5 Steps to Eliminating Angry Phone Calls Forever
For people who work in any role that involves customer service, the angry phone call is always dreaded. Someone who has been wronged or feels that they have been wronged is overreacting and taking it all out on you. It’s the fastest way to take a day that started out as a 10 and turn it into a -5. And OK, I admit…there’s no way to actually eliminate them. However, we can go a long way to eliminating our negative response to them.
While the angry phone call may never be pleasant, it doesn’t have to be a total day killer if you take the right approach to it. Here are five ways to redirect that anger and make it first class instead.
1. Understand that their anger is (probably) not about you. In fact, it may not even be about your firm. There are many calls I’ve taken where someone was unreasonably upset. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the root of their frustration was a problem with their business or home life that they were just taking out on me. This realization helped me to stop taking their verbal attacks personally. Everyone has had a bad day.
2. If they have a valid reason to be angry, acknowledge it. Even if means swallowing your pride a bit. I once had a client angry that I had not yet supplied him with a requested report. He had asked for it a few weeks earlier, but I knew that he would not care how many other projects I had going on or how many hours I had worked. Instead, I put myself in his shoes, as uncomfortable as that was, and agreed with him that the delay was unacceptable. As soon as I did that, he calmed down immediately.
3. View the call as an opportunity to practice patience and understanding. It might sound cliché, but it’s true. People do not develop patience by avoiding situations in which patience is tested. It’s not possible to practice understanding without being presented with a viewpoint that’s different than yours. I once took a phone call in which I had to deliver some bad news to a client. He did not take it well and responded by blaming my firm. Knowing his situation (his business was not as successful as he had anticipated) I knew that he was in a tough situation. So although I disagreed with his assertion that there was something we could have done about the situation, I promised a diligent effort to do all we could and listened with as much patience and understanding as I could muster for the whole thirty minutes he took to express his displeasure. In all honesty, I was thankful to be in my position rather than his.
4. Know that you are honing your service skills. In today’s world service or being a servant to others is viewed with distain, as though it is some low position to be pitied or looked down upon. On the contrary, the one who can be of honest and sincere service to others will always and forever be valued. Think about it. Do you surround yourself with people who have no interest in helping you in any way? That would be a sad set of friends. In the same way, a healthy work environment is one in which the various parties engage in giving and cheerful transactions with one another. When you have an angry customer, you have a stellar opportunity to be of real service to this person and maybe even turn their day around. When someone calls upset, I think everyone can agree that they are in real need of help. (Some forms of help you will not be able to provide…but I digress.) By cutting through the frustration you can narrow down exactly what the problem is and find the best way to correct the problem. There was nothing more satisfying for me than hanging up from a call that started out combative and ended up with a problem solved and a happy client. It honestly did give my self-esteem a healthy boost. Service is good for the giver too!
5. Don’t fight the fight. When I changed jobs a few years ago I felt like the crazies came out of the woodwork and they all had my phone number. It seemed that I got more angry phone calls in ten months than I did in ten years at my prior position. It was stressing me out to the point that just hearing my phone ring would trigger my fight or flight response. Then one day I realized that by dwelling on the anger and fear I was just bringing more of it into my life. So I asked myself what was the worst that could happen. The callers didn’t know where I was physically located, so they couldn’t come get me. They could complain to my boss and blame me for the ills of the world, but they were perpetually short staffed so I knew they wouldn’t fire me. Even if they did, I knew I would be fine. So I said to myself and to the universe: Go ahead and call. I don’t care. Call and scream and lose your religion. I will be fine. It says more about you than it does about me. And you know what happened? I all but stopped getting those calls. The occasional one would still come in as that’s the nature of one who works with customers, but the sudden drop off in anger directly coincided with me shedding my fear of it. Funny how that works!
I’ve studied a variety of martial arts in my life. The Japanese style called Aikido is 100% self-defense. There are no punches or kicks in Aikido. The entirety of the discipline is learning how to redirect the attacks of others by using their energy in a way that keeps you safe and disables your assailant. I view these five approaches as a type of customer service Aikido. You are using the violence of another party to increase your own skill and hopefully, in the end, diffuse that aggression all together.