Working in customer support is a difficult job, made more so by the sometimes rude customers that crop up during a typical day. There could be a number of reasons driving this behavior, but your job is to respond to customers in a way that saves the customer and stops them from leaving your business. Knowing how to deal with rude customers is an important skill to master.
The best customer support reps know how to turn lemons into lemonade when it comes to rude customers. Instead of taking their behavior personally and letting it ruin their day, the most skilled customer support reps understand how to turn the situation around and salvage the customer’s perception of the company.
However, it’s important to remember that there’s never any excuse for abusive customers. The line between rude and abusive may be vague, but you should never put up with threatening behavior from a customer. Always report this to a manager straight away and remove yourself from the situation. Having a customer service philosophy in place can help guide your employees when this situation arises.
The answer is simple: you know it when you see it. Don’t be the victim of abuse. With that said, let’s jump in and look at how to handle rude customers.
Rude customers: why do they behave this way?
Before we go onto the tactics you can use to deal with rude and irate customers, let’s look at some of the reasons why customers are behaving in this way. You need to figure out the most likely reason for a customer’s behavior and take this into account when dealing with them.
Having a bad day
There are many reasons why a customer might be rude or difficult. Some people are just having a bad day, and your customer support rep just happens to be the person that they decided to vent it on. Although this seems unfair, these unhappy customers are some of the easiest to turn around.
Problems with your service
A rude client may have been dissatisfied with your service for a long time already, and a steady flow of rude customers can highlight areas for improvement. It’s important to keep track of the problems these customers are having so you can gain insight into where you can make things better for your customers.
Bad customer service
Sometimes an angry customer may have already recently been on the receiving end of bad customer service from your company. This puts them on edge and in the mindset that they are going to have to fight to get what they want, even if this is not the case.
Desire for recognition
Other customers may want to be recognized by your company for the money they have spent on your products and services. If your business has a lot of customers it can be hard to give each individual the attention that he or she deserves. Customers want to feel like more than just a number and may act rude in order to get the level of service they expect from your team.
There is a difference between rude and difficult customers. Rude customers are always difficult but difficult customers may not necessarily be rude. This article contains strategies that can help you deal with both kinds of customers and turn customer service lemons into lemonade.
Why dealing with rude customers is important
It may be tempting just to get rid of rude customers and not waste our time on helping somebody who doesn’t appreciate our business. But there are a number of reasons why we should learn how to effectively deal with difficult customers.
Rude customers are still customers at the end of the day – and if they leave the business then your churn rate will rise.
While it doesn’t make sense to hang on to customers if they are causing your business regular headaches, it makes good business sense to try to retain as many customers as possible – especially if they are already loyal and spend a lot of money on your products or services.
Businesses also want to prevent bad word-of-mouth. Unhappy customers who leave your business are likely to tell others about their negative experience, costing your company potential leads and sales. In fact, a dissatisfied customer tells between 9 and 15 people about their experience.
We have an obligation to satisfy all customers – not just the ones we like.
Also, rude customers may be prone to leaving bad reviews about your company online, which will affect your business’s reputation and impact new customers who are researching your company.
If you don’t salvage the situation, then customers will go and vent their rage elsewhere, and some may even turn to social media to badmouth your company. Avoiding bad publicity is a big motivating factor in trying to make rude customers happy.
Excellent customer service is the key to turning these kinds of situations around and ensuring customers leave the interaction with only good things to say about your business. We have an obligation to satisfy all customers – not just the ones we like.
How to deal with rude customers: 6 tips
Now it’s time to jump into the ways that you can handle rude customers effectively. Being able to deal with rude customers is a key part of any customer success agent’s job.
1. Apologize sincerely
Even if you don’t believe the company is at fault, a genuine apology can go a long way towards appeasing rude clients. You’ve taken the initiative to be polite, and this can make customers feel ashamed of their behavior and think better of their actions.
Offering a sincere apology helps with defusing the situation and showing the customer that you are on their side. However, you don’t want to take the blame if your company hasn’t done anything wrong.
Phrase your apology like: “I’m sorry that you have had such a bad experience with us today” so you can be compassionate for the customer while avoiding taking any blame for their situation.
2. Use your empathy skills
It may be hard to empathize with rude customers because we feel that they shouldn’t be acting this way and they don’t deserve us to be nice to them. But in order to properly handle the situation we need to step into our customer’s shoes and figure out how it feels to be them for a moment.
Ask the customer why they feel upset, and when they tell you, demonstrate empathy for how they feel. Say: “I’d feel exactly the same way if I were you. How can we solve this problem?”
The object of using empathy is to show the customer that they are dealing with someone who understands them and their issue, and build a rapport with that customer so they calm down.
3. Stay calm
When customers are behaving in a rude manner, it’s a natural instinct to respond back in kind – but this is a bad idea.
A far better idea is to remain calm in the face of adversity. The way that the customer is treating you is probably not personal. You just happen to be the face of the company against which the customer is nursing a grudge. When you stay calm, your irate customer is less likely to escalate.
Let the customer blow off steam by allowing them to talk themselves into silence. Don’t interrupt but instead allow the customer to run out of things to say. Once they have finished, tell them you are going to start trying to fix their issue.
4. Listen actively
Rudeness on the part of the customer can distract us from the message that they’re really trying to get across. All we hear is the anger coming through, and we miss the point that the customer is trying to make.
That is why using active listening is so important. Pay close attention to the words the customer is using to find out why they are so upset and gain an idea about how you might begin to solve their problem.
Pay close attention to the words the customer is using to find out why they are so upset and gain an idea about how you might begin to solve their problem.
Active listening means fully taking in what the customer is saying instead of just waiting for your turn to speak. Listen actively by repeating back to them what they’ve just said: “I’m hearing that you [state problem]. Is that right?” This is a great way to establish rapport and make sure that you hear your customer’s complaints.
5. Solve their issue
When a customer is being rude, it’s easy to dismiss them as someone who is not worthy of our time. But sometimes, rude customers have very valid complaints that the company is obligated to address. Rude behavior can mask the customer’s concern, so take a deep breath and look for the customer’s grievance that is hidden by their bad behavior.
Customers may be frustrated by the fact that they don’t necessarily know the right language to use to report a fault with the product or service. They will communicate in the only way that they know how and that may lead to anger and resentment.
It’s your job to play detective and find out the true problem that lies behind the rudeness. Ask as many questions as you can about their experience – the customer will probably be happy to share and appreciate your thoroughness.
Once you’ve got to the root of the problem, demonstrate your willingness to solve the customer’s issue and come up with an acceptable solution. Tell them what you’ll do to make it right.
6. Thank the customer for their time
Remember that the majority of unhappy customers just churn without saying anything at all – for every customer complaint there are 26 customers who remain silent. Really, when a customer is complaining to you, they are giving you an opportunity to make it right. You don’t want to lose business.
That’s why you should thank the customer for taking the time to get in contact with your company. Thank them for their patience as you work towards finding a solution to their problem.
When you thank a rude customer, you’re reframing the situation into one that is more positive and making them feel good about getting in touch.
When you thank a rude customer, you’re reframing the situation into one that is more positive and making them feel good about getting in touch. This is likely to lead to the customer behaving in a much more polite manner because you have shown that you appreciate them and their business.
How to deal with angry customers via email
Handling rude customers over email can be a bit more tricky than on the phone or in person because you’re not getting as much emotional feedback. It’s harder to convey tone in writing and the written word may naturally come across as a lot more rude. Being able to handle irate customers effectively over email is especially important in today’s online world.
Emailing with a rude customer has some overlap with other communication channels, but there are also a number of features that make email etiquette unique.
When writing to a rude customer, keep the following points about the customer interaction in mind:
- Read the email thoroughly – it sounds obvious but some angry customers may send long, ranting emails that cover several points. You need to address each point individually or the angry customer will think you aren’t paying attention to them.
- Thank the customer for emailing – we can’t emphasize this enough. Thank the ranting customer for taking the time to email in about their grievance and show you care about their issue.
- Address them by name – you should make your emails to customers as personalized as possible. Use the same name that the customer signs off with to address them in your email.
- Check your spelling and grammar – sloppy emails suggest you don’t care very much about the customer and their problem. Use tools like Grammarly to check your email copy or get a colleague to give it a once over.
- Acknowledge their problem – take the time to repeat back to the customer that you understand their problem and are willing to help. Rephrase the problem in your own words and let them know that you understand the customer’s feelings.
- Watch your language and tone – you don’t want to come across like a robot. Instead, you’ll strive to be natural, friendly and human. Don’t be too casual though, or customers will think you’re not taking their problem seriously.
There’s an art to writing great customer support emails, and it’s a skill you can develop over time. If you haven’t already, try out Keeping for Gmail which is a great way to handle your customer support interactions. Keeping lets you collaborate on customer support inside Gmail, turning angry customers into loyal customers.
Abusive customers: what to do when things get out of hand
Sometimes, a customer will cross the line from rude into outright abusive. It’s not your job to handle an abusive customer – no one deserves that kind of treatment. It’s highly inappropriate for you to feel threatened at work or deal with an unexpected verbal attack.
All customer service agents need to be empowered to respond appropriately towards abusive customers and they should feel like management supports them. You can refuse service to a nasty customer that crosses the line into abuse.
Creating an abusive customers policy
First you need to set out guidelines on what actually constitutes the difference between an abusive customer and one who is merely rude. If a customer is swearing but directing their words at the company, then they would be considered angry. If that same customer is swearing at the customer support rep, then they would be considered abusive.
Then you would have guidelines on what is considered abusive behavior:
- Threats of physical harm or violence
- Offensive language
- Inappropriate religious, cultural or racial insults
- Homophobic, sexist or other derogatory remarks
And after you set out these guidelines, you then establish a policy on how to deescalate an abusive customer.
It’s usually good to go with the three strikes rule. For example, if a customer is abusive more than two times over the phone, the agent is instructed to hang up on them. Or if the abusive customer is there in person, they would be asked to leave the store or the assistant will call security – that’s strike two. And ff the abusive customer is sending an email, the agent will stop responding after two emails containing abuse.
How to support team members dealing with rude customers
Perhaps you are not the one who deals directly with rude and difficult customers, but you support staff members who do. What can you do to help support agents to maintain morale and stay motivated at work?
- Provide training to staff who are on the customer frontlines and ensure they are trained in how to deal with difficult customers. They will be much less stressed if they have the appropriate skills to be able to handle tough situations.
- Let them have time out after the pressure of dealing with rude and difficult customers. Staff need to decompress and regroup after stressful interactions.
- Empower your employees to offer special discounts or rates to unhappy customers. Employees need to have the authority to offer a reasonable solution without having to consult a manager.
If you work in customer service, dealing with rude customers is part of the job. Thankfully, nasty customers are outnumbered by polite customers, but they take up a disproportionate amount of time.
It just makes good business sense to learn how to deal with rude customers, as you’re improving your retention rate and potentially gaining loyal advocates for your brand. Being able to control your own emotions, act quickly, and finding ways to address your customer’s problem will go a long way toward addressing customer rudeness.
We have no control over the way a customer behaves, but we can control how we respond to the situation. Treat every rude customer as an opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade.