Most people are reasonable most of the time. Occasionally, however, even reasonable people have meltdowns. Sometimes, unfortunately, you may also have to deal with someone who is a jerk. Regardless, it’s not easy to deal with an irate customer or end-user and still provide good customer service. After a recent speech, an audience member approached me and asked if she is just supposed to “take it” when people are really angry. That’s a tough question because your ability to manage even the most difficult human-relations problems is one of the measures of your success in providing good customer service. It does seem a bit unreasonable to expect support-desk or other IT staff members to tolerate the ranting and raving of someone who is very upset. Still, even though it may be unreasonable, your career success may depend on your ability to successfully navigate encounters with people who are really upset. Personally, I’m not very good at dealing with manipulative or aggressively angry individuals, but I have studied techniques for managing such situations and I’m getting better at it. In this blog post, you’ll learn some of what I’ve learned.

Assume They’re Right

Start by assuming they’re right to be really angry. Later, if it turns out they’re wrong, you can discuss things in a less emotionally-charged atmosphere. By assuming they’re right, you can display sincere empathy for them as one human to another. In the presence of sincere, human-to-human empathy, often a really angry person will start to regain their composure.

Don’t Put Yourself in Danger

Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with someone who scares or threatens you. In that unlikely event, you must protect yourself by going to a safe place immediately. If someone is threatening you on the telephone, transfer that person to your supervisor right away. (Before, you make the transfer, let your supervisor know what happened so they aren’t blindsided.) Different people have different thresholds for verbal abuse. Think ahead of time about how far you’re willing to let someone go. Talk with your supervisor ahead of time to discuss expectations.

Pause and Breathe

In my lessons on emotional intelligence, I talk about the importance of pausing for a moment when dealing with emotionally charged situations. When you encounter someone who is very angry, pause for just a moment to manage your own emotions before you react. Take a deep breath (or two) and work to maintain your calm. When you respond immediately in anger, you run the risk of saying something you’ll regret later.

Listen Carefully and Be Patient

Give the person the gift of being a good listener. Perhaps they need to vent and you happen to be the person who answers the phone or shows up at their cubicle at the moment when they reach the boiling point. Listen for meaning without judging or thinking of your response.

It’s Not Personal

In most cases, the customer’s rant is not personally directed at you, so don’t take it personally. If they do start to make personal insults, you can try saying something like, “I’m here to help you and I want to help. It’s difficult to help when you insult me.”

Empathy is Powerful

Offer sincere human-to-human empathy and sympathy for the customer’s problem. Use your own words to say things like, “I’m so sorry that happened” or “Wow, I don’t blame you for being upset. I’d feel the same if that happened to me.” Make sure you’re authentic in what you choose to say. Otherwise, you run the risk of being perceived as a condescending phony. That will only make things worse.

Speak Softly

It’s an odd paradox that our words are more powerful when spoken softly than when spoken in a loud voice. Obviously, from a practical standpoint, you must ensure the other person can hear you.

Headline and Own the Problem

Headlining means you say what you’re going to do. Owning the problem means that you take personal responsibility for resolving the issue. Perhaps you might say something like this, “I can get you a temporary laptop right now. I’ll make sure it has the software you need and connect it to your cloud storage so you’ll have all your files. Then, I’ll walk your existing laptop through troubleshooting and let you know what we find, along with the next steps.” Obviously, you must consider company policy in terms of what you promise. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

Take a Few Minutes for Yourself

Dealing with angry people is tiring. Once you’ve got the situation under control, take five minutes and go for a walk around your building, watch a funny YouTube video, or splash cool water on your face.

Dealing with angry people is never fun, it’s draining, and it’s also sometimes a part of your job in IT (or nearly any other field). Your ability to handle even an angry or irate customer with grace and aplomb is a mark of an emotionally intelligent individual and it can positively contribute to long-term career success.

For additional insights on dealing with angry customers, see my previous blog post on dealing with angry type-a customers.

For More Ideas on How to Improve Communication and Customer Service Skills

As a motivational speaker for your IT conference, I work with your audience to help them master IT customer service skills. Or, bring my IT customer service training seminar onsite to your location for your group, small or large. Click here for the course description and outline.

Customer service book for IT staffPick up a copy of my IT customer service book The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service, available through Amazon and other resellers.

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