As hard as you try, you can’t please everyone. From mistakes your company makes to shoppers who are just downright unpleasant or rude, finding a way to handle angry customers is a reality you must face as a retailer.
But it doesn’t need to be complicated — and in fact, you can view dealing with angry customers as an opportunity to put these great customer service tips into practice to make a lasting impact on your business and your customers.
Each time a customer offers their feedback, good or bad, it's an opportunity for retailers to address customer needs.
This is a chance to not only resolve a problem, but to transform someone’s mindset about your brand from negative to positive through your way of handling their concerns.
The next time you come across a shopper who’s less than pleased, keep these strategies in mind to diffuse the situation and turn the interaction into a great customer relations.
Practice Active Listening
When people get into arguments with each other, each participant rarely listens with attentiveness to what the other is saying. We’re too busy formulating what we plan to say in response to their latest attack.
Instead of getting caught in this cycle when dealing with angry customers, practice active listening instead.
Active listening is “a structured form of listening and responding that focuses the attention on the speaker.” The best practice in active listening is to genuinely pay attention to what the speaker says — and then repeat the speaker’s words back to them.
This doesn’t mean you parrot what your customer says. It means, in your own words, you repeat what they tell you. Practice better listening through paraphrasing, as it also increases your understanding of their point of view.
Here’s some sample dialogue to illustrate the point:
Customer: “I ordered this item from you 3 weeks ago and it still hasn’t arrived, but your website said it would be delivered within 3 business days if I paid the extra shipping fee! I ordered that item as a gift and I would have never shopped with you if I knew this is what kind of service I could expect. This is totally unacceptable and I want my money back.”
Retailer: “I understand you ordered your item as a gift, and expected better service from our company because of the promise on our website and the extra money you paid to receive it sooner. I get that you feel angry and frustrated about this, and you’d like to request a refund.”
You can better communicate with an upset customer this way because you demonstrate that you received what they said, understood what happened, and get how the situation made them feel.
Most people simply want to be heard and understood. This form of listening allows you to do that for your customers, which can quickly bring the energy down in a heated conversation and lead them to a point where you can engage in a dialogue about solutions.
Keep Your Cool
Nope, the customer is not always right. And that can lead to some infuriating situations, especially when you know they’re to blame for the problem that’s causing their anger.
But matching their emotions won’t get you anywhere except deeper into an argument or fight that could turn into an ugly scene in your store.
You and your employees can practice techniques that make it easier to maintain composure (even when the customer loses theirs). Just like active listening takes practice, so does keeping your cool.
Try these tactics and allow your company time to practice these before anyone is confronted with angry customers:
- Take a deep breath. Keep breathing! We often hold our breath in response to stress. Simply taking deep breaths can keep us calm and even-keeled in tough situations.
- Ask questions. Collecting information first instead of simply reacting to the customer’s emotions can give you time to calm down – and asking questions can soothe customers, too. It forces them to articulate their problem and situation without receiving any blame or accusations from your end.
- Receive and acknowledge the customer’s communications. You don’t have to agree with what the customer says, but you can simply acknowledge them by saying, “I got it,” or “I understand.”
Staying calm doesn’t immediately solve the problem, but it’s one customer service tip that can contain the situation and prevent it from escalating.
Take Responsibility for the Situation and Offer Solutions
Taking the above actions can relieve stress and tension. It can also prevent a big public blowout or shouting match.
If you’ve followed the above customer service tips, you can likely diffuse the situation to a point where you can open a dialogue about solutions to a customer’s problem.
You may not be able to completely rectify the cause of the customer’s anger, but you can invite them to talk about potential alternatives that work for them. You can also suggest possibilities as appropriate for the situation.
Of course, if you or your store did make a mistake, admit fault, and apologize. Take responsibility for any errors or mistakes. When there’s an error on the retailer’s end, sometimes just taking ownership of the mistake can help calm a furious customer.
In that case, you may need to eat any costs you incur to resolve the customer’s frustrations. You should also use this as an opportunity to audit whatever process caused the problem in the first place, and make adjustments as necessary to prevent future issues.
Determine How Much Belligerence You’ll Tolerate
I’m normally a calm and composed person. When I have a problem with a company, I understand it’s not usually the fault of the individual I talk to in an effort to resolve the issue — so I’m not compelled to take my frustration out on them.
MORE CUSTOMER SERVICE TIPS Want to learn more from retailers who are embracing modern customer service methods? Check out these 7 retailers who are leading the way to happier customers.
Most of the time. Recently, Southwest Airlines canceled an outbound flight that was supposed to bear me away from snowy, freezing cold Boston and to a tropical paradise for a week-long vacation.
When I called to rebook, I spent 15 minutes on the phone with a representative who offered no solutions, no condolences, and no options. She repeatedly told me there was nothing they could do, and I would just miss my international flight.
I lost it. I’m not proud of the fact, but it’s what happened: I started yelling, demanding a manager, and not listening to a word she said.
Eventually, I handed the phone off to my (much calmer) partner while I called again to get a different representative. They happily straightened out the situation and provided a solution.
Communicating that way was unacceptable behavior on my part. But at the time, I was an extremely angry customer and wasn’t thinking rationally.
You may need to deal with equally irrational and emotional customers. When you do, you need to determine how much of their behavior you’ll tolerate.
First, give them a chance to calm down. You may have to take the lead on de-escalating emotions when they run high. (Had Southwest’s representative followed the customer service tips above, I likely would have been placated enough to continue a reasonable conversation.)
Then, invite them to work with you to resolve the problem. You can express that you want to help, and you’d like their cooperation in addressing their concerns.
Finally, if a customer is being rude, hateful, or just plain mean, you can politely ask them to leave. You’re not required to solve everyone’s problems — and with some customers, there’s no solution you can offer.
Their anger is not about you, your team, your products, or your company. If they refuse to deal with the situation in a respectful, reasonable manner after you’ve given them a chance to communicate their anger and invited them to seek a solution with you, it’s time to walk away.
Prevention Is the Best Medicine
Ultimately, the best way to deal with angry customers is to prevent them entirely. It’s not always possible, but proactively thinking about your customer experience can help root out potential problems and positively impact how people interact with your products, employees, and your company.
If you can deliver a shopping experience that’s simple and streamlined and provides easy solutions to customer problems that may arise during their journey from browsing to purchase, you won’t need many of the customer service tips above.
And proactively setting up a successful shopping outing saves time and energy that you won’t need to waste on dealing with angry customers. Here’s how to do it.
Keep Your Inventory Organized
Maintaining a neat and tidy sales floor allows customers to find what they need without hassle. Clear signage can point people to the right areas of the store, but planning a logical store layout and flow for your displays can help too.
Group like items together and curate sections of “frequently bought together” products. Place grab-and-go items near the front of the store, so customers who know exactly what they want can quickly access them.
Take shopper traffic through your space into account, too. Customers should be able to easily navigate around products (and other shoppers) during normal store hours.
If you anticipate a much larger crowd than usual, consider what you can do ahead of time to make it easier for people to move about your store. Can you temporarily take down an endcap or change a display to accommodate more people for the day?
For online shops, make sure your inventory is clearly categorized. You also need a high-performing search functionality, which means each product likely needs to be well-tagged with keywords and phrases so it appears appropriately in customer searches.
Offering the ability to search by a number of fields keeps your online inventory organized for visitors, too. People should be able to filter products (and search results) by factors like newest inventory, price, size, and so on.
You can further assist customers by creating curated collections and directing shoppers to relevant groups of products straight from your homepage. An upcoming holiday, for example, might call for a link to a gift guide organized by price points.
Hire the Right People
At some point, your customers will need to interact with your employees. Whether it’s a salesperson in the store or a customer service rep over the phone, the right people in your company can make a huge impact on the people who shop with you.
When you make hires, look for people who possess the skills and personality traits you desire -—but who also believe in your brand’s mission and vision. Your employees should not only agree with your company values, but embrace them and feel comfortable acting on them.
In addition to having the right people, you want to hire enough of them! Make sure you have enough staff on hand to deal with customer demands at every point: on the sales floor, at checkout, for customer service needs and additional support.
You may need to bring on additional employees on a seasonal basis if you experience busy periods -- and then train these hires and all others so they’re empowered to deliver great customer service.
They need to know:
- Desired outcomes for customer service interactions and any frameworks you want them to follow
- Who to reach out to if they get into a situation they know they need help with (or what to do if they can’t get to their designated person)
- The rules and guidelines, and which are flexible and which ones can be broken on a case-by-case basis
- How much ownership they have over their own positions to make judgment calls as necessary
- What’s unacceptable, under any circumstance
Use the Right Tools to Design a Smooth, Seamless Customer Experience
Whether your store is brick and mortar or virtual (or both!), the right tools can help you create a wonderful customer experience that leaves shoppers feeling satisfied. And a point-of-sale system that fits your needs is one of the top tools retailers need.
Using the right POS system can make your checkout process fast, accurate, and personalized. It can also help you delight customers after sales by providing the data you need to create individualized offers for return visits. And more studies are showing that personalizing the shopping experience is a good way to keep customers coming back for more.
Your system can also help you track all parts of your business, from ordering and inventory to sales and shipping. This helps you create a smooth, start-to-finish pipeline for your products so they get to your customers with less snags along the way.
Robust point-of-sale software can also help you make payments mobile and more flexible, allowing you to adapt to any sales environment. Have salespeople check out customers on the sales floor if the cashwrap gets too busy, or accept various forms of payment if you’re out at an expo or event.
What Customer Service Tips Will You Implement?
While this isn't a comprehensive list of customer service tips, we've included some takeaways to help you get started (and to incorporate in customer service training for your staff, if needed).
What are your favorite customer service tips? What tactics work best in your retail business? Share your experiences in the comments below.