January 10, 2011

What’s the Best Way to Manage Angry Customers?

By Selling Power Editors

When it comes to client relationships, do you feel equipped to deal with the emotional impact of a customer’s anger over a bungled work order, sloppy typo in a contract, or a serious miscommunication? Anger is something that can either get in the way of your relationships, or be managed in order to expedite work and get on with the job at hand. In other words, you either control anger, or it controls your relationships.

There are many ways clients can express anger. Here are three of the most common anger profiles:

The blamer.
This person usually starts sentences with, “You should have…” or “I told you…”, implying somehow that you’re in the wrong. Instead of saying, “I’m angry,” or “I’m upset,” this person tries to put the blame on the other party.

The exploder.
A close cousin of the blamer, this person shouts, screams, and hollers whenever something doesn’t go the way he or she wants. Unfortunately this behavior often goes hand in hand with authority. Some people use power to intimidate others as a defensive maneuver. It can also be a manipulative technique to keep people off balance.

The saboteur.
One way some people try to deal with their own hostility and anger is to turn up the volume on the silent treatment. But silence doesn’t mean a lack of expression – pointed avoidance in communication (ambiguous or vague email replies, blowing off scheduled meetings or calls) can end up sabotaging joint success.

What’s the best way to handle clients who are yelling or blaming you? First, don’t try to control or threaten. Allow them to be angry without asking them to calm down or give you a chance to explain.

Second, be understanding. Saying something like, “I understand how you feel, and I’d be angry, too,” is simple and doesn’t stray into the territory of agreeing specifically with any criticisms being lodged against you or your company.

If the customer is sabotaging success through the silent treatment or passive aggressive behavior, your job is to draw the customer out and air out the problem. If you see a clenched jaw or an unwillingness to meet your gaze, open the floor by saying something like, “Is there any concern you might have about me or my company that would get in the way of our ability to move forward together?”

When you find ways to manage your client’s anger, you release tension, clear the way for open communication, unblock channels for clear thinking, and ultimately build stronger relationships. Remember: it’s not unusual for an initial conflict – managed successfully – to make room for long-lasting and profitable partnerships.