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Handling Unhappy Customers

Unhappy
Source: Canva

No matter how extraordinary a service you provide, somewhere along the way you will meet difficult customers.

Difficult customers are as inevitable as a cold and rainy autumn after a nice and warm summer. You just have to deal with it, best by preparing your mindset for it.

There are two ways to think about difficult customers.

One is that the customer is always wrong. And you don’t have to listen to them, because everything is alright without service.

The second approach is to spend some extra time with every difficult customer. You listen to them carefully and explain your product. But at the same time, you’re not scared to consider the possibility of them being actually right.

In both approaches, you’ll need to learn something about handling difficult customers anyway. You can achieve that by understanding their personality types and their way of thinking better.

4 Types of Difficult Customers on Chat and How to Deal with Them may be quite helpful here.

What types of customers can you expect though? With so many different support cases, how do you pick an approach that will work and make the customer happy?

In a lot of situations, these customers will bring different emotions into the conversation. This will often make the conversation even more difficult.

Are you ready for the challenge?

If you want to get prepared, here are 5 popular customer types you can expect when working in support.

Also, scroll down this LiveChat Agent’s Handbook (almost to the end) to learn more about some common customer archetypes and simple ways of making them satisfied.

Furthermore, remember the lesson Racism, sexism, trolling and more? Don’t you think it provides valuable insights into dealing with truly abusive and hostile customers?

We’ve already talked about how to:

  • Respond to a racist customer
  • Communicate with sexist customers
  • Deal with flirting and
  • Address trolling in customer service

After learning all that, you’re equipped with enough knowledge to face any of these tough customers when they cross the line. Agree?

Thus, we’re NOT going to repeat these extreme topics here but tackle a few more basics you should know when handling some common aforementioned unhappy customers (primarily over live chat, but it doesn’t greatly differ from any other channel of communication).

So, what to do when a live chat conversation just goes bad from the beginning because the customer is really pissed off about something? Or when it starts off well but then deteriorates like in the Verizon CS chat example?

We’ve all been there. We are interacting with a customer and everything seems smooth, then BAM! Your customer becomes angry and it hits you like a freight train.

Your next thought might be, “How did it come to this?” It might be “What did I do wrong?” or “What do I do next?”

There are methods that can help you to effectively handle difficult customers, reduce their anger and engage in conflict resolution.

These 15 Tips From Psychology to Effectively Handle Difficult Customers are customer service techniques that you can employ to help achieve customer service conflict resolution excellence.

Now, let’s take a deep dive into main guidelines you should follow when communicating with unhappy and difficult customers.

Stay Professional Even in Unpleasant Situations

If you’re a frontline employee working in customer service, then it’s pretty much guaranteed that you deal with difficult customers… those customers who frazzle you, leave you speechless, or worse, cause you to stoop to their level and say the wrong thing.

And by difficult customers I’m not only referring to angry or obnoxious customers; difficult customers can mean any number of bad behaviors, including customers who are:

  • Indecisive
  • Melodramatic
  • Overly analytical
  • Intoxicated
  • Condescending
  • Or even mentally unstable

The bottom line is that you can’t control the types of customers you handle, whether the bad behavior is due to a legitimate reason or it’s completely out of line. And it isn’t always the customer who instigates bad behavior.

You might inadvertently say or do something that causes a customer to become upset… or confused… or downright obnoxious. Whenever that happens, it can be difficult to get back on track and interact positively with the customer.

The good news is that you can learn how to control the way in which you handle your customers, even if you caused the problem. It’s all in how you respond that will enable you to regroup, get the conversation back on track, and complete the contact successfully.

Choosing powerful phrases of courtesy, regret, assurance, empathy, and appreciation (suggested by an expert in the field, Renée Evenson), as well as speaking calmly and confidently will help you stay in control throughout your interaction.

When you are speaking with rude or angry customers, it is a natural reaction for you to want to get angry in return — but you are at work and you cannot let that happen.

The author of 7 Tips on How to Handle Angry Customers Without Losing Your Cool further shows you how to handle angry customers skillfully, whether it be on the phone, on a live chat or live help session, or anything else, all without losing your cool.

As advised in How to Deal with Difficult Customers over Live Chat, it is important for you to remember that the attitude customers are expressing is due to the situation. They are not directing it at you who is the other end of the chat.

Also, they may not think before they send the text message so they may say something hurtful without intending it to be taken that way. When you react to the anger or other negative emotions expressed by the customers, it isn’t productive and can lead to more problems.

You need to be very careful when crafting responses when chatting with a difficult customer.

Tone can be misconstrued in a written conversation so any text that could be interpreted as anger, resent, sarcasm or condescension cannot be sent to angry customers.

Understanding what the customer really wants is crucial.

Thus, during a conversation with a difficult customer, you need to cut through the anger and bluster to determine what the customer is really looking for. It can be something as simple as an apology, a free upgrade to resolve the problem, or a discount on their bill.

Sometimes the customer is looking for nothing more than just having the issue fixed quickly and efficiently.

Don’t just offer free items or a discount until you know what resolution the customer is looking for. Offering things at random will only frustrate the customer because you are not serving the customer’s needs.

Often looking through the customer history, prior chats, and notes made by other chat operators can help provide insight into what the customer wants to resolve the situations.

In addition, experience of handling similar situations with other customers can be useful in determining the best resolution.

If you don’t have experience handling this type of complaint, you can ask other operators or supervisors for assistance. If you think you are not able to resolve the complaint, just pass the chat to a more experienced operator in the team.

Note: Make sure you go through the whole article linked above to discover more helpful pieces of expert advice.

Next, you may want to take a glance at PATLive’s infographic to learn more about maneuvering the toughest customer personalities around.

Source: Infographic: Maneuvering 5 Difficult Customer Personalities

In addition, check the following infographic with 10 simple tips on how to handle angry and rude customers effectively and 10 great quotes to remember when dealing with them.

infographic with 10 simple tips

Furthermore, check out the following strategies for dealing with difficult customers and staying in control of the situation.

Here’s another similar presentation that covers the topic of handling objections, complaints and awkward customers. (Don’t let some typos or grammar mistakes hinder your learning from this source.)

It’s a part of your job to handle every unpleasant situation professionally. So, if (or should we say when) a customer gets angry and starts offending you, no matter how difficult it may sound to you, do NOT take it personally.

Remain highly professional and calm. Treat them like they’re a sane, well-mannered, reasonable person even though they might seem insane to you at that moment.

Do NOT judge. Just try to help them.

And remember – your chat text is being recorded.

Now, let’s have a word about another critical point – apologizing in customer service.

Make Sure Exactly When You Should Apologize to Customers and How

As argued in The Crisis Communication Handbook for Customer Service, the most important word in any crisis, even if it’s not your fault is “sorry”.

They say that apologies aren’t about taking the blame for the crisis. Apologies are about empathy, about showing that you understand how the customer feels, and about feeling genuinely sorry that they feel that way, regardless of who caused it.

Besides, even if the crisis isn’t your fault – maybe a third-party vendor is having an outage, and your product is a victim – as far as your customers are concerned, it’s your product that’s down, making it your fault.

Beverly Engel, the author of The Power of Apology, explains why apologies can be so powerful in crisis interactions:

  • A person who has been harmed feels emotional healing when he is acknowledged by the wrongdoer.
  • When we receive an apology, we no longer perceive the wrongdoer as a personal threat.
  • Apology helps us to move past our anger and prevents us from being stuck in the past.
  • Apology opens the door forgiveness by allowing us to have empathy for the wrongdoer.

In a world where companies love to play the blame game to protect themselves, a simple apology can go a long way.

On the other hand, as presented in The Organizational Apology, some companies have a strong tendency to evaluate the situation through a legal lens.

Corporate counsel may fixate on whether any laws were broken and warn managers that an apology might be construed as an admission of liability (possibly exposing the company to litigation) rather than as an effort to empathize with the wronged party.

A negative experience can result in a complaint from a customer, or, in extreme cases, a lawsuit.

Thus, some experts argue that’s why you shouldn’t apologize to customers. (Check out the full article on tips how to handle apologies so that you avoid a lawsuit.)

3 Reasons Why Apologizing Hurts Your Business further explains the point against (over) apologizing to customers.

Here are some more reasons why you should stop apologizing to your customers right now, and a few helpful suggestions on how to handle their complaints without dropping those pesky “s-bombs” anymore.

Does sorry mean guilty, then? Or does it express that you care for your customers?

As you can see, apologizing to customers is a delicate topic. Some customer service experts argue FOR whereas others argue AGAINST apologizing to customers no matter what.

That’s why it’s particularly important for you as a future CSR that you undoubtedly know when it’s acceptable to apologize to your customers and when you should forget about it.

Also, it’s critical to know HOW to do it the right way in case you have to.

One of the most annoying things any customer service agent can do when on the phone, video call or chat session with a customer is to use a generic, insincere apology.

There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to sympathize/empathize with a customer and seeming like you are just reading off a script or copy and pasting text into a chat window is the wrong way.

To find out a suggestion on how to apologize the right way, refer to the full article 6 Tips on How to Deal with Angry Customers.

Myra Golden, a customer support expert, teaches you that an apology can be genuine and safe at the same time in her article How to Genuinely Apologize to Customers Without Admitting Fault.

She advises CSRs to apologize for the impact the situation had on the customer, not the issue itself. For example, “I’m sorry for any frustration this may have caused you.”

Make sure you check out the full article and learn what you should know about a safe apology.

You may also find this article helpful when learning How to Apologize: 5 Elements of a Successful ‘I’m Sorry’.

Since apologizing to customers means different things in different cultures (e.g. Western and Asian), we’d advise you to avoid saying “sorry” unless your employer specifically asks you to apologize.

Wondering why?

Well, in some cultures “sorry” often leads to legal troubles because it means your company accepts the blame when you apologize.

In other words, when you apologize to a customer on behalf of your company, you’re actually saying:

I accept responsibility for what happened.”

And you CANNOT say that on behalf of your company unless you know you’re absolutely responsible and your employer approves of it.

You do NOT want to get your employer into any legal troubles, right? That’s why you should be extra careful.

Let us give you a real-life example to illustrate this further…

There was a drug incident in a company, where a person contacted the company on behalf of a client and said:

This employee in your organization is taking drugs. You should fire them.”

And the company’s live chat agent responded:

Oh, I’m really sorry about that (that they’re taking drugs). I will report them to a manager.”

The first mistake this CSR made was to accept what the customer said as the truth instantly.

How did the agent KNOW that person was telling the truth?

That’s a really horrendous thing to say about someone, isn’t it? That’s why it MUSTN’T have been accepted as the absolute truth instantly!

Remember, especially in such difficult cases, that you have to dig deeper before you apologize. NEVER accept what someone says as the truth immediately!

For example, if a customer complains that their product hasn’t arrived, don’t say:

I’m sorry that your product didn’t arrive when it was expected.”

Simply because it might have arrived and the customer might be lying.

Instead, you could say something like:

I’m sorry for the inconvenience. I’d really like to help you with this. Can you give me your order number, please?”

And then you can check where the product is by tracking the order just to make sure that person’s telling you the truth.

When you’re 100% certain it’s your company’s fault and you’re allowed to apologize, you may say, for instance:

I’m sorry you didn’t receive the product on time. Let’s see what we can do to make it up to you.”

Got the point? Nice.

The following resources can help you find your way when/if apologizing to customers, but the final decision whether to do it or not is on your employer because it’s a cultural thing. So, make sure you always check it with the company for which you’re working.

So, here’s a handy article to help you learn how to apologize to customers effectively. And another helpful one – The 7 elements of an effective apology.

You could also learn a lot from No More “Nonpologies” – Learn to Apologize to Customers Like You Mean It, right?

Then, remember 120+ Ready-to-Use Live Chat Scripts for Both Sales and Customer Service from the previous lessons on scripts? It equips you with the right words to apologize to the customer (among many other scripted live chat responses for various situations). Also, to professionally express your confidence even when you lack certain information, or when the customer is very anxious or upset and catches you off guard.

Note: When you read the articles linked above, make sure you don’t miss 30 Empathy Statements and Phrases That Show Customers You Care and How to Say No to Customers in a Positive Way. These sources can be of great help in defusing angry customers and even preventing their anger.

Here’s another similar one – 50 Positive Words and Phrases to Use in Customer Service.

Also, you may want to take a closer look at the following perfect phrases for customer service:

Zendesk’s blog post 5 types of difficult customers and how to help them argues that no matter how much time you spend delivering good customer service, it’s important to remember you can’t please everyone every time.

Whether it’s a customer with heightened expectations or an otherwise lovely person who happens to be having a rough day, you will inevitably encounter customers who are difficult to satisfy.

The key is to learn how to make the best of a difficult customer interaction and resolve the situation in a manner that satisfies everyone.

(Don’t forget to read the full article to find out what five types of difficult customers you may encounter in the future and recommendations on how to effectively help them and solve their issues.)

Here come some more recommended resources for you to refer to while learning about handling unhappy customers.

Further Learning Resources

Not only can the following resources help you successfully handle unhappy customers, but they’ll come in handy when you find yourself in various unpredictable situations when you simply have no idea what to say and how to react.

What’s more, they’ll make you a skillful and knowledgeable CSR.

Remember – no one expects you to read everything in less than an hour or to memorize every single sentence after just one reading.

These sources are here for you to expand your horizons and have a backup for the future reference once you start working.

Got it?

This video takes you through a number of steps that will help you to deal with unhappy customers calmly and effectively no matter which channel of providing customer support you use.

It will also show you how you can use these difficult situations in a positive way, so that you can learn from them and, hopefully, avoid similar issues in the future.

You may find the following LiveChat webinar – Dealing with difficult customers – useful. It discusses the most common kinds of difficult customers, reasons for their behavior, and how to handle them.

You Win, I Win: How Being Assertive Can Take Your Customer Service Game to the Next Level (includes guidelines and fantastic example conversations on how to deal with aggressive and passive customers)

We’re convinced that all the valuable resources included in this lesson will help you grasp the point and learn how to talk to your customers properly, especially in challenging situations.

Perhaps The Defusing Hostile Customers Crossword Puzzle can help you revise and relax after so much reading and learning…

Now, let’s put it all in a nutshell before you take the quiz, shall we?

In Summary

No matter how great your product or service, some customers are bound to get upset — and in the age of social media, upset customers’ negative experiences can reverberate and compound, as noticed in Zapier’s blog post 3 Ways to Deal with Difficult Customers.

While there’s no “perfect” solution to any problem, with a little preparation, you can approach some common customer service challenges with tact and grace, allowing you to keep standards high and make better decisions, no matter what comes your way (or what your customers say).

Thus, when you come across a difficult or unhappy customer, bear the following guidelines in mind:

  • Don’t take it personally. Keep the conversation professional.
  • Chat to them like they’re a sane, well-mannered, reasonable person. Don’t judge but try to help them.
  • Avoid saying “sorry” unless your employer specifically asks you to apologize because your company can get into legal troubles.
  • Avoid accepting what the customer says as the absolute truth instantly. Dig deeper before you apologize.

Or if you prefer a visual presentation as a reminder:

As noticed in the article Dealing With Unhappy Customers – Turning a Challenge into an Opportunity, dealing with difficult customers can be challenging.

But if you handle the situation well, you may even be able to improve your relationship and create further opportunities.

Here’s how to turn your most unhappy customers into brand promoters.

Got it? Nice.

Let’s check your knowledge now.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Should you always apologize to a complaining customers no matter what?

a. In some countries, apologizing to customers may get the company into a legal trouble. Thus, whether you should apologize or not greatly depends on your company’s policy. Always check it with your employer first

b. Yes. Always first apologize, then move on to resolving the issue

c. No. The thumb rule is never apologize to the customer even if it’s your fault

2. You’ll show to an angry customer that you’ve managed to remain calm despite their anger if you start responding to their messages slowlier than before or if you just stop responding for some time.

a. True. Your fast reactions and responses would mean that you’re getting angry, too

b. False. If you don’t respond to them quickly, they can get even more frustrated because they’ll probably think that you don’t care about their problem but chat to other customers

3. When chatting to customers (especially irate ones), it’s highly advisable to use their name as much as possible.

a. True. that’s how you create a personal connection and show the customer that you really care

b. False. Never address a customer by their name. It’s unprofessional

c. False. It’s advisable to address a customer by their name perhaps at the beginning and at the end of a chat conversation. Using a customer’s name in almost every line of the chat can and probably will make an angry customer even more frustrated

4. Which of the following sentences is best to use when apologizing to a customer?

a. “I’m so sorry my colleague has made such a terrible mistake! I promise it won’t happen again. I’ll report him to the manager and he’ll get fired. Here’s what I’m going to do to resolve your issue.”

b. “We apologize and accept the full responsibility for what has happened. We’ve made a similar mistake with another customer this week. It’s terrible! What do you want us to do to make it up to you?”

c. “I’m sorry for your problem, but it’s not my fault. There must be a huge misunderstanding.”

d. “I understand why you’re frustrated and I’m sorry this happened. If I were in your shoes, I’d probably feel the same. Let’s see what we can do to resolve this issue.”

5. How should you react when an upset customer complains to you about an issue you haven’t got a clue how to resolve?

a. Be honest and say, “That’s not something I know off the top of my head, but let me find out for you right away!”. Make them feel like you’re their ally in fixing their problem

b. Never admit that you don’t know the answer to the customer’s question. At least pretend you’re trying to help them

c. Simply say: “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you because I don’t know how.”

6. What are you going to say to the customer complaining about your store website shutdown in the middle of Black Friday?

a. “Yes, our system is down! Obviously we broke it just for fun and to make your day more difficult!”

b. “You’re not the first customer in the last 2 hours who has sent this complaint. We’re working to fix it as soon as possible, and you should be patient, just like we’re patient with you every other day.”

c. “I can certainly understand why this is distressing and I apologize for the trouble this may have caused you. You’re right, we need to fix it immediately. Thank you for your patience and bringing the issue to our attention.”

7. Which of the following answers is better to use when your customer’s asking for a product you no longer have in stock (perhaps to prevent the customer from becoming upset)?

a. “Sorry, your gourmet lavender tea is no longer in stock. You’ll just have to wait until next month to place a new order.”

b. “Your gourmet lavender tea will be restocked in two weeks. I can place an order for you immediately so that it will be sent to you as soon as our new shipment arrives!”

8. If a customer complains and you see that you cannot help them resolve the problem, but you need to transfer the chat to your colleague from another department, how are you best going to do so? By saying:

a. “I’m sorry, but I cannot solve this problem, I’m going to transfer to department XYZ.”

b. “OK, let’s get this problem resolved! I am going to transfer you to my colleague, an XYZ specialist who is the best person to help you / who is the best-suited person to answer your question.”

c. “Sorry, I can’t help you. You’ll have to to talk with our expert from XYZ department.”

9. What should you do if the customer complains and does not like the solution you’ve suggested?

a. Ask what they would consider a fair alternative.

b. Tell them that’s the only possible solution to their problem you can offer at that moment and if they don’t accept it, they can’t expect you to help them

c. Clearly state that you cannot meet their request. If necessary, get into an argument with the customer to convince them your solution is the best for them

10. You should tend to reciprocate on your customer’s tone, right?

a. Yes, always. No matter whether the customer’s friendly or infuriated, you should “speak their language” by mirroring their tone

b. No. Why would you do so? You shouldn’t care about your customer’s tone as long as you match your company’s tone of voice when communicating to customers

c. Yes, but when their tone is positive. When customers get upset or angry, you should still keep calm and professional

11. If an upset and impatient customer complains: “I’ve been waiting here forever!” while you’re juggling a few other customers’ complaints and trying to resolve them as efficiently as you can, how should you best shape your response?

a. “I’m doing my best, Sir/Mam, but we’re short of CSRs. There’s nothing else you can do but wait.”

b. “I apologize, but I’m trying to simultaneously handle several customers’ issues.”

c. “Sir/Mam, you need to be patient for a few more minutes and let me handle this for you without interruptions.”

d. “I realize that, and I really appreciate your patience. We’re doing our best to make sure we get this issue resolved quickly.”

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