How to Best Handle Rude Customers

By: First Union


How to Best Handle Rude Customers

We've all been there at one time or another—even the best of businesses have had to handle customer rudeness at some point. It's inevitable. And regardless of how many times you may have faced such a situation, it can still come as a shock especially if someone is exhibiting outright hostility. So what do you do?

First off, you have that delicate balancing act of having to control your own emotions while responding tactfully. Then of course your mind has to work quickly to try and pinpoint a solution to the problem. How far do you go? In other words, should you give in? Should you stand firm despite their demands? And most importantly, upon defusing, how can you prevent something similar from happening again?

Given what we've just gone through, tensions can be particularly high in some instances. So it's a very good idea to have a game plan in place for dealing with the occasional rude client/customer. Company policies are always a good idea as far as identifying a course of action, but your emotional intelligence needs to come into play as well.

Below we go into five strategies that can help you navigate an interaction with even the most ornery customer.

Rude vs. Unhappy

Believe it or not, there is a crucial difference between the two. If for instance, a customer has received less than stellar service or a product that doesn't reflect good quality, they do have a right to be unhappy and consequently, make those feelings known. What's more, if they are civilized about it, then you should be willing to work with them to rectify the issue at hand. This could mean replacing a defective item or refunding the customer for a canceled flight for instance.

On the flip side of this, if someone has a problem keeping their rage in check and starts to get volatile and even abusive in terms of their language and demeanor then that is a different story altogether. This is an example of a rude customer—not just an unhappy one. There is a difference. And so when confronted by a customer who is flat out hostile and rude, you have to take a different approach than you otherwise would.

Stay Calm

If you start yelling back at the client, then the entire thing is going to escalate to an uncomfortable level for everyone involved. That is why first off you need to remain calm and not respond in kind. Studies have found that when attacked by a rude customer people tend to feel violated in terms of their overall sense of dignity. And this in turn is what spurs some employees to "bite back." It's a natural human reaction. However, tactfulness is essential in these types of situations. Take a deep breath, more if you have to. Gather your thoughts before you begin addressing the person who is being rude. If the person refuses to calm down and their behavior gets even worse, then this is probably a signal that you should step away and bring someone else in to help you handle it, or handle it for you if they are so inclined.

Remember It's Not Personal

Yes, the customer is visibly angry and they are acting in an untoward way, but this is because they are frustrated by a product or service. You are not the target, it just happens to be your job to address customer issues. As you are the one they have access to, you unfortunately are going to feel the brunt of their anger. Don't take what they say or do to the heart. You might even take a moment and try to empathize with the person. To some extent, you need to be able to read their emotions, understand the actual focus of their venting, and certainly don't take the verbal attack personally.

Listen and Respond Appropriately

Again, sometimes people just need to vent. Especially given what most have been through the last couple of months, tensions tend to be high at times. You want to first listen and show that you're listening by reframing their complaint. For example, you might say something like, "So what I am hearing is that you're unhappy because…" Also, keep an eye on their overall body language as well as your own. The way we express ourselves via body language can help or hinder a situation. Show that you are open to hearing what they have to say by maintaining eye contact for instance.

Stand Your Ground

There are times when you may need to apologize even to a rude customer, and yet there are other times when you need to stand firm. If the customer keeps reiterating the same complaint over and over again, you might have to get a little more assertive to move the discussion forward. Or even just to be able to get a word in period. Whatever you say or do make sure it is with confidence and clarity without stooping to their more belligerent level. This can be difficult—confrontations of this nature usually are. But remind yourself that this is your role, your job is to handle client issues, even when they seemingly get out of hand. Colleague support in this instance can be a lifesaver.

Address the Problem

One good strategy for calming an ornery client is to involve them in the solution. That is to say, ask them about what they feel the solution should be. Talk with them about the various sides to the problem and then you can also bring up specific company policies, thereby showing them why X won't work but perhaps Y will.

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