4 Tips on How To Deal With Irate Customers

Even if you sell quality products and deliver your products in a timely manner, you’re still bound to have to deal with irate customers at some point in time. Sometimes they are mad because you are completely in the wrong but most of the time, they are mad due to something beyond your control. Here’s 4 tips to remember the next time you’re in a bad situation with a customer

Keep Your Cool, Listen and Empathize

Your customer might cuss you out over the phone or they might make ridiculous demands. No matter what, you should never lose your cool or be sarcastic in any way. In practice, this is easier said than done and if you feel like you’re going to lose it, hand the phone to someone else.

We had one customer who was absolutely livid that her order arrived one day late (she paid for next day delivery and the post office botched it up). We were on the phone and she started the conversation by dropping f-bombs all over the place.

“Why can’t you people f-ing get the delivery date straight. I f-ing was relying on you for this order and now its f-ing worthless to me now. ”

She then proceeded on a caustic tirade that was so insulting that steam started rising up through my ears and I could feel the pphh sound rising from my throat. I was so close to losing it and so ready to drop some f-bombs of my own, that I handed the phone over to my wife (the supervisor).

For some reason, as soon as my wife got on the phone, the customer started to calm down. She expressed her deepest empathy for the customer’s situation. She didn’t say much, simply listened to all of the ranting and ended up apologizing to patch things up even though it was not our fault. In retrospect, the customer just wanted someone to yell at and listen to her complaints.

Pick Your Battles

Every now and then, you’ll get a customer that is simply a pain in the ass. They will complain and complain about a product that they purchased from you. They’ll rant about how the shipping was late and how the product did not meet their satisfaction etc… They may demand to return the product even though they have well exceeded the return policy time frame. They may have physically damaged the goods themselves and pretend that the product arrived that way.

These types of customers usually cause a huge stink and don’t back down even though they have violated your store policies. To top it off, they are usually extremely rude. When dealing with these types of people, you have to ask yourself whether its worth your time to oppose them.

We once had a customer who returned one of our products to us that was clearly used. When we contacted him, he was adamant that the product was brand new when he shipped it back to us and that he was absolutely appalled that we were accusing him of returning a used item. He then proceeded to go off on a rant about how he was being mistreated as a customer and how he would post negative comments about our store as a result.

Even though we clearly explained our store policies on returnable items, the discussion was going nowhere because the customer refused to listen. As tempting as it was to tell him to go to hell and refuse to refund him the money, we ultimately decided to give him the refund and take the loss. We easily could have suffered several hours of mental anguish over this and it simply wasn’t worth it.

Whenever you’re in this situation, think about how much your time is worth compared to the dollar amount that you are arguing over. Chances are, your time is worth much more.

The Customer is Not Always Right But Don’t Rub it in

I don’t know which marketing campaign started this ridiculous “customer is always right” statement, but nothing could be farther from the truth. In many cases, the customer is wrong or misinformed because they simply did not read the FAQ or product descriptions. Unfortunately when they complain, none of this really matters to them. To quell any misunderstandings a customer may have, it is absolutely important to clearly document your policies on your website.

Especially when the customer is at fault, make sure you politely explain yourself and guide them to the proper webpage that documents your store policies in writing. Make sure you are extremely courteous and humble as the customer will not like being told that they are mistaken.

We had one customer who wanted to make a return over 60 days after their purchase date. According to our return policy which is clearly documented in 2 separate places on our website, a customer must request a return authorization within 15 days of their date of purchase. By pointing the customer to a page that clearly outlined all of our policies in writing and being extremely polite but firm about it, he eventually backed down.

Give Them Something For Free

Sometimes you’ll screw up. Maybe you’ll send a customer the wrong item or you’ll severely botch up their address when you send out their order. Whatever it is, you’ll definitely be getting an angry call from the customer. To avoid an uncomfortable confrontation, always strike first and offer your customer a preemptive freebie. 9 times out of 10, the customer will be so happy that you are giving them something for free that they’ll completely forget what they were mad about.

With our store, we will almost always offer up something in return when we’ve blatantly made a mistake. In most cases, we try and go a little bit above and beyond to make them happy as well. For example, if we ship a defective item, we will often times will ship a brand new item and discount it as well. Doing these little things will create a positive feel about your company and hopefully will convert an irate customer into a repeat customer.

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9 thoughts on “4 Tips on How To Deal With Irate Customers”

  1. The problem with being nice and polite to the rude is you set a precedent. One which they’ll take advantage of and try again with other retailers. Essentially you are approving of their behaviour and worse still rewarding it. Every time I have to deal with some obnoxious ass that quotes the “customer is always right” bull at me I want to strangle the twat that popularised it. If your business is built on repeat custom then being nice to the customer is important, unless he/she states “I won’t shop here again” If it’s a business where the customer is rarely seen again tolerating and validating their behaviour does a disservice to all who have to deal with them in the future. Research in the U.S. showed that if a customer had a complaint and the customer felt the complaint was dealt with in a fair manner they were still as likely to bad-mouth your store as if you had told them to piss off. Strange but true. Basically every time you treat a customer better than they deserve, you deserve the next bad customer as karma. The stress suffered by staff who have to tolerate the intolerable costs society billions in sick days, medical bills, violence and even suicides. Profits are nice, a reduced stress life is nicer. If as the store owner you wish to deal with people as you suggest it is your right but you should never expect your staff to have to do so.

  2. Well, sometimes, irate customers are necessary to set things straight for certain outlets, which get away with shoddy jobs and unprofessional customer service from average customers that are too nice. Well, for certain cases only though. ;)

  3. Slackerjo says:

    Uh, what Jeff said! Sometimes you have to fire customers. We had an irate customer at work who crossed the line into out of control rage and abuse. She basically calls the company, screams at whoever answers or leaves obscenity filled voice mail messages. There is no problem with the product, we have tested it and 1000s of other customers have completed the course without any problems. The problem is that the customer is doing an online course and has no idea how to use a computer. Also she refuses to troubleshoot her computer, despite numerous attempts by the support staff. So, there is very little we can do to resolve the issue.

    I reported the first incident to my supervisor and instead of refunding her money and banning her from the use of our services, he forced the staff to continue to assist the customer. Well, 30-40 calls later, she is still screaming and swearing at the staff. The extra work and stress created by the customer’s never ending list of complaints is preventing the support department from assisting other customers. Unfortunately the customers who are polite and professional are getting less attention because a crazy woman in New York state feels that screaming and swearing is the way to go.

    I wish I could record her messages and phone conversations and post them along with her picture on You Tube. The revenge would be sweet. But alas, posting the info would violate her privacy and would be completely unethical.

    This is why the Soup Nazi is a hero to me. His customers are afraid of him.

    1. Hey Slackerjo,

      Your customer sounds like a complete nightmare and I would have banned her from the course a long time ago. Thanks for sharing your crazy story!

  4. Hi Steve,

    This is a great story and thank you for sharing it! I totally agree that the mantra “customer is always right” is so f***ing crap and the dumbass who came up with this should be sent to the firing squad.

    Coincidentally, I have recently posted an article on the same topic. And it’s based on my personal experience. You can check it out here:

    How to Handle an Angry Client

    Cheers~

    Mark

  5. What great approach. If everyone could just remain calm enough to apply it. It’s hard not to let some people get under your skin. There is always that odd ball that you run into that will never be happy, even if you give them their money back, and do everything else you can think of to appease them. There are just some bad apples out there. Fortunately they are the exception to the rule. The majority of people are fairly reasonable. Through in the industry that I’ve spent the most time in (web hosting and Internet service), I’ve seen more than my share of people that are down right irrational. I think part of it may be due to people lack of understanding of the technology, and they don’t know who else to blame when their are problems. Many times a problem is due to their computer, the person that made their web site, the phone company, 3rd party software, you help them as much as you can, but there are limits to what you can do. Then at times all their frustration gets taken out on you.

  6. Eric says:

    I call Bull Shit. I have been in retail for 10 years, and I have been in management for 5. I get what you are saying, and most of the time it works, but at the same time, the reason people act like that is because we let them. they know that if they throw a big enough fit that we will give in, and this is why people act that way. Yes, the money they spend in our store is where my paycheck comes from, but I don’t get paid enough to take abuse from anyone. I for one can take a lot, but once they start swearing at me, I’m done. Just a few days ago I hung up on a customer 3 times in succession, and the 4th time I simply said “If you keep swearing I will keep hanging up”, what happened? They stopped swearing. I agree with the “pick your battles” sentiment, but I am picking the battle that lets people know that, ya know what, I’m a person and you are going to treat me like one.

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