The cardinal rule of customer service is that the customer is always right… Right? Well, as any business owner knows, sometimes giving your customers everything they want just isn’t possible and you have to deny their requests. Knowing how to phrase this can be especially tricky.
Saying “no” is never easy, especially in a world where the expectations for a strong customer experience are so high and customers are, more than ever, likely to leave your business if unsatisfied with their support experience. A conversation that started on a high note can quickly turn sour as soon as that “no” is uttered.
Knowing that dealing with upset customers is, on occasion, inevitable, what can you do to empower your support agents to handle tricky conversations and turn a bad experience around? First and foremost, you want to have a team in place that is both direct and confident in handling difficult interactions — no waffling over what’s possible — as well as empathetic and able to meet customers where they are. Robert Bacal, author of, If It Wasn’t for the Customers I’d Really Like this Job, outlines an effective “CARP” method for resolving issues:
Control the conversation by conveying confidence in handling the customer’s concerns
Acknowledge the customer’s frustrations and share that you’re here to help
Refocus the conversation around solutions and not on the emotions of the situation
Problem solve to the best of your ability
Your language and tone in these interactions can make or break the situation, so we’ve pulled together some key phrases to use when interacting with angry customers to help ease the tension. Feel free to add these into your call center scripts or live chat interactions!
Phrases to Demonstrate You Are Here to Help
The first part of turning around an angry interaction is to demonstrate that you are listening and truly care about helping the customer. Employing reflective listening skills where you repeat back to the customer their issue using phrases like, “If I understand you correctly, you’re facing [this issue],” can help you align with the distressed customer and demonstrate that they have been heard and you are going to work together to find a solution.
- “If I understand you correctly, you’re facing…”
- “You’re saying…”
- “What I’m hearing is…”
Also, by focusing on what the customer is trying to solve for, you may be able to come up with a different solution they were not aware of.
Phrases for When You Have a Solution
Sometimes customers call in, guns blazing, when you actually do have a way to help them. Take the heat off with phrases that assuage their concerns and show you are the authority who can assist them and make it right.
- “You’re right, and we need to do something about this immediately.”
- “As an immediate solution, I’d like to suggest…”
- “Here’s what I’m going to do for you.”
By staying positive and action-oriented on how you are going to help them, the customer will naturally begin to calm down.
Phrases for When You Don’t Have a Solution
Not every problem can be solved in the span of a phone call, especially if a customer requests something that is just not feasible for your team to accommodate—either in the near future, or ever. In this situation, be honest and upfront with your customers about what is possible while also showing you empathize with their situation. Context is everything, so even if you have to say “no,” explain why so they know it’s not arbitrary.
- “I completely understand where you’re coming from / why you would want that. However, we can’t accommodate this at this time because…”
- “As much as I’d love to help, that’s beyond what we’re able to do right now.”
- “I recognize this isn’t exactly the outcome you were looking for, and I will take your feedback to my team so we can do better next time.”
It’s important to avoid apologizing for things that are outside of your control. Saying “sorry” can feel like a sugar-coated, insincere response and like you’re not truly listening to the customer. Most often, the customer didn’t come to you for an apology; they came for a solution. Do your best to provide suggestions or workarounds to fix their issue, and at the very least, demonstrate empathy for their frustration and a commitment to addressing the issue in the future.
Know When It’s Time to End the Conversation
Sometimes, a customer will continue to rant without a resolution in sight. At this point you don’t want to drag out a conversation that isn’t going anywhere. Give the customer the best solution you have, and acknowledge that you’ve helped to the best of your ability and it’s time to disconnect.
- “This is the best solution we have at this time. Is there anything else I can help you with today?”
- “I have recorded your feedback for my team, and we will follow up with you if a solution becomes available.”
Remember they’re not angry at you personally, so don’t take it personally. Focus on your responsibilities and recognizing the difference between valuable feedback you can take back to your organization and someone’s temper. With the right approach, you may be able to shift the conversation and turn an angry customer into a loyal one.