Customer Service department. My name is Heather. How may I help you?” I have branded myself and my role immediately.

Active Listening
Listening to a caller tells you about their problem doesn’t mean you have to be berated for 30 minutes.  It means you have stopped working on everything else and are solely paying attention to the client.  They are giving you the all the information you need to de-escalate. You just need to hear what they are really saying and respond appropriately.

Acknowledge them as well as the problem.  I have found using the clients name throughout the call makes a huge difference.  It shows I’m recognizing them as a person, not just a disconnected voice on the phone.  I have taken steps to personalize the call.

Seize the Opportunity
An angry caller is a perfect opportunity to improve the relationship.  I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth.  Thanking them for bringing the issue to your attention is paramount. It will catch every angry caller off guard.  They are prepared to do battle and win! So are you!

Own it
Taking ownership of the call is paramount to successfully turning the angry client around. Blaming an error or mistake on someone else or saying you can’t handle the issue only makes the company brand look inept. No matter what it is, you now own it like Cinderella and her glass slipper. No true words reflect this than, “The buck stops here.” Thanks, President Roosevelt!

There are many opinions, studies and graphics out there that will tell you the “best” way how to handle angry callers.  The tried and true way for me has always been to be polite, professional, warm and understanding.  Knowing yourself and your own strengths makes it easier to use some of the tools I have talked about. In the end, you’re just two people working towards a common goal.

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