How to Become a CSR Expert 2: Dealing With a Difficult Customer

Peyton Duplechien • 15 Jul 2021 • 4 min read

When you look at the real heroes of customer service, it’s usually not the people who have just the right phone voice or those that are great at memorizing scripts – it’s the problem-solvers that know how to confront challenging situations.

Dealing with an angry or difficult customer can feel like walking through fire. Nobody wants it to happen, but the truth is that these conversations are inevitable. According to an influential American Express survey, 56% of customers admit to having lost their temper with a customer service professional.

The key to success is preparing yourself for such a tough situation and maintaining the right mindset throughout the conversation. Welcome to the second chapter of our series on becoming a true Customer Service Representative (CSR) expert.

Step 1: Acknowledge the situation
We can all imagine it too well… A difficult call where a customer is showing you a whole range of emotions, from disappointment to rage, and it suddenly feels like it’s all your fault. But that’s not the case! When you find yourself in such a situation, it’s key to rationalize what is going on and simply realize that while you’re on the receiving end of the anger, it’s not really directed at you.

Instead of surrendering to the situation, try to lift yourself up and maintain a positive mindset (easier said than done, we know). If you sound optimistic and helpful, the person on the other side of the line will find it more difficult to be rude to you.

The first thing you can do is acknowledge the customer’s feelings. Give them some space to describe the situation and interject only if it’s necessary. By sympathizing with them, you can better understand how best to treat them and you will also develop a sincere motivation to resolve their issue. In this stage, try using one of the following phrases:

  • I’m sorry for this trouble.
  • I can understand why you’d be upset.
  • You have a right to be upset.
  • If I were in your shoes, I’d feel the same way.

Important: Know that you are always more likely to make progress if you approach the situation with a calm mindset. Never take the complaints personally; it’s not a personal attack. Often, it’s an opportunity for a business to improve.

Step 2: Identify the problem
When you’re talking to a person that is experiencing frustration, it’s key to listen closely. Don’t automatically assume you know what’s going on, and even if a problem seems trivial to you, know that it doesn’t have to be the case for them. After all, they are reaching out to be heard – so make sure to pay close attention. By making notes from the conversation, you can make sure that you don’t forget any vital details – something that could potentially strain the conversation further.

Again, leave the ball in the customer’s court. Wait patiently and hear them out: Only interrupt them if you need clarification about something and make sure to adapt the tone of your voice so that they understand you’re not planning to make objections or belittle their emotions, but rather to have clarity on a point and that you are ready to continue listening.

After the customer is done explaining the situation, a sincere apology can go a long way. The more personalized it is, the more genuine it will come across. Even if you had nothing to do with the problem, accepting responsibility for the situation and showing your determination to initiate a solution is exactly what will cultivate a productive dialogue for the rest of the conversation.

What to avoid: When handling a difficult customer, resist the urge to put them on hold. An angry person wants to be heard and see that somebody is working to alleviate their situation – making them wait with no idea what’s going on will only add fuel to the fire.
Step 3: Own it & find the way out
Before finding a solution, however, it’s key to confirm whether you got everything right. Politely paraphrase what your customer explained and repeat it back to them. This will allow you both to verify that you have the correct information, demonstrate that you were listening closely, and show the customer how determined you are to find a resolution. If you need any clarification or additional information, this is the right moment to ask.

After that, focus on resolving the problem. If there’s a direct solution, explain the next steps and highlight what you or the company will do. If the situation is more complex and multiple solutions are possible, explain them to the customer and ask them what they’d prefer to do. If you are stuck even after, try asking the customer a simple question: “What can we do to make this situation better?”

Special tip: Try to do your best to prevent future customer frustration. While there are things you can’t affect as a CSR, the way you communicate with your customers can actually also affect customer satisfaction. When it comes to experiences that would make customers take their business elsewhere, unfriendly service (60%) comes out top.

Dealing with difficult customers is no easy feat, but even these conversations ultimately enrich you. Not only they provide you with a great opportunity to test your listening and problem-solving skills, but they also put you in charge of a vital task – saving the customer themselves.

To learn how to become a true CSR expert, check out our blog.