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Breaking the cycle of customers’ anger

Customers often have great difficulty containing their emotions so it is important that we don’t add our own into the mix. When people’s anger erupts, they have used up their internal resources to solve the problem so they are projecting their emotions outwards to see if someone else can solve the problem.

At this point staff tend to make one or more of the following mistakes: They focus on trying to justify their position (‘The reason we did that is…’); or they tell the customer that they should not feel the way they do (‘There is no need to be upset!’); or they attempt to defend themselves and shift responsibility (‘If you had let us know sooner…’). It is debatable whether these strategies would ever work, but they are definitely not going to at the beginning of an angry conversation.

People in an angry state of mind tend not to be able to distinguish between physical and psychological attacks. Some customers react to a penalty charge on their bank account as if they have been kicked on the backside. They feel under attack and it is that mental state we have to deal with before trying to reason with them or explain your point of view.

Our first task is to assist the customer in accessing their own internal recourses – mainly their ability to think. Admittedly this may not be an easy task at a time when our own emotions are doing Olympic standard somersaults. So the goal is to buy time to enable our own thought processes to move from ‘reacting’ to thinking. Anger feeds on speedy responses where both parties are in a reactive state therefore we need to try to break that negative cycle. Take a breath and if it’s appropriate ask the customer for a moment for you to consider what they have said. You could also attempt to buy time by taking a ‘micro break’, such as asking if they would mind if you got a notepad to take down some details (the old ones are the best!). Note the basic rule for managing conflict – if your heart it pounding, disengage your mouth!

Above all else you must reach a point where you are asking the questions and they are answering. In this way you are getting them to vent their emotions in a more controlled manner. They are going to accept very little of what you say until they have gone through a process of releasing their pent up emotions.

Unless you have the power to give the customer exactly what they want straight away (‘I will refund the charge now’), we suggest you work on some creative questions. The first 5 to 10 seconds are crucial. If you use some questions to get the customer to talk, you have a chance of making them think.



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