Receptionist Training: How To Handle An Angry Customer
Receptionist Training: How To Handle An Angry Customer
TRANSCRIPT: This is Steve Stauning with another ‘Steve Stauning Short & Sweet’ video training lesson. Today’s lesson: Eight short & sweet lessons on how to handle an angry customer.
Now, this video describes the short and sweet methods that you can use to handle any angry customer in a way that either defuses the situation or, at the very least, moves the customers’ focus away from you and onto the real issues at hand. Let’s get started.
Lesson #1 in defusing any angry customer in any situation is to never get involved in one in the first place.
See, too often organizations are misguided when it comes to providing great customer service. They wrongly believe that great customer service comes with making angry customers happy.
That’s not the case.
That’s called reactive customer service and reactive customer service, no matter how good or how thorough, can never be considered great customer service. Great customer service only comes from never making the customer angry in the first place. See, great customer service encompasses not only being proactive when a situation arises, but ensuring your systems, your rules and your processes are designed to AVOID making any customer unhappy with you.
Okay, that was lesson number one but todays ‘short and sweet’ video lesson isn’t about building systems to keep your customers from ever getting angry in the first place: it’s all about how you, as a frontline employee or an entry-level manager, can turn angry customers into happy campers or, at the very least, redirect their venom toward the real issues at hand.
Lesson #2, and this is very important: the customer is not always right but they are always the customer.
As such, they pay your salary, so remember ‘FMF’. I love to remember FMF whenever I’m talking to an angry customer. FMF is simply this: Feed My Family. See, that’s my goal and if I’m in your position that should be your goal: FMF, Feed My Family. All of your actions should support your desire to stay employed and to feed your family.
The customer is not always right but they are always the customer.
Of course, I’m assuming you have a goal to stay gainfully employed as you work to defuse customer service issues. If that’s not the case; if you don’t care if you lose this job or not, then there is no reason for you to watch the rest of this video series. Feel free to shut it off now, okay? Curse at the customer, hang up the phone, grab your coat, head on home and have a beer.
My goal is FMF. I want to feed my family so if you’re still watching, it means you want to stay employed, at least for now. So, let’s look at how the FMF concept works in real life by looking at a fairly typical situation – one that I’ve witnessed more than a dozen times.
A customer calls. Let’s say they are complaining about something: in this case, let’s say it’s a charge on their cell phone bill for something their seven year old actually did when he got ahold of dad’s phone, okay? The customer claims no one ordered the product or service but you have proof, right? You’re the cell phone company. You know that they added that. You know that the order came from their phone and because you have GPS you know the exact time and coordinates to prove the call was made when it was sitting in the customer’s house.
In other words, the customer is wrong.
Now, what is lesson two? The customer is not always right but he is always the customer. He’s not only wrong, he’s angry. And, that’s how he started the call. So, should you tell him he’s wrong? Will that serve your purpose? If your goal is to stay gainfully employed, it won’t. But, if your goal is to make him madder than he already is, go ahead, tell him he’s wrong. Give him all the facts; show him all the reasons he is wrong.
See, my goal is FMF. Feed My Family. If that’s your goal then you should work to defuse the situation without angering the customer further, despite the fact that this customer is wrong.
Remember, the customer is not always right but they are always the customer. So, what can we do in this situation? Well, that’s lesson three.
Lesson #3: your job is not to point out where they are wrong.
Your job is often to just let them vent and then assure them, if it’s a true statement, that their concerns have been heard and that someone will be getting back to them shortly.
In the case of the cell phone charges, or something similar, most organizations (maybe yours included) have policies in place that allow frontline employees to excuse these charges when it’s a first-time complaint for a given customer. If this is the case in your company, it does no good to say something like: “Well, Mr. Jones, we do know that the charges were made from your phone while it was at your home address, HOWEVER, we are willing to waive the charges this one time.”
What are you trying to prove? That you are right? That he is wrong? No, that’s not our goal. The goal is feed my family, right? Remember, we’re trying to defuse the situation in a way that doesn’t anger him further. Lesson number three is not to point out where the customer is wrong, it is to resolve the issue. This type of statement is only going to enrage the already angry customer. Our goal is FMF so let’s not worry about who is right and who is wrong in this situation. You do not need this guy asking to speak to your supervisor or writing something about your company on social media. Just solve the issue and move on.
This is how to resolve this problem: “Mr. Jones, I see the charge here and I am removing it as we speak. You will see a credit on your next bill. Is there anything else I can help you with today?” That’s it.
Lesson #4: to handle an angry customer; kill them with kindness.
The angrier they get, the kinder, the quieter and the gentler you become. This has been proven to defuse even the angriest of customers. So, assuming you cannot solve their issue because of some internal policy, it’s important to let them vent, though it’s equally important for you to become so sticky-sweet nice that it hurts your teeth. The madder they get, the nicer you get. The louder they get, the quieter you become. The more they talk, the less you talk.
Eventually, even the craziest of crazed customers will calm down and give you a chance to help them.
Lesson #5: no matter what they say or do, the only person who can make you feel small is you.
Don’t let the entitled idiots with poor manners change who you are by bringing you to their level. Rise above – you’re better than that.
Every successful leader I know held an entry-level position at some point in their life. What helped them succeed was often the desire to do more, to become more. However, they never looked at what they were currently doing as meaningless or trivial. They knew they would be something bigger later and, so, they took it in stride.
You serve a purpose at your company. One that is so important that you are placed in front of your company’s customers. Whether this means you are speaking with them on the phone or in person, you are most often the one who makes the very first impression for your company.
The angry customer has a problem and you want to solve it, right? However, the abusive customer; the one who enjoys making others feel small, has an even bigger problem. His problem is he is a jerk who can only feel important when he sees everyone else as unimportant. This is his issue, not yours. He is the one who needs professional help, not you.
No one can make you feel small unless you let them.
Realize this: Anyone who tries to belittle you, who threatens you with idiotic statements like, “Do you know who I am?” or, “I can have your job” or, “You’re just a damn secretary!” is highly insecure. Don’t let them drag you down beneath them.
Okay, Steve. So, how do I do this?
You acknowledge to yourself that only insecure people act this way. You acknowledge that this abusive customer has issues that require professional help and you feel sorry for them. You pity their insecurities and you hope for their sake and the sake of their loved ones that they get better. You just don’t let them pull you down to their level.
See, doesn’t it feel better already to know just how small they really are?
Lesson #6: Make it a game.
I love this one. I call this ‘Steve’s Angry Game’. You can call it that too, thank you. Very much.
Instead of trying to calm down an angry customer, which can backfire often, you should see how long they can stay mad. The way the game works is you award yourself one point for every 30 seconds they stay mad. Also, you will want to see if you can get them to curse more than any other guest has ever cursed at you. Give yourself one point for every curse word you hear and then compare your results to your fellow receptionists or customer service agents.
You can have a weekly prize for the agent who scored the most points on a single call – something small like all pitching in to buy his or her lunch on Friday.
Of course, the key to ‘Steve’s Angry Game’ is to be gentle and kind. Never turn into the idiot on the other end of the phone. If you do, you’re disqualified from the game.
Why make it a game? Because some people are going to vent and that leaves you with just a few choices:
- You can hang up on them which could get you fired.
- You can try to calm them down which often backfires. Let them vent. Let’s make it a game.
- You can choose not to listen to them which makes you ill-equipped to answer any real questions they may have, or:
- You can listen to them without getting angry by having a little fun and making it a game. This way you get to keep your sanity and you might just earn a free lunch.
As we learned in ‘Steve’s Angry Game’, we want to let them vent and that is our….
Lesson #7: Let ‘em vent. Just let them vent.
Why, why, why do you feel you have to make your point? Why do you feel the need to defend yourself or your company in the face of an often irrational customer? It’s idiotic and it’s guaranteed to make you the focus of their anger instead of the issue. What’s most aggravating about those who feel they need to defend themselves is that they tend to do so when the customer is done venting; when the customer is ready to walk away or ready to move on or ready to get off the phone.
Let me give you a real world example of this.
My wife and I were trying to get a table recently at a casual restaurant in Las Vegas, on the strip. Now it was 10:40 in the morning and since most of Vegas is open 24/7, we didn’t think anything amiss about the fact that we were trying to grab lunch before 11:00 A. M. So we walked up to the hostess at this casual restaurant and asked for a table for two. She smiled and said, “That’s going to be about 20 minutes”.
I kind of looked around, confused. My face contorted and my brow furrowed because I was puzzled. I could see into the restaurant and could see that half of the tables were empty. I said, “There’s quite a few tables open. Why can’t we just take one of those?”
She said, “We’re changing over from breakfast and won’t be serving lunch for about 20 minutes.”
“Oh, okay”, I said. “So, can we just take a table and have a couple of drinks while we wait?”
“No sir, we’re changing over from breakfast and we won’t be serving lunch for about 20 minutes.” See, I had actually heard that before but she reiterated and that’s okay.
Now, if you’ve ever been on the Las Vegas strip you realize this restaurant was within walking distance of about 100 similar restaurants so we sort of gave one, final, confused look before turning away to go somewhere else. I said,
“That’s weird, but okay. I guess we’ll just eat at one of your dozens of competitors.”
I was done. I was walking away, and that’s when it happened. That’s when this hostess just felt like she had to have the last word. She felt it was important that she be heard. She couldn’t just let us walk away. So she said, “It’s not my policy. It’s the restaurant’s policy”.
I couldn’t believe my ears. We were walking away. She would never have to see us again. I would have completely forgotten about the situation. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you about it but she just had to have the last word. She could have just spent the next 20 minutes turning away customers as she probably has to do every day between 10:30 and 11:00.
Now, while I still don’t understand the restaurant’s policy, I always understood that the hostess working at 10:40 A.M. was not the one setting the policy. I was never angry or unhappy with her. Heck, I wasn’t angry with anyone. I was unhappy with her company because some unnamed idiot manager who had no concept of how to properly run a restaurant, in the only city that truly never sleeps, felt compelled to turn people away every day for 30 minutes.
Now, because I’m a nice guy, I didn’t lay into her. I didn’t come unglued as so many others probably would. She got lucky she didn’t cause Mt. Stauning to explode, as I’m sure even I would have been unkind in my criticism at that point.
She should have just let me vent. See, that’s Lesson #7. Let ‘em vent. I get that there is a very basic human need to be understood. That said, let me refer you back to Lesson #2: The customer is not always right but they are always the customer.
There is no reason to try to prove you’re right. Let me vent, let me get the last word in, and, whatever you do, don’t be reactive or defensive of your company’s position. And that brings us to our final lesson…
Lesson #8: Don’t be defensive.
All of your language should be proactive towards solving the issue, not reactive in defense of your position or your company’s position.
Let’s look back at that Las Vegas restaurant example I gave you in Lesson #7. She could have merely let me have the last word and it would have been over. Instead, the hostess felt the need to defend herself, right? “It’s not my policy. It’s the company’s.”
Additionally, instead of the “Don’t blame me” statement she felt the need to spout at the end, she could have used a more proactive statement like, “I’m sorry we won’t be able to serve you today, though rest assured, you’re not the only customer who has brought up this issue and I’m going to make sure that my manager is aware that this policy is hurting our business.”
By saying something like that you can be both helpful and deflect the bad policy on someone else without sounding defensive. Being defensive is easy. You don’t have to try to be defensive; it comes naturally for us humans to be defensive. What’s hard is being proactive and using proactive language that helps resolve negative situations more quickly.
For example, instead of using reactive language like, “I’m doing everything I can to help you”, try something that sounds more proactive like, “We will do everything we can to ensure this situation is resolved to your satisfaction”.
Another quick example of defensive, reactionary speech is when you blame the customer with language like, “You failed to follow the directions provided”. In these situations it’s much better to say something like, “Let me take you through the steps necessary to… whatever.”
That’s it – eight short and sweet lessons on how best to handle the angry customer…
Now, if you’re watching this on SteveStauning.com and you have a specific customer service question you’d like me to address, please submit a comment below. If you are watching this on YouTube, and you’d like to contact me, go to SteveStauning.com and click on the tab that says ‘contact’.
Have a great day!
March 8, 2018 @ 9:03 am
Hi Steve thnkx for the advice it really helped
March 8, 2018 @ 1:45 pm
March 6, 2018 @ 10:50 am
Been working for this company for like 4year as a coffee ladie now there is a space in receptionist position I don’t have qualifications how do I ask my bosses to give a chance to be in that position
March 6, 2018 @ 2:18 pm
Not knowing your exact situation, I’ll give general advice.
First, make sure your supervisors all know that you’re happy working there; that you like your job; but, that you want to grow with the company. Second, tell them that you’d like to fill-in as the receptionist a few hours a week to learn the position and see if it’s a good fit for you.
The benefit for your company is that you would become a trained backup. The benefit for you is that you’ll be seen as a company-first asset who is capable of more than just serving coffee.
February 13, 2017 @ 1:35 pm
I have been working with customer service for the past 5 years. My coworkers always tell me that I always get the worse and the most crazy customers. Customers really enjoy to treat me badly and I do think this is true! I have worked in three different places and I always hear this from my coworkers! Do you believe it is because I am way too nice, or maybe because I have a foreign accent? How could I deal with this? What should I think when I am dealing with these customers?
February 13, 2017 @ 1:45 pm
Not being in your workplace to observe, I would only be guessing why you seem to get the bulk of the abuse from angry customers, so I’m not qualified to answer your question directly. That said, I do know that customers can often become more abusive the more they feel they are receiving canned responses (not genuine), and when they feel they are being corrected, or when the CSR is being condescending.
If you think it’s possible that you could be inadvertently coming off as canned, correcting or condescending, then you should work to adjust your approach. (I’m surprised your coworkers don’t recognize why this is happening to you.)
As far as how to deal with it, the key is that no one can make you feel small but you. So, to deal with it, you just realize that the screamers are the ones with the problem. They are the ones with a loose screw and you should probably pity them. Let them vent and bask in the glow of their anger… but, never let it affect you.
December 23, 2016 @ 3:50 pm
Hey! I really enjoyed watching your YouTube videos. They are very helpful. My question for you today is: How would I help a customer who is loudly screaming at me? When is it proper for me to call security or the police? Thank you, Lucas
December 23, 2016 @ 3:51 pm
Thank you for the kind words and thank you for the great question.
Ultimately, all issues at work must come down to Rule #1 – FMF (Feed My Family). While every situation is a bit different (and every company wants you to handle screaming customers differently), you need to remember that you cannot feed your family if you are dead, in the hospital, or in jail.
Given this, it’s appropriate to call security or the police (or to simply hang up the phone, if the screamer happens to be a caller) when you feel even the slightest threat to you or to anyone around you. There is no second-guessing those on the front lines – those in the heat of battle. If you perceive a threat, then there is a threat; call security.
Of course, people are going to perceive these situations differently; but this cannot be your concern. Your only concern when someone becomes a threat at work is FMF.
December 29, 2016 @ 1:59 pm
Thank you for your kind and fast response. I have another question, if you don’t mind answering it.
This is the situation:
Let’s pretend I’m a CSR at a very busy place, like the DMV
At the DMV, you need to be friendly, fast and deal with angry patrons all day.
Now, I have worked at places where I had to be very fast and sometimes when we were really busy, like the DMV, people told me I was sounding rude. I was not trying to be rude, but I think the stress made me sound rude even though I didn’t want to.
I believe the same happens at the post-office, DMV and all the other places that are known to be rude to their customers.
What is your tip for people who is employed by a fast-paced customer service company? During busy hours, what should the CSR keep in mind and how can they keep the line moving without sounding rude?
December 29, 2016 @ 2:19 pm
Great question! First, let’s agree that it’s easy to sound rude in any situation when your goal is not aligned with the other person. In this case, a customer.
Their goal is to send a package, get a driver’s license, etc., with as little hassle as possible. (Likely, they’re already a little miffed when they start to deal with you, because they’ve been waiting in lines or worse.)
Your goal might be to serve as many customers as possible today. Or, it might be to just have this day go by quickly. Either way, your goals are not aligned. Add in the stress created by a demanding (and potentially unreasonable customer) and your facial expressions and body language and even your voice inflection will give you away.
At this point it doesn’t matter what you say, since these other clues will tell everyone else a different story.
So, what’s the answer?
There are two pieces of advice I can give you here and both lessons are shared in my free video series The Customer Experience: https://youtu.be/6FHjWiGNBUM?list=PLEh34qWllCL0O41k7s1N1U8XX8B8kh1QR
First: Anyone on the front lines should follow three simple rules: (1) Love your job; (2) Love your customers; and (3) If you cannot comply with rules one and two, then get a new job. (This is in Part 3 of the 11-part series.)
Second: Remember “Volunteers and Orphans.” All managers should treat their employees like volunteers, while all managers & employees should treat customers like orphans. Doing this will help you empathize with them and keep you focused on helping them instead of hurrying them along. (This is covered in Part 5 of the series.)
May 5, 2016 @ 1:03 am
I am a BDC Manager at a Nationwide RV dealership and I am in charge of our receptionists, our CRM, Sales crew of 10-12 and all follow up including all phone and internet leads. So being I get paid based on phone and eleads the receptionist part is very important as well as the appointment phone training which has given me a few idea’s also. As a manager I always feel I need to keep learning and progressing if I want my team to do better I always need to try to do better too. This training is very helpful thank you. Do you have any video’s for sales management and how to get them more organized on the computer, but by encouragement vs discipline. Our marketing is important and I need them to see that this also makes them a lot of money.
May 5, 2016 @ 1:56 am
I’m glad you found the receptionist training valuable – for your BDC, I have a lot of training on here about setting appointments and overcoming objections on the phone. The best place for you to start is probably on this page: Car Dealer Sales Training. Please let me know if there are specific objections your team receives that aren’t addressed in the videos; I would be glad to help you overcome those and would likely record additional videos to address them.
April 8, 2016 @ 12:00 am
Hello Steven, I have just found your an amazing short video of tips how to deal with angry customers. well done ! I am based in London at Great Britain. I am receptionist only 2 months but im so passionate about this role position, I really want to know more about costumer service or lets say costumer experience ( this word is mostly using at posh clubs because they believe receptionist must welcome client as a member of family) my question is , if you have more videos or examples / situations hoe to answer to tricky angry customer. It really hard to stay calm ( if customer is angry and loosing even temper) and also language barrier ( however im not native . i need to be more focus how to use correct words to satisfied customers ears LOL ) It is really hard to find the best course which help you with those tricky situations. I would be really delighted if you can send me links or even if you know about any good course ( which run in UK in London) to me. i love my job , i love talking with ppl but i have sometimes this weak moment where sometimes I freeze when customer is really unpleasant and instead of feeling confident and start to deal with situation i just cant find quick sentence/answer. i know with time and more practicing i will be fine, but also im pretty sure some help, perhaps of your videos or some advice would do feel me much confident . Thank you for all receptionist because those tips help a lot. Kind regards Nina – UK
April 8, 2016 @ 12:01 am
I’m glad you found the videos helpful and pleased to hear you love your job, as that is step one of growing in the business world. (No one wants to promote jerks who hate what they do.)
Now, to your issue when someone becomes unpleasant…
(Forgive me, but I am going to paraphrase some advice I already provided when I received a similar question posted on my Best Receptionist video: http://stevestauning.com/receptionist-training-how-to-be-the-best-receptionist-ever/):
To not “freeze” in the face of adversity comes from confidence; and confidence is primarily borne from one of two places: KNOWLEDGE and/or CAREFREENESS.
Since you are new and foreign, adding to your competency (i.e., learning how to do the job well) will help. However, I’m going to guess that you are naturally a little timid around strangers. If this is the case, then even with perfect knowledge you are still very likely to show what others perceive as fear.
So, that leaves us with your level of carefreeness.
This may sound crazy, but you need to stop caring. You need to become free of worry and responsibility.
It’s a bit of negative coaching (something I don’t like to do), but stop worrying about what the person across from you or on the phone thinks, and just do your job. They are not important. They cannot control you. They are just as insignificant as the pile of paper clips in your drawer.
The point of the paragraph above is to help you understand (in more positive terms) that people who are new to their jobs and DON’T show fear are simply carefree people. They might be clueless; they might be dense; they might just not care; OR, they might just understand that it’s a job… nothing more.
My advice to you is two-fold:
1. Work on your skills. (I wish I had some links for UK training resources for you, but I do not. That said, you can certainly watch my two receptionist videos over and over until you’re sick of looking at my mug and listening to my voice.)
2. Stop caring about making anyone happy. Smile. (If necessary, force yourself to smile.) Be happy. (If necessary, force yourself to be happy.) Learn to be carefree by understanding that no one will die if you completely fail at your job.
This second point is best summed up by a saying one of my favorite managers of all time used to say: “We don’t sell plasma.”
What he meant by this was that no matter how important our jobs, our decisions/choices/mistakes are not “Life or Death.”
Moreover, and specifically for your situation, is understand that jerks are jerks. No matter how big the asshole, he or she can never control who you are inside. There is only one person who can control how you feel and that’s the person you see in the mirror. Let people become agitated and just smile. Let them become loud and just whisper. Let them become jerks and go out of your way to show them that you don’t care if they are jerks, since that has no bearing on who Nina is.
I’m hopeful that helps. Please keep me posted on your success.
February 11, 2015 @ 5:25 pm
Steve, you are a training God! I run a large call center, and we use all of your appointment and receptionist training for all new hires – IT’S REQUIRED!
As a result, we’ve decreased the ramp up time for new employees, increased our department’s positive metrics (ACROSS THE BOARD) and got rid of a $10,000 a month training company that provided no value to our team.
I cannot thank you enough! Keep up the good work!
February 11, 2015 @ 5:27 pm
Wow, Jennifer, I am both flattered and at the same time thinking I should send you an invoice.
Glad the training is helpful for you and your team. Please use the Contact Steve link above if there is anything you’d like see added to this site.