Anger is one of our most powerful and intimate emotions. It is very uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of it. And yet most of us have been taught very little about defusing an angry customer. So most of us simply endure these situations – holding the phone six inches from our ear, making excuses, or going silent – and we feel like deer frozen in the headlights, while all too often the other person gets angrier and angrier. But the good news is that with the right techniques, these situations can be understood and managed.
So why do customers get angry? Since we have all been there ourselves, you probably know the answer: it is usually because we feel that people are not paying attention to us, so we confront them to make them pay attention. This need for attention and a sense of justice drives three key steps for defusing angry customer situations that I call the Triple-A technique:
Acknowledgement: First and foremost, you must do what almost no one ever does in the heat of an angry situation – acknowledge and validate the other person, which is not the same as agreeing with him or her. It can be as mild as an observation (“I can tell by your tone of voice that you are really upset about this,”) or as strong as identification (“I would be upset if this happened to me too”), but whatever level you choose, keep acknowledging until the heat starts to drop.
Assessment: Have you ever seen a good police officer in action after an automobile accident? Cops turn emotional situations into a factual ones by asking lots of good questions, such as how people are feeling or if they can move their arm. Likewise, when you ask people to describe their concerns in detail, and validate their answers, you send a powerful signal that calms the other person down.
Alternatives: Now we get to the fun part, negotiating a solution. Using the “can-can” technique we described in a previous article, keep focusing on what you can do and acknowledging their response, and you will start moving toward a face-saving solution on both sides.
I am not trying to imply that you can simply talk your way out of anything: there are situations where the gravity of an issue or the irrationality of another person can overwhelm even your best communications skills. This means that in the limit, we need to be prepared to set boundaries, escalate issues, or particularly in face-to-face situations, keep ourselves safe. But in my experience, over 90% of angry situations can be brought under control using the three-step process above.
As we conclude this four-part blog series, I’d like to thank my good friends at Parature not just for providing a forum like this, but for seeing their software products as part of a larger continuum for providing excellent service – one that includes procedural communications skills such as these. Best of success!
Rich Gallagher is a communications skills expert, author, and former help desk executive. His book What to Say to a Porcupine: 20 Humorous Tales that Get to the Heart of Excellent Customer Service was a national #1 customer service and business humor bestseller, and his book How to Tell Anyone Anything explores the mechanics of difficult workplace conversations. Visit Rich online at www.pointofcontactgroup.com