Remember the Hilary Clinton campaign ad about the phone ringing at 2AM? When your customers or colleagues are upset, it’s your phone that will ring (hopefully not at 2AM) and you’d better be ready to defuse the situation. Here’s how to do it:

Recognize – While some people will be obviously angry, others will present their frustration in a more controlled manner. Your job is to recognize when a phone call or an email = an unhappy person no matter how it’s phrased. A quick response can help keep a problem from escalating into a crisis.

Listen – The single worst thing you can do when someone brings you a problem is interrupt and start making excuses. Get out your notebook and dive into the issue with both feet. What happened? Is there something that can be done immediately to get things sorted out? What is the impact to the customer’s business? Most of the time a customer’s anger is designed to get you to take the situation seriously and act immediately. If you jump on the problem, you can shift them into a more cooperative mode quickly.

Respond – If I went to pick my son up at day care and he wasn’t in his classroom, the provider would need to find him FIRST and THEN figure out why he was in the wrong place. Fix the problem, and then look into why it happened and how you will avoid it in the future.

Take Ownership – Maybe the problem is not 100% your team’s fault but if you step up and become the facilitator, you will win points with your customer for being on their side. If you need to involve other vendors, pull them in and make the solution a collaborative effort. Don’t make your customer the middle-man by pointing fingers.

Escalate – There are some problems that are beyond your ability to fix. Don’t waste your customer’s precious time if you are struggling with a solution. Don’t make them have to ASK you to escalate the problem to someone else. Get the right person on the job as quickly as you can.

Follow Up – A customer who brings you a problem is giving you an opportunity to learn something about your process from the outside, and possibly avoid losing business. No matter how much aggravation you may feel about this issue, you need to thank your client for bringing it to your attention, and you need to follow up with them when you have made changes to make sure they are satisfied.

Dealing with an angry customer or colleague shouldn’t be a daily occurrence, but it is likely to come up sooner or later. Keep your head and focus on the solution, and the rest will take care of itself.


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