Categories : Communication Customer Service De-escalation Difficult Situation Relationship Building Retention


It’s impossible to make every customer happy all the time, but I strongly recommend that customer service representatives be particularly professional and careful with the small number of customers who call and are angry.

The good news is that about 97 percent of a utility’s customers are reasonable people who just want to be treated with respect and feel appreciated for their business. This certainly gives them the latitude to become upset if a mistake was made, but they will generally forgive the error.

The challenge is the other 3 percent of customers who can ruin a CSR’s day with a single phone call. And isn’t it Murphy’s Law that phone calls from this minority seem to come earlier in the day rather than later, giving CSRs just that much more time to fume and fuss?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Following are six tips on how to handle irate customers so that the outcome is productive for everyone involved – the customer, the CSR and the company.

Tip One: Let the angry customer vent. Give your customer the chance to “get it off his chest.” Don’t interrupt. Just let him say what he needs to say. When he comes up for air, that is the appropriate time to say you are there to help. If the customer uses abusive or vulgar language, let him know you would be happy to help but that you’re unable to do so under those conditions. Explain that you are going to end the conversation, but encourage the customer to call back when he has calmed down.

Tip Two: Put emotional distance between you and the customer. Your customer’s anger is not about you. It’s his problem, so choose not to take it personally. Even nice customers can get angry when they feel a company has mistreated them. Do the best you can to let your customer know you care.

Tip Three: It’s not the CSR’s job to teach a lesson. Anyone who deals with customers on a regular basis will tell you that the customer is not always right, that they do make mistakes. They will also tell you that some customers are dishonest. But it doesn’t matter whose mistake caused the problem your customer is calling about. You are not in your job to serve as judge and jury. If the customer actually caused the problem, you will only add fuel to the fire by pointing that out. Keep things simple, review the problem and work toward resolving it.

Tip Four: Treat even angry customers with respect. This doesn’t mean you need to agree with the customer’s opinion. Most people just want to know that someone is willing to listen to their concerns and show they care. You don’t know what has happened to the customer during his day, so give him the benefit of the doubt. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “If this was me, what would I want?”

Tip Five: When all else fails, give up. Some customers simply will not give you the opportunity to fix their problem. Some are chronic complainers. If the customer has a track record of abusive language and angry calls, it may be better to say goodbye to the business. However, this message needs to be communicated to the customer by your manager.

Tip Six: Learn to let go. It’s not always easy, but don’t carry the baggage of one angry customer over to your other customers. If a customer has upset you, get up and walk away for a few minutes. Get a drink of water, take some deep breaths and allow yourself to become neutral before you take the next call.

Most customer problems are the result of a lack of communication. Focus on helping your customers, not proving them wrong, even when they are. A kind word, a listening ear and respect will teach them a far greater lesson than pointing out the error of their ways.


David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.