You’ve got an angry—no, downright irate—customer in your store. They’re causing a ruckus and clearly making your other customers uncomfortable. What can you do to keep things from spiraling out of control?
How to Deal With an Angry Customer
Before this situation ever happens, plan ahead for how to handle it. If your retail store is in an area with a security presence, such as a shopping center, have the phone number for security at the checkout counter or on speed dial, along with the phone number for local police or sheriff.
Train your salespeople to be observant. By greeting customers as they come into the store and keeping an eye on the entire store, they can often spot someone who’s becoming upset. For example, if a long line is forming at the checkout counter, an angry customer might start off by looking angrily at his watch, then start sighing loudly, then pacing and muttering to himself. Reaching out to him with a proactive, “Thank you for your patience today; I’ll be with you as soon as I can,” can help.
Explain to your salespeople how to handle irate customers using the tips below.
Engage With the Customer
Remain calm. It’s natural to get defensive when someone is angry at us, but calm is your best tool in this situation. Raising your voice, arguing or being sarcastic will just escalate the situation.
Use the customer’s name. Find out the person’s name and use it while talking to them: “Mr. Wilson, can you explain the problem to me so I can help?”
Listen. By the time a customer is exploding with rage, the actual problem that sparked the anger is not the primary issue on their minds. Let the customer explain what they are angry about. Don’t interrupt, no matter how irrelevant it seems. You need to let them get their emotions out before they can be rational.
While you are listening, watch your body language . Look the customer in the eye. Don’t put on a defensive posture, such as crossing your arms. Use an open stance; this shows you’re willing to listen. Don’t fidget, show impatience, roll your eyes, raise your eyebrows or sigh.
Once the customer is finished talking, express understanding, focusing on the feelings first and the actual problem second: “I’m sorry you’re feeling frustrated by X.”
Next, take a “we’re in this together” approach to the actual problem. Enlist the angry customer to work with you to find a solution: “Let’s come up with a solution you’ll be happy with.”
If you’re worried the customer is going to become physically aggressive or violent:
Never touch an angry customer. You may be tempted to reach out and pat the person on the shoulder or lightly touch his or her arm. That could make them even angrier or put you at risk.
Put something between yourself and the customer, such as the checkout counter or a desk. If you can’t put a physical barrier between the two of you, leave several feet of space. Getting too close to an angry customer can make him or her feel threatened.
Take the angry customer aside. Ask the customer to follow you to another part of the store to discuss the problem. If the customer is someone who thrives on the drama of being the center of attention, getting away from other customers can help deflate them.
Remind the person of the presence of other customers. “Sir, I understand that you’re upset, but you are upsetting my other customers. Can we please discuss this calmly?”
Remain confident and in control. It’s important to put limits on the situation. Remind the customer that you want to help resolve the issue but in order to do that, you need them to calm down.
Get Them Out
If none of the above tactics work, calmly ask the customer to leave. Then move toward the store exit. Chances are, he or she will follow you—if only to continue yelling at you. Keep moving until you get the person outside. Stay outside and wait until he or she is out of view to go back inside.
If the customer refuses to leave, tell them calmly, “Sir, if you won’t leave the store, I’m going to have to call security/the police.” Often, this is enough to snap a person back to reality.
Ounce of Prevention
The best approach to customer rage is to prevent it in the first place. By making sure that your store is adequately staffed; that you and your employees are alert to what’s going on inside the store; and that you always provide friendly, efficient service, you’ll have a safer, more pleasant environment.
How have you dealt with an enraged customer in your store? How did you handle it?
Customer is Angry  Photo via Shutterstock