We may use the phone less than we did in the past, but for many companies, handling customers over the phone is a daily task. Anyone who answers phones on a daily basis knows that every now and then, the caller on the other end is insulting, loud, arrogant–or in other words, rude.
How do you handle rude customers on the phone? We get asked this question all the time, and that’s because pleasant interactions with customers over the phone are our specialty. It’s not like a personal call, where you could simply hang up or be rude in response.
When you’re representing a brand, organization, or company, you must represent it positively at all times–even when the person on the other end is being far from reasonable.
We’ve learned some best practices for handling rude customers on the phone over the years, and below, we will share those tips with you!
How to Handle Rude Customers
Step 1: Keep your cool.
We all know people who never seem to lose their cool–a guy I worked with years ago comes to mind. I witnessed a customer shove an entire stack of books across the counter at him when he informed her that they were past the date for return. And you know what his reaction was?
He just knelt down, picked up all the books, and neatly placed them back on the counter. He put them in a bag to make them easier for her to carry. He apologized to the customer for the inconvenience our policy caused her and offered to get the manager. She seemed mortified that he responded so calmly. There was a tense pause.
She declined, apologized for shoving the books, grabbed the bag, and left the store without further incident. For a situation that began with a woman wildly shoving a stack of books at an employee and ended with a meek apology, I’d say things went pretty well. Emulate this guy in your customer service interactions, and you really can’t go wrong.
When the customer was out of the store, I turned to him with my mouth hanging open. “How did you stay so calm? I can’t believe she pushed those books at you!” He laughed and said “Oh, it did make me mad, I just couldn’t let her see that.”
It was an “Ah-ha!” moment for me. I realized that when you’re representing a company, your feelings don’t matter. You can’t show your feelings to the customer because that will cause you to act outside of your company’s interests. That’s not to say you can’t feel angry or upset about a bad interaction like this one! Just don’t argue with the customer.
Step 2: Gratify them with an apology
An apology is one of the first proactive things you should do to handle rude customers. No customer calls a company and gets upset without having a real issue with that company’s product or service. Regardless of if you believe the stress they feel is warranted, you should acknowledge that the situation is difficult for them.
Apologizing for what the customer is complaining about offers gratification to the customer. It makes them feel heard, and it’s satisfying for them to know that you understand what they’re communicating to you. It can turn the rudest customers into more understanding, polite callers. Sometimes, an apology is all they’re looking for.
Jason Fried and David Hansson write about the power of an apology in their book, Rework:
“A good apology accepts responsibility. It provides real details about what happened and what you’re doing to prevent it from happening again.”
Step 3: Do what they ask
You might be tempted to withhold your best customer service for your best customers, but that’s a mistake. Be just as helpful and proactive as you handle rude customers as you would be handling polite customers. Your job is to make sure each customer finishes an interaction with your company feeling satisfied, and you need to take that responsibility seriously.
Listen to the customer’s complaints and find out how you can help resolve them. If they’re asking for solutions that are out of your hands, refer them to the appropriate person. The faster you can help the customer, the faster the unpleasant interaction will pass!
Step 4: Get some distance from it
After a particularly exhausting call, it helps to literally put some distance between you and the phone. Take a quick, brisk walk–even 10 minutes of walking will trigger a release of feel-good endorphins that will give you a fresh perspective and lift your mood.
Then, you can return to the phones feeling refreshed and ready to handle the most difficult of customers.
Reminder: Sometimes, it is personal.
It doesn’t always help to be told that what the customer says to you isn’t personal. How can statements like “You’re a worthless lump and you should be fired!” not be taken personally? Their very purpose was to personally insult.
What’s important is to remember that even if a comment was intended to be personal, the caller doesn’t know you and was likely already angry before you answered the phone. Keep a professional mindset, and if it helps to imagine the caller as a child that you are trying to calm down, so be it.
Rude customers are human beings, too (even if they aren’t acting like it), and they are simply dealing with a bad day or issues with your company’s service or product. Don’t let a rude caller rouse your anger. Be professional and friendly as you handle rude customers to score points for your brand.