How to Deal with Abusive Customers
Article by Donna Earl
Some customers go beyond angry and become abusive. They
might start the call in abusive mode, or might escalate to abusive from
mere anger. Sometimes if you don't tell them what they want to hear, they
become abusive. Abusive is defined as verbally threatening, using foul
language, and emotionally out of control. When you've used your best skills
at defusing the angry customer and the customer is still out of control,
or if the customer begins the conversation in an abusive manner, its time
to utilize some advanced strategies for managing the customer's behavior.
It's also time to protect yourself. It's more likely the customer will
become abusive with telephone help desk agents, as the contact is more
Here are some specific steps you can take to manage the out of control
1. Personalize the conversation. The less personal the interaction,
the more likely it can escalate out of control. As soon as you perceive
the customer's anger might escalate out of control, and you've tried your
well practiced defusing skills and nothing works, its time to use the
'personalize the conversation' strategy. Call the customer by name, and
refer to their company by name. Restate your name, and remind them that
(your company name) wants them to be satisfied.
2. Declare your intent and boundaries. Remind the customer you
want to solve the problem. Let them know you can solve the problem only
when the language is appropriate, and demands are reasonable. You should
never allow the customer to continue if they're using inappropriate language,
or if they're totally out of control. Nothing will be accomplished, and
they'll sabotage your efforts to stay composed. They'll lose respect for
you, your help desk, and the company for allowing the situation to continue.
If they cannot maintain enough control to conduct a reasonable conversation,
it's time to switch strategies.
3. Transfer the call. Whether you transfer the call to a supervisor
or to another help desk agent, the customer has the opportunity to regroup.
When you transfer the call, tell the customer you've done all you can,
and its time for them to speak with another agent who will now handle
the problem. This serves notice to the customer that they cannot continue
to abuse you, and that behavior will be interrupted. When the second help
desk agent handles the customer, typically the customer will try to appear
reasonable and soft spoken.
4. Discontinue the call. If there's nobody to transfer the call
to, or you've been the recipient of the transferred call and the customer
is still out of control, it's time to end the cycle. Remind the customer
you're there to help, and also willing to discuss a solution in a reasonable
manner. Let them know your company wants them to be a satisfied customer,
but also does not allow help desk professionals to continue in abusive
conversations. Ask them to please contact the help desk at another time,
and tell them "I am now releasing this call."
Remember the customer behavior has nothing to do with you, so don't take
it personally. Take a deep breath, and if you're stressed, try some stress
management techniques. See our article on Stress
Management Tips for Help Desk Professionals for some proven stress
Copyright © 2004 Donna Earl. All
is an international expert in Customer Service. She specializes in helping
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