Dealing with Aggressive Customers

“Forget trying to “win.” Instead, make the customer feel you’re working together to make things right.”- Ron Burley

Although the quote above is how most companies would like to conduct business and also follow this directive. However, with increasing technology and growing competition, more power has been handed to customers and rightly so. Customers have therefore become more demanding and I dare say more aggressive. Dealing with aggressive customers is not easy and even in our everyday lives we encounter unreasonable people. These people could be in our home or office and we are stuck with them and it’s easy to let such a challenging person ruin our day and mood.

For a customer service agent it is important to remember that being courteous is part of their job and “Even if a problem is not your fault, you should have the power to make a customer happy” – Baseline. However, dealing with aggressive customers is no cake walk and requires persistent assertiveness and a calm demeanour (that is easily learnt through ongoing training programs). Assertiveness is about being able to state your view without blaming the other person or violating their right to assert. When a person forgets about not violating the rights of the other, that’s when the behavior turns from assertive to aggressive. Customer service staff deals with this many times a day on a daily basis and must be trained and coached on dealing with aggressive customers to avoid agent and customer burnout. Very often a ‘smart’ comment, feigned empathy or even sarcastic remarks from customer service agents could lead customers to getting aggressive. The normal tone changes to being raised and curt and may also become abusive. So what are the methods of dealing with aggressive customers?

– Companies need to instruct their agents that aggression will foster aggression and it can never have a happy ending. It does not mean that customer service agents need to tolerate being abused or even taunted and verbally bullied.

– When the agent is at the receiving end of the aggression that includes abusive language, the customer must be warned that the behavior is unacceptable. If the behavior continues, they should be warned again saying that the call will be terminated if they do not stop. End the call if the customer persists. A fair warning on these actions – what constitutes offensive language is not easy to determine and some people could be offended easier than others. Training on dealing with aggressive customers must include knowing what should be unacceptable and what would need some persuasion and persistence.

– The training must also include the vital subject of ‘staying calm when dealing with aggressive customers’. This is a tough one since our basic human nature teaches us to either fight back or leave when something gets too difficult to bear or is a perceived threat. Even though the customer service agents are aware that the person meting out this behavior to them is miles away, the reaction triggered is the same as if they were seated beside them. Staying calm and keeping this thought in mind will sustain the ability to think and act reasonably.

– An emotionally charged person, in this case the customer, can never be handled with emotion. It is vital for the customer service agents to not let the customer’s emotions overwhelm them. They must respond rather than react. Remaining calm will allow the agent to remain in control of the situation and their own mind. No one said that customer service was an easy task!

– Overworking, not providing adequate technology, keeping them underpaid are all factors that could keep your customer service agents edgy. Ensuring that they have enough ‘recovery’ time especially after a stressful call, providing adequate training and updated technology and rewarding them well will contribute to making your service agents a more balanced and happier lot. We have in earlier expositions pointed out that happy staff lead to satisfied and loyal customers.

– Managers and supervisors of the service agents must practice and lead by example the importance of remaining calm. Having regular informal sessions with the team helps in keeping the office environment light and stress free. It’s not a bad idea to gift every member of the organization a stress ball with a happy face which really works to relieve build up.

– Customer service agents who are meek and passive could also undergo stress when dealing with aggressive customers. It is vital that managers identify the passive ones and provide training for being assertive when dealing with the ‘bad’ customers. No one should have to take on more pressure than is normally required in such a job.

– Build confidence in your customer service agents. Appreciate them when they do a good job and provide training and coaching in areas that need improvement. Confident agents will not appear unsure when dealing with aggressive customers or any kind of customer. It is human nature to try to dominate another who seems diffident or unable to defend themselves.

– Have a clear well scripted document especially for dealing with aggressive customers. The customer then gets the message that this is the standard way the company deals with their ‘kind’. The customer would probably get the message that the behavior is unacceptable and the response they are going to receive will be rote and mechanical.

– A scripted document also helps the passive agents to fake confidence and assertiveness. So the next time a passive or submissive agent receives an ‘aggressive call’ the script will empower them with lines and words that will serve to calm the customer or at least not further anger them. By faking confidence, the passive agent although very afraid, would be able to buy time and may also be able to calm the customer. With practice, these agents would over time, develop actual confidence and calm assertiveness.

– A customer may be known to have a generally calm personality but situations may have led them to become aggressive. Customer service agents must never make the mistake of dealing with irate customers with the premise that the customer is an aggressive person. Such an assumption would not make dealing with the situation easier. In most cases, the company that the agents represent would have messed up enough for the customer to become aggressive despite being a calm person. Keeping this in mind would help agents react more positively to angry customers.

– The most skilled or experienced customer service agents would also have some areas where they know that they are not at ease with. They would also have areas where they are completely in control and even have expertise. Identifying and working on these areas will ensure that agents are able to deal with all kinds of customer behavior with the same level of confidence.

– Dealing with aggressive customers is a given. However, being able to handle the stress and letting go of such customers before they become abusive is critical to maintaining the sanity and respect of the customer service agents.

– Many companies record the conversation of the calls. Monitoring those calls can help in identifying the reasons for the customer’s aggression and also serve to train the agents at dealing better with customers.

– Wherever possible agents that are naturally more assertive and self-confident must be employed in the ‘high risk’ zones i.e. the teams that deal with calls where some problems are expected. Proper utilization of individual strengths is vital in keeping the standards of customer service high.

Dealing with aggressive customers or difficult people at large is truly the master art of great communication. Understanding, repeating and conveying back are all parts of effective communication and leads to lesser stress and an elevated level of confidence. It is again a skill that can be learned and goes miles in helping customer service agents to reduce the number of horrifying experiences they have with aggressive customers. Dealing with difficult people tactfully puts you and your company on the road to success and a great reputation.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffet

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