No matter who you are, it comes up eventually: The case of the angry client. If you’re a teacher, it’s an angry student or parent. If you’re a doctor, an angry patient. If you’re self-employed, an angry customer.
People get angry all the time. According this Times article, the problem seems to be getting worse.
Dr Michael Sinclair, a consultant psychologist in London…says that, generally, people who grossly overreact to trivial events with violence are suffering from a central lack of confidence. Angry people interpret everything as a personal slight, an insult to their already fragile egos. (Certain events may) exacerbate their sense of vulnerability.”
Times of economic gloom can exacerbate the problem. Sinclair says that he has recently seen his referrals increase as people battle to cope with the angry emotional fall-out from redundancy, heightened job insecurity or a suffocating mortgage.
The article points out that hard times lie ahead for people who deal with customers–that is to say, everyone. So what’s the trick to dealing with someone about to blow their fuse?
1) Thank your client for raising the issue.
If they allow you time to talk, thanking them legitimizes their concern. Then, as necessary, allow them to vent.
2) Repeat the client’s issue to signal that you empathize.
For example, “I understand that you have been having trouble with _________.” Again, this shows that you acknowledge what they have to say. At this point, the customer should continue to vent, enabling you to record their concerns.
3) Apologize. Even if it’s not your fault.
If you didn’t do anything wrong, apologize for their pain. For example, “I apologize for any frustration you may have experienced” is a favorite of a large corporation I used to work for.
4) Reassure that you’re committed to helping them.
By reassuring them, you accept responsibility for the problem. Taking the issue out of your client’s hands relieves them of the pressure creating their anger. It also starts both of you on the road to a resolution. If you’re lucky, the client will begin to simmer down at this point.
5) Take action quickly and effectively.
If the problem will take a while to solve, or if a mistake has already been made, consider offering a future discount. That way, the client not only feels like you dealt with the problem, but will most likely stay a loyal customer.
These steps will resolve most cases of customer anger. Every field has its extreme cases–I recall dealing with customers appearing to be on a personal vendetta against the corporation–but, for most people, this sequence works well.
You can test results by seeing if you end up here.
(Image found on: okpatents.com. Artist unknown)