Keep Cool with Complainers: How to Handle Grumpy, Irate, or Just Rude Callers

Even in the best businesses, it may be impossible to satisfy every customer all of the time. Often, customers pick up the phone to make their frustration known.

Anatomy of an Irate Caller
People who call your company with complaints may have valid reasons for their anger: perhaps they did not receive what they paid for or were treated rudely by one of your colleagues. Some may be calm; others quite irate. If they sense your desire to help, most will grow calmer as the call continues. Others, no matter what you try, will never feel satisfied. Maybe they’re just grumpy by nature or need to vent their anger. You will not know which kind of caller you are dealing with at the start, so it helps to have a method to follow for all complaint calls.

Your Mission: Stay Cool
Your goal is to empathize with the caller, acknowledge the problem, and do your best to resolve the issue—all without losing your most powerful tool: a positive attitude.

First, consider the caller’s point of view. Be sure to acknowledge that there is a problem. Listen completely, and do not argue or criticize. Use statements such as “How can I help you?" or "What can I do for you?"

Next, offer solutions and alternatives. The caller wants to know that help is on the way. If you are not the right person to resolve the problem, direct the caller to someone who can. Then follow up to make sure the problem was resolved.

Words have Power
In anger, many callers will say things that, intentionally or not, sound demeaning, such as: “I want to speak to someone who knows something.” Don’t get defensive. Do your best to appear informed and capable. Avoid common expressions of rejection or uncertainty (see below) in favor of more diplomatic and intelligent answers.

It may be easier to keep your cool during a tough call if you remember that you can turn a complaining customer into a loyal one. If you resolve the problem quickly and courteously, you’ve shown your company is reliable. The complainer just may become an advocate.

Helpful Tips
Tips to resolve complaint calls and avoid expressions of rejection or uncertainty in favor of more diplomatic and intelligent answers.

  • Don’t say: “I don't know.”
  • Why it’s bad: You appear uninformed.
  • Try this instead: “That's a good question. I’ll try to find out more.”
  • Don’t say: “We can't do that.”
  • Why it’s bad: It feels like total rejection.
  • Try this instead: “That's a tough one. Let's see what we can do.”
  • Don’t say: “You'll have to...”
  • Why it’s bad: It sounds accusatory and bossy.
  • Try this instead: “Here's how we can help you.”
  • Don’t say: “No,” to begin a sentence.
  • Why it’s bad: It sounds like you're not willing to help.
  • Try this instead: “We aren't able to do that, but we can....”

Top 10 tips for impeccable telephone etiquette

  1. Answer calls by the second or third ring.
  2. Greet the caller, and identify yourself, your business, and your department. Be enthusiastic and respectful throughout the call.
  3. Ask the caller, “To whom am I speaking?” and “How may I help you?” Then use the caller’s name in conversation.
  4. When you take a call, turn away from your computer and other work and keep your attention on the caller.
  5. Smile. Even though callers can’t see it, they’ll hear the smile in your voice.
  6. Use a “telephone voice,” speak clearly and control the volume and speed of speech.
  7. If there is a problem, be concerned, empathetic, and apologetic.
  8. Never eat, drink, or chew gum while you are on a call.
  9. Don't be too busy to be nice. Being busy is never an excuse to be rude. If it's an inopportune time, courteously tell the caller just that and suggest a call back time.
  10. Thank the caller for calling and ask him or her to call again.

“Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

“It helps a ton when you learn people's names and don't butcher them when trying to pronounce them.” - Jerry Yang

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