This blog post will give tips and examples on how to handle irate customers for call center applicants, especially for beginners. If you're wondering how a conversation goes with an irate customer, and how to handle it, read on.
How to handle irate customers over the phone
I'll first explain step-by-step the process on dealing with an angry customer, and write a sample conversation between an agent and an angry customer. During my call center days, I've developed a formula (which isn't really something new) to handle irate customers and coincidentally, I came up with L.I.A.R.
I- Identify the problem
A- Apologize and explain
R- Resolve it
You cannot solve the customer's problem, let alone calm her down, if you don't listen. But I'm not just talking about a simple listening. I'm talking about active listening. Active listening means you're not only hearing what the customer says. It means ALSO hearing what the customer is NOT saying.
For example, a customer named Lauren says:
Your company is a thief! You charged me double of what I'm supposed to pay for! What is going on? I want all my subscription stopped now!"
Now what are Lauren's demands? Two things:
- She wants to know why she was double charged.
- She wants to get her subscription cancelled.
Now, since she requested for a cancellation. Would you really cancel her subscription? Of course not!
Why not cancel her subscription as requested?
Because it's bad customer service to lose a customer when you could have saved it. Irate customers are just like women in unrealistic and cheesy love story movies. They could say one thing and mean another. When she gets into a fight with her man, she says something like, "I hate you. Leave me alone!"
But the audience know that's really not the case. She very much wants the guy to stay, woo her, and make it up to her. If the dude's smart enough, the last thing he would do is leave her alone. Call it a mind game if you like.
Don't just listen to what the customer is saying. Listen to what she is not saying.
What the customer didn't say during the call
She didn't say that she didn't fully mean cancelling her subscription yet. She's more like expressing her disappointment on the unexpected charge. But the translation of what she said above is:
I'm so shocked you charged me double! Now I'm going to threaten you by saying I'll stop being your customer so you'll know how angry and disappointed I am. You better get this straight right now or I'm gone!"
If she's a sneaky customer and is just pretending to have no knowledge about the charge, what she actually means is:
Although I'm sure it's the excessive video streaming I made last month that doubled my bill, I'm gonna pretend that I know nothing like Jon Snow so I can get a refund I don't deserve."
This is an example of an active listening. Hearing what the customer is and is NOT saying.
2. Identify the Problem
Let's create a scenario.
Let's say you're working for a telecommunication company. A furious customer calls, asking why she was double charged. She's supposed to pay $50 monthly for Package A subscription. Instead, she was charged- $100.00.
Below is the Knowledge Base. Simply put, Knowledge Base means the info of your product. When taking calls, this is your bestfriend. It's where you'll find the answer to most customers' questions.
In today's scenario, I've created the Knowledge Base sample below. (BTW, if you find the prices unrealistic for a phone bill, even for an American dollar, please don't stress, simply because this is just an example and isn't real life. K? Let's begin.
Knowledge Base/ Product Info
Package A: $50 a month
3 hour call
Package B: $75 a month
5 hour call
Package C: $100 a month
Extra Charge If customer's consumption exceeds the limit, the following charges apply:
$10 for every 500 mb
$5 for every 30 min. to 1 hour call
Late Payment Charge: $50
Name: Lauren Smith
Subscription: Package A
Date of Payment: Sep. 30
Deadline: Oct. 1
Call- 80 hours (4800 minutes)
Texts- 300 texts
Internet- 5500 mb
The common sense test:
Now, can you unleash the agent common sense in you and figure out why Lauren paid $100 instead of $50.00? To get the accurate result without cheating, re-read the whole thing, come back here and choose the correct answer.
- a.) Because she paid late.
- b.) Lauren was right, the company was a scoundrel. She shouldn't have been charged.
- c.) She exceeded her monthly limit of texts per month.
- d.) Because she went crazy with her internet and exceeded her limit.
- e.) All of the above
If you answered, all of the above, go back to your mother's womb.
If you answered b, she shouldn't have been charged and that everything is correct, read again.
If you answered she paid late, you must have thought that October comes before September. Take a look at the customer's payment date. She paid on Sep. 30- a day earlier than the deadline which was October 1. And no, October doesn't come before September.
If you say she exceeded her monthly limit of texts per month,take a look at all Packages A, B & C and tell me which subscription has a text limit. Because clearly, there isn't any. Unless you have a third eye that sees "ghost packages", you're simply not reading the Knowledge Base. All packages offer "unlimited texts."
Which leaves us with letter d- Lauren went crazy with her internet and exceeded her limit. She's supposed to consume up to 3000 mb however, she used 5500 mb. We're talking about a 2500 mb over-consumption here, which is almost double of her allotted 3000 mb! That answers her question.
Now let's do a little Math here:
I'm pretty sure there's a better way to calculate this but I hate Math so bear with me here.
$10 for every 500 mb
2500 mb (Lauren's over consumption)
2500/ 500 mb= 5
Therefore, we multipy 5 to 10 and we get a $50.00 which explains the extra charge. Add that to the $50.00 regular fee of Package A and she gets the $100.00 charge. Voila! Now we know exactly why she was charged double.
And that is how you identify the cause of the issue.
Not all Knowledge Base is enough to identify customers issues. In some instances, you need to ask several questions to figure it out. It's called "probing" or asking the right questions to get to the resolution fast. Remember, no customer wants slow service. Even years of ridiculous internet speed in the Philippines, Filipinos can't help but still feel pissed off about it. (PLDT where you at?).
3.) Apologize and/ or explain
Now that you've determined the reason of the charge, it's time to bring the news to the customer and explain why it happened. You simply cannot say no without explaining what/why exactly it happened. Explaining helps the customer understand and make her feel involved in the process.
I put apologize and/or explain because in some cases, you need to both apologize and explain and other cases where it's better to avoid apologizing and just explain.
When to both apologize and explain
You need to both apologize and explain if it was clearly the company's fault. Example is if the customer receives a damaged or wrong item.
When to not apologize and only explain
If it is the customer's fault and not the company's, do not apologize. Period. Most agents make the mistake of saying sorry to sound empathetic. This is not a good idea. When you apologize, it makes the customer think that she could still appeal her case and would likely demand the refund she doesn't deserve.
Or worse for you, she'll ask for a supervisor when the problem would have been perfectly resolved without the help of one.
It also sounds like you're already owning the mistake. What if it's actually the customer's fault?
This is especially important especially if the policy requires no exception regardless the reason. Instead of saying sorry, you can say something like:
Lauren, I'm sure we can sort this out and I assure you, I'll get to the bottom of this for you, okay? I'll find out exactly what the charge was for. May I know your full name for me to check your account?"
The confidence in your tone of voice, however, will make a huge difference.
If the customer senses in your voice that the answer is final and no refund will be made, she'll likely stop insisting and believe you at once. Some might still insist for a second time. Remain calm, firm and confident throughout your response and she'll get the idea that her only option is to pay the fee. If she senses uncertainty in your tone, she'll get the wrong idea and ask for the solution you can't provide. The result? Long handling time that ruins your stats.
1% of those customers will ask for a supervisor despite the fact that you've perfectly explained everything. This is okay and normal. Your goal is to make the other 99% understand.
Does not saying sorry mean being rude?
Just because you didn't say sorry doesn't mean you're being rude. As long as you politely and confidently explain why you can't grant her request, there's no problem. Besides, there are hundreds of ways to empathize without saying sorry. In my sample below, you'll see how exactly the agent empathizes with Lauren without saying the S word so hang tight.
Example of an explanation:
I see it here that during the month of September, you consumed 5500 mb which exceeds the allotted 3000 mb limit for your package. As a result, you were charged $50 for the exceeding 2500 mb for the rate of $10 every additional 500 extra mb consumed."
Remember, your explanation needs to be: brief and simple. Do not explain it in five sentences when it could be explained in two with all the thoughts intact. Customers, especially the irate ones, are impatient. Tell them what they need to know as fast as you can. Don't beat around the bush.
4.) Resolve it
Now after telling the customer that the reason of the charge was her over consumption, your goal is to resolve it. When resolving an issue, think about what the customer wants. In this case, Lauren clearly wants a refund. Refund, therefore is the resolution.
But what if the company policy states that over consumption, regardless the reason, is non-refundable? In this case, firmly say no, but always offer an alternative resolution.
Some companies offer exceptions and issues the refund but most of them do not. In this case, your best bet is to offer the closest possible resolution. It may not make the customer as happy but it will show her that you did your best to resolve her issue.
Sample Conversation With an Irate Customer
What do you think is the next best resolution for the refund? Let's find out from their full conversation below.
Jeremy: Thank you for calling CCV Telecommunications. This is Jeremy, how may I help you?
Lauren: Hi, I'm calling because you overcharged me. I can't believe it! You charged me $100 instead of $50! What is going on? I want all my subscription stopped now!
Jeremy: I can hear that you're really upset right now, but I'm sure we can sort this out and I assure you, I'll get to the bottom of this for you, okay? I'll find out exactly what the charge was for. May I know your full name for me to check your account?
Lauren: Lauren Smith. And my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy: Alright, Lauren, I am pulling up your account right now. Your Package A subscription is $50 a month, correct?
Lauren: Right, but you charged me $100!
Jeremy: I see it here that during the month of September, you consumed 5500 mb which exceeds the allotted 3000 mb limit for your package. As a result, you were charged $50 for the exceeding 2500 mb for the rate of $10 every 500 extra mb.
Lauren: No, no, no. That's ridiculous. I subscribed for Package A for $50. Nothing more, nothing less.
Jeremy: I cannot do that Lauren. The $50 charge only applies if it's within the 3000 mb consumption as stated in our Terms of Services.
Lauren: Well, screw your Terms of Services! You people are sneaky with your hidden charges. I didn't know about the extra charge until now. I've been using your service for 3 years now. Why am I only getting this charge now? Is this something new? Are you guys going bankrupt or what?
Agent: No, the extra charge has been around since the start of the company. Let me ask you though, did you have an increase of your internet consumption last month?
Identifying the problem
This question is very important, as it identifies the cause of the issue effectively—over consumption. Also, notice that the agent didn't spend the whole time apologizing and saying how sorry he was. He addressed the issue directly and got straight to the point by asking the smart question.
Lauren: Well, I have to. Since the second week of September, my husband and I decided we'll be permanently working from home. A major part of our job requires us to stream a lot of videos in the internet. So you're basically telling me that next month, we'll be paying a higher bill than $100? You gotta be kidding me! Let me talk to your supervisor!
Agent: I can transfer you to a supervisor but if you don't mind Lauren, I want to suggest something. And I'm sure my supervisor will suggest exactly same thing. We have 2 other packages that offer unlimited internet. They're the packages B and C. Package B offers unlimited texts and internet but only 5 hour call for $75 a month. Package C offers unlimited calls, texts, and internet for $100. And my question is, do you make phone calls more than 5 hours in total every month?
Identifying the problem
Again, there's a specific reason why the agent asked this. He wanted to know which package was a better option for Lauren. Since she doesn't really make a lot of phone calls, she's fine with the Package B for $75. Choosing the Package C ($100) was unnecessarily more costly. This is a matter of common sense and you, the agent, should serve the customer's best interest as best as you can.
Lauren: I don't think so, no. I hardly use your service for phone calls.
Agent: Here's the thing, I cannot refund you the extra charge for September, but I can save you more money by upgrading your subscription from Package A to Package B. You only have to add $25 and you can have your unlimited internet.
He cannot give her what she asked for— the best resolution she wished for— but he can save her more money for future charges.
Lauren: Wow! So you're basically you're overcharging me again.
Agent: No, if you think about it, you actually save money. You said both you and your husband decided you'll be permanently working from home. If you mean it when you said "permanently", then this is the best deal for you. If you remain subscribed to Package A, you're gonna pay way more than $25.00 extra because you're will use way, way more than 3000 mb. That, I can certainly guarantee.
As you can see, the customer resisted the idea right away without first considering its benefits. This is typical for angry customers. Emotion clouds good judgment. But the agent made sure she understands the benefits of his suggestion by pointing out again that more money will be saved in the future, especially that working from home will be permanent for both couples.
Lauren: That makes sense but don't you have a package for internet only? I don't really need to text or call.
Agent: No, we don't have that.
Lauren: I guess I don't have a choice then.
Agent: Would you like me to upgrade your subscription from Package A to B now?
Lauren: Go ahead.
Agent: Alright, I just upgraded your account and you should now be able to enjoy an unlimited internet. Next month, your bill should not exceed $75 provided that your call consumption is under 5 hours.
Lauren: Alright, thank you. I'm sorry for being rude. I've been with you guys for 3 years now and it's my first time seeing my charge doubled. You see, I always make sure that we pay all our bills on time and I thought it was because I paid late. But we never pay late, you know.
Agent: No, no, no, that's alright. I completely understand. I receive calls from customers with the same increasing internet consumption issue as yours and believe me, there are far worse reactions than you have today. But hey, this is customer service life! So how is it like to work from home so far? You're lucky you don't have to deal with the traffic.
Lauren: Right, right. (Laughs.) It was amazing!
Agent: You know, my boss allowed me to work from home before but after a week I eventually missed my buddies in the office so I stopped it. Hope you don't feel the same thing.
Lauren: Not a problem for me... I prefer working from home and enjoy the silence most of the time. Jeremy, I'm so sorry for what I said today. Again, thank you so much for your help. You did all the best you could.
Agent: My pleasure Lauren. Don't hesitate to call back if you have any other concerns. We're always here 24/7.
Lauren: I sure will! Bye.
Agent: Thank you for calling CCV Telecommunications. Have a great one!
I wrote a happy ending for this call, simply because this could happen depending on your customer. However, note that this isn't the case all the time. Some customers might still hang up the phone unhappy although they've been given the best possible resolution. Don't beat yourself up too much when this happens.
What's important, as an agent, is how you handle the call in the best and professional way possible. If you do that, you're way more than awesome as not all agents actually make effort to do that.
Acknowledge the customer's feelings but don't go overboard.
Apologize if the situation calls for it. But do not apologize for things that aren't the company's fault.
Understand the Knowledge Base or Product Info
It's where you find the answers and misunderstanding it means feeding your customer wrong information.
Ask the smart questions.
Do not ask questions just to fill the conversation because you don't know what to say next. Ask questions to identify the issue. Every single word you say should speak, not just decorate or serve as a filler. Avoid "flowering words".
Common sense is a precious tool.
Practice it, cultivate it so you don't lose it. Of all tips I've written since the beginning of this blog, this is one of the most important, among the eones that counts the most. Bear that in mind.
Confidence is everything.
This is useful when delivering a bad news that the customer might not agree with. If they feel you're uncertain in your response, they're gonna tear you apart by demanding unreasonable requests. It doesn't matter how you perfectly explained the issue in words if your confidence is wearing out by the second. Don't let the shouting and anger affect you. Even if it does,try to make it sound like it doesn't.
Get straight to the point.
This isn't some suspense or mystery movie where the customers pay to get the news in a thrilling and most exciting way possible. Instead, they pay for fast info and when they don't get it, they get impatient, not thrilled, nor excited. Say what they need to know in the briefest and most concise manner possible.
I hope this helps you with your job search. Goodluck!
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