Renée Evenson on 5 Powerful Phrases to Help You Deal With Difficult Customers

Photo of Renee EvensonThe following is a guest post from Renée Evenson, author of Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer Service, about how frontline employees can handle and calm difficult customers with a few effective phrases.

If you’re a frontline employee working in customer service, then it’s pretty much guaranteed that you deal with difficult customers… those customers who frazzle you, leave you speechless, or worse, cause you to stoop to their level and say the wrong thing. And by difficult customers I’m not only referring to angry or obnoxious customers; difficult customers can mean any number of bad behaviors, including customers who are indecisive, melodramatic, overly analytical, intoxicated, condescending, or even mentally unstable.

The bottom line is that you can’t control the types of customers you handle, whether the bad behavior is due to a legitimate reason or it’s completely out of line. And it isn’t always the customer who instigates bad behavior. You might inadvertently say or do something that causes a customer to become upset… or confused… or downright obnoxious. Whenever that happens, it can be difficult to get back on track and interact positively with the customer.

The good news is that you can learn how to control the way in which you handle your customers, even if you caused the problem. It’s all in how you respond that will enable you to regroup, get the conversation back on track, and complete the contact successfully. Choosing powerful phrases of courtesy, regret, assurance, empathy, and appreciation, and speaking calmly and confidently will help you stay in control throughout your interaction.

1. Phrases of Courtesy
Interjecting phrases of courtesy, spoken sincerely throughout your conversations, shows respect toward your customers. Speaking courteously can even break down the barriers that cause customers to be difficult.

The following are common courtesy phrases that should become a part of your everyday vocabulary: Please, Thank you, You’re welcome, Yes (rather than yeah), Sir or Ma’am (spoken in a respectful tone).

2. Phrases of Regret
The most important phrase you can say to a difficult customer is a phrase of regret. When you or someone else in your company makes a mistake, take responsibility and offer a phrase of regret. And when no one is at fault, offering a phrase of regret may calm an upset or angry customer.

Expressing regret doesn’t always come easily for us, but saying those two words—I’m sorry or I apologize—expressed from the heart, mean a lot to a difficult customer. And for those situations in which no one is at fault for causing the customer to be angry or upset, say: I’m sorry that happened.

3. Phrases of Assurance
After offering an apology, immediately assure your customer that you’re going to handle the issue. Conveying a sense of urgency when offering a phrase of assurance lets the customer know you truly want to help.

Examples are: I’m going to take care of this right now; Let me find out what happened and correct this for you; or I’m going to get you to the department that can help you and I’ll stay on the line to explain the problem. And if you need to get your manager involved, say: I’m going to check with my manager right now.

4. Phrases of Empathy
Expressing empathy is best done by viewing the situation from the customer’s perspective, which can enhance your understanding of why the customer is being difficult.

Telling difficult customers that you understand sends a positive message to them: I understand where you’re coming from; I’d feel the same way if that happened to me; I feel bad that happened to you; or I can see how you feel.

5. Phrases of Appreciation
Showing appreciation to customers is smart business; showing appreciation to difficult customers is necessary business. When you’ve handled a customer’s problem, say something that says you value them.

There are many ways to express appreciation. Thank you for allowing me to take care of this for you is all you need to say. Other phrases of appreciation are: I’m glad I was able to help you; or I/We appreciate your patience. Thanks.

The bottom line, is to choose your words wisely when dealing with difficult customers. When you offer phrases of courtesy, regret, assurance, empathy, and appreciation you increase the odds that your customers will leave your place of business satisfied and pleased that they came to you. And you’ll feel good knowing that you handled the interaction well.

Jacket image, Powerful Phrases for Effective Customer ServiceRenée Evenson is a business consultant and writer specializing in the roles and relationships between customers, employees, and management. She has worked in the customer service management field for over 30 years, including nearly two decades as a customer service manager and trainer at BellSouth Telecommunications. She has a degree in organizational psychology and is also the author of Customer Service Training 101 and Customer Service Management Training 101.

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