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Racism, Sexism, Trolling and More

A Chain of Paper Dolls - Difference and Uniqueness Concept
Source: Canva

We couldn’t agree more with a Userlike’s article The 7 Hardest Customer Service Scenarios Without Easy Answers, which states that most training programs prepare employees for the tricky scenarios — angry customerscustomers asking for favors, etc. But what about the truly difficult situations?

These situations are as diverse as the people at the other end of the line. How to react when a customer crosses the line with racism, sexism, or plain out aggression?

The toughest customer service scenarios don’t have easy answers — creating stress and uncertainty. Having a fallback plan for those makes you more confident and reliable.

Here’s the truth.

When you become a CSR (Customer Service Representative) in an online business, there will be times in your working life that are NOT so pleasant. Even more often than you can imagine.

CSRs all over the world face abusive behavior on a daily basis.

Surprised? Still not sure what exactly we mean by hostile or abusive customer behavior?

This is what we’re talking about:

How many times have you heard the following saying so far?

right or wrong

Now, take a glance at several examples of CSRs being abused by their customers and ask yourself the same question again.

Is the customer ALWAYS right no matter what? Well, actually…

Jeff cohen

Thus, in this lesson, you’re going to learn how to prepare for the toughest customer service scenarios such as:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Flirting
  • Trolling
  • Aggression

And other potentially arduous customer requirements in relations with your future customers.

If you have a proper understanding at least of the most common issues you may encounter, then you’ll be able to deal with almost any similar truly difficult situation. Such as these types of challenging customers, for instance:

So, how should you respond to a racist, sexist or any other hostile customer using offensive language?

You’re about to find out. Let’s take a peek at the dark side of customer service.

How to Respond to Racist Customers

Once you enter the diverse world of online work, the question is not whether you’ll face racism or not. Unfortunately, it’s just a matter of time. That is the other, uglier side of cultural diversity, which is the topic of another lesson.

However, sometimes you may not even be 100% certain a comment aimed at you is actually racist. How will you be able to recognize a racist customer then?

Well, as Sven, the author of the Userlike’s article mentioned above says, racism ranges on a spectrum from ambiguous remarks to obviously racist.

An ambiguous remark is best ignored, because you don’t want to risk falsely accusing the customer. But when more obvious, you should respond.

As with sexism — discussed below — the goal in customer service can’t be to educate or shame the other side — you’ll lose a customer and reinforce a stubborn person’s position.

Rather, your goal is to stop the negative behavior in its tracks so that the service delivery can continue with the dignity of both sides intact.

The same author states that, as Jens Korff wrote in a great piece on how to deal with racism, you should do so staying calm and reacting against the issue, not the person. It’s key NOT to go down to their level.

Before we move on, make sure you read the article How to Deal with Racist People (previously linked) and watch the video suggested there to learn how to tell people they sound racist. Here it is.

(By the way, another video in the same article about how one black pastor defeated the Ku Klux Klan using wit and humor is also worth watching.)

Done? Great! Back to our original source now.

Its author further introduces a few different forms of racism you might encounter and advises you on the best reactions. So, let’s see how to tell them apart and deal with them properly.

Prejudiced Mindset

“You look like you’ll have no trouble calculating a price for me!”

Also “positive” discriminatory remarks, like this one often targeted towards Asians, can be extremely annoying. First ignore. If it persists, ask what the customer means, helping them realize that they’re being racist. If it still persists, point out that these are prejudiced views.

Jokingly Racist

“I can never tell you guys apart”, “Don’t eat my dog”, “Ni hao!”

If the remark is unambiguous, start playing dumb and ask how the sentence was meant. This way you indicate that you disapprove without triggering a defensive reaction. In more extreme cases, say that you’ll gladly help the customer, but that you can only do so on the basis of mutual respect.

If it persists, say that you can only continue helping if the behavior stops. If it doesn’t, stop the conversation and report the issue to your manager.

Aggressive Racist

“I’d like to be assisted by someone who’s white, please.”

Next, the same author expresses his agreement with fastcoexist’s Rich Mintz who says that companies should not be afraid to take a stance. You should NEVER bow to racism or any other form of discrimination, which means never complying with racist demands.

Indicate that the customer’s language is harmful and that you can’t accept it regardless of who it’s directed at. You will help if you’re treated with the necessary respect.

If possible, refer to your company’s general policy on this matter. This clarifies that the customer is behaving against social norms instead of just your personal preferences. If it still persists, stop the conversation and report the issue to your manager.

It’s crucial that you remain calm, professional and polite even in such situations.

In case you wonder why anyone on earth would display racism just like that, read a short explanation a customer service expert Shep Hyken wrote in his article There Is No Place For Racism In Customer Service.

He says that racist comments are made for two reasons: hate and ignorance. As offensive as a comment may be, how it is handled should be based on the reason behind it.

Racism that is fueled by true ignorance can become an educational opportunity. Sometimes people don’t realize what they are saying. Handled the right way, a properly trained customer service rep can manage the situation with a positive impact for both sides.

Customers who come to realize their verbal ignorance may truly feel remorse (they should). The customer service agent has the opportunity to demonstrate compassion in the situation and turn the negative situation into a positive one. Both sides win.

But, racism motivated by hate is different. This is where the company and its leadership can show employees that they care more about the employee than a sale.

Racism or negative ethnicity should have no place in a business environment. Negative comments about a person’s skin color, ethnicity or culture are very offensive and unacceptable in any social situation.

Sadly you might come across a number of customers who have adopted the ideology that a particular race, ethnic group, or tribe is inferior. Dealing with such racist customers can be very difficult, especially when their negative remarks are as a result of anger.

Read this full article from CXService 360° and find out some more expert tips on how to handle racist or bigoted customers.

Now that you’ve seen the customer service leaders recommendations, you know what exactly to do when a customer hurls racist remarks on you, don’t you?

Sure you do! So, how would you respond to a customer saying this to you:

  • “I don’t want to talk to you. Switch me over to someone from my country.”
  • “I can’t understand a thing you’re saying.”
  • “It doesn’t sound like English is your first language.”

When you start working as a CSR and hear remarks like these, hostile and aggressively delivered, often with cursing, you will NOT feel helpless and lost, right?

That’s because you’ll be prepared and have some appropriate responses for common insults handy. For example, a jibe about English being your second language can be met with, “Yes, I am multilingual, which means I am fully trained to help you…”

You see? It’s not that difficult to learn how to protect and defend yourself from abusive customers with dignity, restraint, and wisdom.

Then, let’s figure out how to deal with another category of equally abusing customers also in a highly professional manner, shall we?

How to Communicate With Sexist Customers

Another form of discrimination and abusive behavior you should be aware of in your future line of work is sexism.

customer said

As the author of the Userlike’s article which served as a starting point to us for this lesson, Sven, notices, sexism is somehow often whitewashed as a form of conservatism and chivalry, shrugged off as locker room talk, or ignored entirely.

In customer service, it starts with a breach of professional distance, like a supposedly friendly “sweetheart” or kiss emoji. But it can easily move to the level of more obvious condescending remarks. In extreme cases a customer might ask a female agent to forward him to a male colleague whose name he looked up on your site.

The tentative social condemnation of sexism has another negative impact. It makes sexism harder to battle, with “you’re being hysterical” or “I’m just being nice” as typical evasive responses. See Jennifer Dziura’s tactics to counter these and other typical phrases.

It’s not that you should be free to use any of these phrases and tactics with your customers, but they can definitely come in handy when talking to your sexist boss or colleagues.

Sven also briefly analyses various types of sexism you might encounter in service and gives advice on how to recognize and handle them properly.

So, let’s dig a bit deeper.

Prejudiced Mindset

“Maybe I should discuss this with one of your male colleagues?”

Ignore a single remark if more ambiguous than above one. A pattern of such remarks should definitely make you act. Question the meaning behind the remark(s) to clarify the sexist prejudices.

Jokingly Sexist

“That didn’t fix my issue but your profile picture makes up for that ;)”

“I know this stuff’s complicated, sweetheart!”

React on unprofessional niceties and objectification with a display of cool professionalism. It indicates that you disapprove without triggering a defensive reaction. Here it also works to ‘act unsuspecting’ and inquire into the meaning behind the words.

You can also answer a ‘joke’ in kind while playfully noting how you think the remark was below your level. Try “You didn’t just say that” or “Welcome back in high school”, then directly turn back to the actual topic.

Aggressive Sexist

“Let a man handle that.”

Just like with racism – NEVER tolerate this. Only continue the service if the necessary respect is there. Say that you are gladly trying to help the customer but won’t accept sexist remarks, whether directed at you or anyone else. Send a warning that you will end the conversation if this doesn’t stop.

Also refer to your company’s policy to show the person that this isn’t about your personal opinion. If necessary, end the conversation.

For most racist and sexist scenarios, a subtle display of your discontent will be enough to shock the customer into decent behavior. So as soon as the point has come across, continue with warmness.

Yeah, we’re aware that this is a bit complicated because sexism is usually subtle, which is why it feels uncomfortable to call it out. But remember, although it may be indirect and less obvious, it doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

As said in the article 8 Ways You Can Shut Down Sexism In The Workplace, on the one hand, it’s irritating to have to think about how to deal with sexism without pissing people off. (After all, if someone else is being inappropriate, why should you have to tiptoe around that person?) Don’t you agree?

On the other, you want to stay employed. So what to do? There is no simple answer.

Note: There are some good tips to handle sexism in this article but NOT ALL of them can be appropriate for customer service.

Still, based on the knowledge you’ve gained here, we believe you’ll be able to estimate whether a customer’s sexist remark should be ignored or professionally called out in case you experience such offensive behavior.

One more important thing – both men and women CSRs can be sexist customers’ targets. However, mostly women are expected to tolerate disrespectful sexist remarks in everyday life and work and are subjected to them.

How to Deal With Flirting

Another tricky one of The 7 Hardest Customer Service Scenarios Without Easy Answers is when a customer hits on you.

As the author claims – it happens, it really does. For no apparent reason customers want to meet up with you in person.

They talk business first, then switch the subject with an innocent question like “so, where’s your office located?”. Sharing the info inevitably triggers a nonchalant “oh, I happen to drive up next weekend. Would you like to grab a coffee?”

Most flirting customers are trolls testing their game or fooling around. We’ll get to trolls later on. But if the person is not your obvious clown, that’s a real problem. Because a sincere charmer might happen to be a sincere customer as well.

According to the same source, as recent research showed, it’s a matter of gender whether the situation becomes awkward.

Men tend to over perceive signals of interest from women, male agents should therefore be careful uttering suspicions that their female customer is flirting. Female agents should be mindful of their choice of words when talking to a male customer, they might come across as flirting although they’re not.

Sven, the author of the article, suggests the following best practices for different stages of severity:

  • Step 1: Pouch the flattery, act like you didn’t notice it and continue with support.
  • Step 2: Indicate that you know what’s going on by suggesting to focus on business.
  • Step 3: Point to your own and the customer’s professionalism and politely ask him to focus on topics related to your service and products.
  • Step 4: Say that you can really only help with business related matters. Otherwise, he’ll have to look somewhere else. If the flattery turns into stalking behavior, cut the conversation.

Unless you’re in for a date, of course.

Here’s what another article from Customer Experience Insight, What to do when a customer hits on you, suggests you do when customers go too far:

  • Draw your line. Building rapport through casual conversation poses a slight danger. Some customers may interpret friendly banter as flirting — and respond in kind. So stick to neutral conversations about weather, sports, industry news and world affairs.
  • Share. If a customer is flirting with you, tell your boss immediately. That way if the situation escalates, your boss is already in the loop and can intervene as needed.
  • Lay down the law. If a customer becomes an admirer, and suggests a get-together, tell him or her kindly that you have a personal policy to never date customers.
  • Don’t accept. If an admirer sends gifts, thank the customer and explain that you can’t accept them, but you’d be happy to share them with your colleagues since helping customers is a team effort.
  • Keep your hours. Never give customers your personal numbers, whether they’re admirers or not. Someone who is professional now may grow an interest in the future. Only share your work numbers and the hours that you are available for the company.
  • Be kind — to a point. An admiring customer may feel foolish once he or she is rejected, so continue to act kind and professional. However, if the admirer persists after a rejection, get your boss involved.

In addition, you may want to check out a real-life example of a customer being overly flirtatious with a CSR via live chat. He kept telling her she was “too pretty for a techie,” asking personal questions, saying he wants to ask for her number, etc.

Read the full article to find out an expert advice on how to discourage such unprofessional behavior trying to keep the customer at the same time.

Remember we’ve mentioned trolls earlier? Sure you do. Wonder who they are? They can be another type of your abusive customers. So, let’s see how you should cope with trolling in your future job. Ready?

How to Address Trolling

Before we provide you with some smart tactics to address trolling, let’s just say who trolls are. They’re people who actually do NOT need your help but just want to “push your buttons” hoping to provoke drama just to have some fun creating discomfort and confounding you.

What’s more, according to our primary source, Userlike’s articlepsychological research made a solid link between trolls and prototypical sadists.

As this author further claims, you’ll recognize trolls by their destructive form of communication. This shows in interrupting, blaming, exaggerating, off topic talk or harsh insults.

How does Sven suggest you deal with trolling? This is how.

Don’t award a troll with much patience. Unlike a racist or sexist, who might simply be oblivious to their vices, a troll will never turn into a customer.

According to the author, these are the best practices for different stages of severity:

  • Step 1: Play it cool“I’m glad to help you if you’re being sincere. Do you have an actual question? If no I’ll end this conversation now.”
  • Step 2: Take the fun out of trolling by ignoring the person.
  • Step 3: Set up a macro to not waste any time on the troll“You are being unreasonable, because of this I will now put your account on silent. We will not be notified of your messages anymore from this point on. Have a nice day.”

If you wondered what trolling looks like in practice, here’s an example of trolling the Apple Store Live Chat for you to check:

You see? Trolls are a real pain in the neck and their behavior is abusive. But it’s not impossible for you to keep your cool and stay professional once you learn how to deal with them, right?

And here’s another similar example for you to help you learn how to recognize trolling in customer service and react to it.

In case your company social media accounts get negative comments from trolls and you’re supposed to handle them, don’t worry! We’ve got your back here, too.

How you respond to trolls can impact your brand and reputation. A few tactics can help you defuse the negative situation in the best possible way.

In the article How To Deal With Social Media Trolls from Social Media Examiner, you’ll see how to respond to social media trolls, as well as how basic guidelines keep your community troll-free.

Additionally, here are some more tips for dealing with those Internet Trolls in Customer Service once and for all.

However, before you start getting rid of a troll, you need to make sure that it is actually a troll. Sometimes a person that seems to be trolling may be someone who doesn’t speak your language well or has confused your website with some other service.

Not everyone who asks weird questions has to be a troll!

To check out some instances of malicious conversations with CSRs via live chat and a few possible adequate responses to them, read the full LiveChat’s article Trollbusters: How to Deal with Unwanted Chats.

Aren’t these real-life examples fun to learn from? Absolutely!

So, first just make sure you’re dealing with a troll, NOT an upset customer before you react. You still wonder how you can tell the difference?

How to Deal with Trolls on Social Media is an excellent Hootsuite’s article that will give you some useful tips about this. Here’s what they say.

At times it can be tough to discern the difference between trolls and customers with legitimate concerns, as both types of users will likely adopt an angry tone in their posts. It’s in the substance of their communications that you’ll be able to determine the difference.

Before you take any action on a possible troll post, you should listen to what the person is trying to say and think about their motivation.

In some cases, the person’s motivation may be simply to incite anger from the brand or other users online. That person is likely a troll.

In other cases, the person may have been motivated to make an angry comment due to frustration about your company, customer service, or product. This person is likely a customer who needs to have their complaint heard.

Real customers, upon having their issue addressed and resolved, will probably be satisfied and the unhappy messages will cease. Trolls won’t stop until they’re forced to or get bored.

Danny Bradbury explained this habit of trolls well in a piece in The Guardian: “They are not looking for a resolution, and prefer to engage you in a battle that no one can win.”

Whether you’ve got a troll on your hands, or a simple customer service issue, Bradbury’s insight applies: “Unhappy customers and trolls have one thing in common: they both want to be acknowledged.”

Besides the tips on how to tell the difference between trolls and real upset customers, by diving deeper into this Hootsuite’s valuable article you’ll also learn:

  • 5 signs you might be dealing with a troll
  • 6 strategies for dealing with trolls on social media (and why they work)
  • Standards and reporting processes of each popular social network if trolls take things too far and you want to block or ban them and submit a report
  • Things to avoid in your response to trolls, as well as
  • Some preventative measures to discourage future troll attacks

Don’t hesitate to find out these true gems immediately!

Other articles which may also be of help here are Internet Trolling: How Do You Spot a Real Troll? and 10 Types of Internet Trolls You’ll Meet Online from Lifewire.

Enjoy the reading!

When done, get ready to learn how to successfully handle another type of abusive customers – excessively violent and aggressive ones.

How to Take the Right Attitude Towards Aggressive Customers

This type of hostile customers is inevitable to encounter sooner or later when you start working as an eCommerce CSR. That’s why it’s vital for you to master techniques of professionally coping with them and staying calm.

In case you’re not sure what kind of a customer’s behavior is considered to be aggressive, watch this video and you’ll find out.

Here’s what a Userlike’s expert Sven wisely teaches you in his article about the hardest customer service scenarios previously linked in this lesson.

Anger can have many reasons. Be it through a badly desired but denied discount or simply because the customer just ruined his shirt with coffee. In customer service it often results from an experienced lack of fair treatment.

According to the recalibrational theory, the expressions of anger are meant to put the person into a better bargaining situation. But if what they want is simply impossible, you can’t bargain or fix the situation. You can only treat the anger itself.

Angry customers seem like the more common type compared to the ones above. Actually though, they might be even more common than you think. Not even 4% of your angry customers will even tell you how they feel, but an alarming 91% of those that remain silent will never come back to you.

Reason enough to be alert for any sign of anger, and deal with the angry but potentially valuable customer.

This author distinguishes two main types of anger in the service context.

The first kind is a customer aggressive towards the company or its representative. If the anger is directed at you personally with no connection to an issue, there’s little you can do to fix the situation. At the latest when it escalates to personal threats you should pull the plug.

The second kind is a customer angry at the issue, the type you’ll normally get. It can still involve you individually, as a professional who didn’t do good work, creating an issue. Also, customers often vent their anger about an issue through personal assaults.

It can be hard to tell what kind of anger you’re dealing with. That’s why you need to advance step by step and eliminate the anger before you take up with the issue.

Further on, the same author offers these best practices for different stages of severity:

  • Step 1: Approach with a calm and compassionate mind. Convey that you understand the customer’s situation.
  • Step 2: Instead, cool down the situation through questioning. Don’t judge and don’t lecture on why the anger is unfounded. Ask to explain the situation in detail and follow-up with more questions to lead the customer back to a more rational mind. This also shows how you’re taking him seriously.
  • Step 3: Apologize for the situation but don’t take unfounded blame: “I’m sorry about the fact that your laptop stopped working. I can understand that you must be upset.”
  • The because justification is a good way to prevent anger or to help you interact more smoothly with a raging customer.

You’ll learn much more about each of these suggested steps if you thoroughly read the full article How to Deal with Angry Customers — 4 Psychology Backed Tips also linked above.

Aren’t the tips and tricks presented in this article amazing?

Also, there’s much more about the most important questioning techniques for CSRs in another lesson.

Some of you are now perhaps wondering:

“Why should I apologize to an infuriated customer when I personally haven’t done anything wrong?”

Follow the link and find out the reasons why and what you should actually apologize for.

Did it? Good.

Let’s explore other expert sources and see what they have to say about the topic, shall we?

As Eric Svendsen from SCInc. explains, anyone who has spent any time at all in the customer support industry has at one time or another encountered this category of difficult customer.

This is the customer who calls and immediately bombards you with foul or abusive language. These are the worst kind of difficult customers precisely because they seem to go out of their way to intimidate you.

The good news is:

  1. These customers are rare (much rarer than the typical difficult customer), and
  2. If handled correctly, these customers will apologize to you up to 80% of the time.

When confronted by this type of customer, there are certain guidelines you should follow to help to turn a bad call into one that is not so bad, or to effectively end the conversation. Source: Dealing with Abusive Customers

So, watch as this expert explains to you how to deal with such a customer over the phone.

After these high-level tips for handling abusive customers, the same expert offers further valuable advice. This is what he says.

Sometimes a customer is upset or angry without being abusive, and it would be a mistake to handle this type of call in the same way as a normal call or an abusive one.

What to do then? You’re about to find out.

Here are some signs that will help you to identify when conflict is on the horizon and how to change the way you communicate with your customers when you sense they’re becoming upset.

Next, check out another important expert tip from Myra Golden.

Isn’t her Aikido principle for handling difficult customers wise yet so simple? Now you know what NOT to tell to an angry customer, don’t you? Avoiding such words is exactly as important as carefully choosing the right words to soothe the customer’s anger, right?

But how to respond to cursing or yelling customers? That’s what most people do when they’re furious, right?

This Is What You Say When a Customer Cusses At You according to Myra Golden.

Don’t you think these professional responses will get the job done? We bet they will.

In addition, Ms Golden points out the importance of acknowledging a customer’s concern i.e. emotion, be that frustration or anger. Listen carefully to what she says and learn why you must complete the communication chain with angry customers in order to keep them from escalating.

Isn’t acknowledgement a handy tool for defusing a customer’s anger?

OK. Now you know how significant it is to acknowledge your customers’ anger or any other emotion. Excellent! But how to do it? Here are some great phrases you can use to achieve that.

Here comes another precious trick! Watch this video and find out how you can switch your customers from the left (highly emotional or in this case furious) to the right (rational and logical i.e. calm) part of the brain.

Isn’t it fantastic that these simple techniques can help you gain control over the conversation with almost any kind of difficult customers? Amazing!

Another customer service expert, Dan O’Connor, offers similar advice for effectively dealing with angry or emotional customers when they are out of control. Here are his precious tips.

When communicating with angry or emotional customers, many of us try to calm them down by slowly, clearly, and logically telling them how we can help them with whatever technical issue they’re having. Basically, we speak to the logical side of their brain, when they’re speaking from the emotional side of their brain.

Don’t do that!

QUICK TIP: When someone is speaking to you from emotion, you have to speak first to that emotion before speaking to logic.

The professional, powerful communicator knows to match the level of emotion with a different emotion. What that means is, if they’re very upset, you can be very empathetic. If they’re very angry, you can be very concerned.

Same level of emotion, but a different emotion.

Emotional people want us to be emotional too. Before they can get “un-stuck,” they want to see that they have hooked us emotionally somehow. That’s how people are.

So, show people that you are emotional along with them, and that helps them get “un-stuck.” THEN you can speak to the logical side of the brain, and start solving the problem. Just remember, you can’t get logical information through an emotional brain. Speak first to emotion, then to logic.

Some simple power phrases you can use to do this are things such as:

  • “Wow, I can see how upset you are, and I don’t blame you a bit.”
  • “I can see how angry you are, and after what you just told me, I’m surprised you’re not even more upset.” or
  • “Well, I don’t blame you for being upset, and I’m glad you brought this to me, because I’m the right person.”

Put phrases like these into your own words, and watch what happens when you use them to respondrather than react, the next time you have to provide customer service to (or communicate with) an emotionally charged or angry customer.

How fabulous these tips are, don’t you think?

Moreover, it would be advisable for you to check out the following practical steps for increasing your emotional intelligence (EQ). Why would you need that? Well, because boosting your EQ is immensely important for skillful communication with angry customers.

The following video will teach you how to control your emotions, develop your EQ and influence customers on subconscious and conscious levels. Don’t you find it super helpful?

In the next customer service training video, you’ll learn three ways to help you manage the situation to produce a positive outcome for yourself, your customer, and your organization.

Customer service strategist, Jeff Mowatt, reveals tips on how to deal with customers who are hostile, swearing, and verbally abusive.

In his article Customers from Hell, Mr Mowatt provides five tips for calming cranky customers. Here are a couple of them.

Don’t say, “Calm down.” Ever.

Can you think of a single example in the history of the world when telling somebody to calm down did anything other than make things worse? Exactly!

That’s why this expert claims it’s never appropriate to tell someone how they should feel. On the contrary, you’ll improve their demeanor by validating their feelings with empathic statements like, “That sounds frustrating.”

Here’s another great piece of advice from this article. To find out more, refer to the full article linked above.

Do ask the four Ws. Don’t ask “Why”.

When a customer has a problem and you need the pertinent details, ask the four Ws: whowhatwhere, and when. But avoid asking why. Generally, the response to why something went wrong is that someone was inept.

Imagine asking a customer, “Why didn’t you read the instructions?” This is not constructive and just makes things worse.

In his another article Tips for Taming Trolls and Calming Upset Customers, the same expert further suggests the fastest way to get an angry customer to calm down.

Listen without interrupting.

After they finish venting, your first words should be, “That sounds frustrating.” Consider how this misstep may be affecting the customer and let them know that you get it. Take ownership and apologize for any shortfall or misunderstanding.

Tone it down – literally.

By slowing your rate of speech and slightly lowering your voice tone, you sound less emotional and more rational. Speaking of speaking, don’t dumb down your language or over use filler words: kinda, sorta, like, ya know. The more articulate you are, the more intelligent you’ll be perceived to be, and the more respect you garner.

Remember what you’ve learnt from our lessons about tone and voice in customer service?

You may also want to read the full article about calming upset customers. Or you might be curious to take a peek into some more Customer Service Articles by Jeff Mowatt. Feel free to do so.

In a nutshell, this is how to handle difficult customers regardless of the communication channel you’re using.

Also, as Ms Golden advises, when you find yourself a target of verbal abuse, deploy these field tested techniques and you will remain calm, maintain control and be far more effective.

Now you’re equipped with the necessary knowledge to put into use when an abusive customer crosses the line, aren’t you?

So, when a potential employer says to you: “Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult customer.” you will be well prepared to answer this common situational question in job interviews.

Just in case, take a quick look at the answers you’d like to avoid as opposed to the right one.

You see? Even if you’ve NEVER worked as a CSR before, you’ll be able to tell how you WOULD manage a tremendously difficult customer, demonstrate the necessary skills and get that job. Isn’t it fantastic?

Well done!

Remember what Rene Descartes once said?

keep calm

Good luck in your future online career!

As always, for those who want to learn more, we’ve compiled some further sources to dig into. If you’re one of them, be proud because that’s the spirit! And keep reading. Happy learning!

Suggested Further Learning Resources

Here are some more articles and videos related to the lesson topic which are worth of your attention. There are a few videos for those of you who don’t feel confident enough with their English language skills, as well. Just pick what you need and want and never stop learning! Enjoy yourselves!

Wow! You’ve gone through so many useful resources so far, haven’t you? We bet you’ve learnt a lot!

Are you ready to summarize your main learnings so far? Let’s do it!

In Summary

So far you’ve realiZed that abusive customers come in various shapes and sizes, haven’t you?

No matter whether you communicate with them face to face, over the phone or via email or live chat, here are a few takeaways you should keep in mind when dealing with extremely challenging customers such as racists, sexists, trolls and other hostile types of people.

  • First, make sure you’ve identified the abusive behavior correctly. You don’t want to falsely accuse a customer of being e.g. a racist or troll, right?
  • If it’s implicit, try to ignore it for start. Then, if it continues, subtly indicate that you’ve noticed it and that you disapprove of such harmful behavior.
  • If it becomes overtwarn the customer that their behavior is inappropriate and won’t be tolerated. Say you want to help them and try to focus on the issue and stay calm and professional.
  • If the abusive behavior persists after one or two of your warningspolitely tell the customer you will end the conversation until their behavior changes.

Here are some more strategies you should memorize to be able to handle aggressive and angry customers.

As suggested by Canity, anger is a limited resource, so when the valve is released it’s usually better to just let an angry or difficult customer “let off some steam”. This venting could be vital to resolving the situation.

  • So, when they start yelling at you, let them vent their anger before you say anything. Do NOT interrupt them or tell them to calm down. Just listen actively and take notes.
  • Stay calm and courteous, mind your tone, and don’t take it personally. Show empathy and respect. Try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.
  • Accept the responsibility for guiding the customer towards the solution of the problem. Don’t forget to apologize even if it’s not your personal fault. It’s important to acknowledge their concern, remember?
  • Start asking questions to make them think rationally and focus on resolving the issue. Demonstrate your confidence and competence by suggesting alternatives that address their concerns.
  • Once the issue has been resolved, remember to sincerely thank them and ask if there’s anything else you can help them with.

Good. But what if the customer continues to use abusive language?

What can you do when a customer threatens you or your company, or spouts obscenities in your direction? Here’s what to do when such customers attack – the same as with the other abusive types we’ve mentioned.

Remember – you should NOT tolerate a persistent excessively abusive behavior of any kind such as verbal harassment and threats.

If it persists after a couple of warnings (depending on your company’s policy), it is well within your rights to say the words like:

I don’t appreciate the way you’re speaking to me. I find it discriminating/disrespectful and if you continue to talk in this manner I will have to terminate this conversation/disconnect the call.”

Everyone has the right to work in a healthy and safe environment. It’s also wise to define where the limit is and to know in advance what you’re expected to put up with and when it’s acceptable for you to simply refuse to serve the abusive customer unless or until their behavior improves.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should you fight back, defend yourself and argue if a rude customer verbally attacked you?

a. No. Losing your temper would only escalate the situation out of control. You must remain calm and professional. Focus on the solution and think of how to help the customer instead of the insult.

b. Yes! Of course you’ll fight back when someone attacks you!

c. Always ask your supervisor or manager first. Then you can defend yourself if they allow you to.

2. What is considered to be abusive behavior from customers?

a. When customers call several times because of one issue or when they shout and demand to speak to the manager.

b. When customers swear or yell at you, threaten, flirt with you, say inappropriate words about your race, gender, or behave aggressively towards you in any other way.

3. If a customer asks you “What color panties are you wearing?” while you’re trying to help them resolve the issue with their online order, that is an example of…

a. Trolling

b. Racism

c. Sexual harassment

4. The customer hasn’t read the instructions before using a product. (You know that for sure because this is not the first time it’s happening with that product, which is a bit peculiar.) It won’t work as expected and the furious customer is calling you to complain and demand a refund although he has NO proof of purchase. He shouts: “What the hell is wrong with you? This is the third and definitely last time I’ve bought something from you, morons! I’m fed up with having to deal with your lousy products and the idiots like you! F* you all!!! Give me my money back NOW!

What is the best way for you to respond?

a. Interrupt the customer’s abusive behavior by saying: “Sir, there’s no need for you to be that rude. The product works just fine. Have you read the instructions at all before you’ve tried to use the product and called to yell at me? Obviously, you are the one who’s made a mistake! Your behavior is outrageous!” Then, hang up because you’re not paid enough to take that abuse

b. You’ll say: “How dare you talk to me like that?! It’s not my fault! I’m going to hang up now.” and end the call immediately

c. Let the person vent their anger. Then say something like: “So, you’re saying that the product doesn’t work, right? I understand why you are frustrated. I’d feel the same way, too. I’m sorry you have to go through this again. Let me ask you a few questions and try to figure out what went wrong, OK? Have you read the instructions for use? Or shall we go through them quickly together? Perhaps you’ve misinterpreted something there.”

5. If a customer keeps yelling, threatening, and verbally abusing you, which is the most professional way to respond?

a. Warn the customer a couple of times before ending the conversation by saying something like: “I understand how frustrating that must be and I’m willing to help you resolve the issue, but I have to warn you that if you continue using such aggressive language, I’m going to have to terminate the conversation.”

b. Just hang up, leave the live chat or start ignoring their abusive emails without previous warnings

6. Which of these is a better way of apologizing to the customer?

a. “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

b. “I understand how upset you must be, I’d be upset too and I apologize that this has happened. Will you give me a chance to sort this out for you?”

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