Managing angry and abusive callers

Stay calm when confronted by an abusive customer call. Here are some tips for to help you stay in control


Watch the video Managing Anger and Abuse

Recently my friend was at the end of an abusive phone call. She became very cross – and hung up very soon after the conversation started. Later she wondered what was really wrong and felt she had not handled the situation well. She asked me what she should have done.


1. Listen positively. Stay calm, and don’t take it personally


When a caller is angry listen positively to find out why they are angry, no matter how much you feel like arguing back, or cutting them off, or hanging up. Listen calmly while they vent, and don’t take it personally. Be aware of cultural/gender differences in reactions, such as them being loud or confrontational. Make sure you don’t raise your voice or adopt a tone that could sound irritated. Remember that complaints are opportunities to hear customer feedback and learn from it.


If you need to access records, interrupt politely and explain that you want to hear their problem but you need to locate their details first.


2. Reduce anger by apologising


A lot of people have difficulty apologising, and assume (wrongly) that an apology is an admission of fault. In fact some companies instruct their staff never to apologise as it assumes an acceptance of liability.


I disagree. Apologies come in different forms, and an apology is an effective strategy for reducing anger. Even though the caller may be angry about something that was not your fault, it helps to apologise early in the call.


Just say: “I’m sorry you have had this problem.” “I apologise for the inconvenience.” “I am sorry you are so upset.”


“Okay I can hear how angry you are, Mr X, I would like to apologise on behalf of the company. I can fix this problem for you right now.”


Avoid: “I’m sorry you have decided to get angry about this.” “Don’t get angry with me, it’s not my fault.”


You’re not apologising for your own mistakes, you’re basically recognising that they may have been mistreated or misinformed in the past, or at the very least are upset by something that has been overlooked.


3. Be responsive – outline the plan to help


Callers can sometimes become even angrier if you sound insincere or dismissive. Avoid phrases like “I understand how you feel”, or “I appreciate your frustration”. These can sound rehearsed and automatic rather than genuine. Just stay in control and focus on being positive and helpful.


One of the best ways to calm down an angry caller is to explain what you will do to resolve the problem – outline the plan to help. Explain what you are doing and why, simply and clearly. Repeat facts if necessary using different words, not the same words spoken more loudly! Make sure the customer is happy with the plan; agree on a solution.


4. Stick to the rules and give warnings

If the caller is abusive, stick to the rules and give warnings before you hang up. Say something like, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to disconnect the call if you continue to use abusive language.”


If threats and abuse escalate, give three progressive warnings:

“Mr … (or first name), I want to solve this but please don’t swear or I cannot continue.” “Mr … , I must warn you (or insist that you) stop the abusive (threatening) language or I will have to terminate the call.”


As a final warning, add a summary of action plans and terminate. For example: “This is the third time I have warned you to stop being abusive (threatening). I have offered/explained xxxx and now I am hanging up”, or invite them to call back when calm or offer a time when you will call back.


After the call, talk to a manager/colleague/security if a threat is made. Follow company procedure, or establish it from now on!


Advise others that are involved and make specific notes for yourself and others that are factual, not angry.






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