By B. Miller Every business knows the pain of dealing with angry customers. An irate customer can cost a company new business. According to Marketing Metrics, it takes twelve positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative interaction. News of bad customer service reaches more than twice as many listeners as praise for a good experience. In a recent industry study, Lee Resources revealed that 91 percent of unhappy consumers will not willingly do business with a company after enduring a poor experience with their support staff. It’s easier and less expensive for companies to ensure customers repeatedly return than it is for them to generate new business, according to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs. Companies spend six to seven times more money to acquire new customers than they do to maintain current relationships with existing clients. Unfortunately, the number of angry customers who reach out about their negative experience is far outweighed by those who will never return for another transaction. Only 4 percent of upset consumers contact the business they’re upset with, so companies have a limited opportunity to make things right and retain their customers’ patronage. Support staff are the first, best, and often only chance a business may get to sooth a customer’s ire and convince them to stay. This is true for any contact channel a customer may select to air their displeasure. Call center agents, email workers, and face-to-face retail clerks are all responsible for interpreting a customer’s frustration and doing their best to rectify the situation. Here are four concrete customer relation practices employees can use to improve an angry customer’s experience and keep their business. 1. Active Listening: The first action customer service reps should take when faced with an upset customer is to stop talking, and start listening. According to Harris Interactive’s poll on customer relations, customer service agents failed to answer customers questions 50 percent of the time. These are crucial moments in a customer’s interaction with companies and missed opportunities to solve problems before they become even more damaging. When an angry customer has raised their voice or resorted to name calling, service reps should take a slow breath and listen to everything the customer says. If needed, call center agents can take quick notes on what the customer reveals while they vent about their issue. By repeating some of this information back to the customer later in the conversation, it shows the rep has been attentively listening and is determined to assist with the customer’s situation. 2. Discovery Questions: Once an angry customer has explained their situation in full, the customer service agent should ask questions to fill in any missing information. More importantly, asking questions and listening carefully to answers establishes rapport with their client. By making respectful, pointed inquiries about the customer’s specific situation, the rep demonstrates their commitment to understanding the issue completely so they can offer the best solution possible. An angry customer may want to return their product. Before offering a return authorization (and costing their company the price of a refund), a rep could ask, “How have you tried to use this product?” while pulling up a customer’s account or checking current stock in inventory software. Instead of the uncomfortable dead air on the line, agents could ask, “What motivated you to make this purchase with us?” Providing these answers may help a customer focus on something besides the issue that’s frustrating them and can flesh out more information to help the agent resolve the problem. 3. Empathy: “When customers share their story, they’re not just sharing pain points. They’re actually teaching you how to make your product, service, and business better. Your customer service organization should be designed to efficiently communicate those issues,” writes Kristin Smaby in “Being Human is Good Business.” Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is key to defusing an irate customer’s anger and leading them to a satisfying customer service resolution. “Empathy absorbs emotion,” according to Kristin Robertson of KR Consulting; it moves customers from complaining about their problem to negotiating a solution with their customer service rep. By taking a moment to express understanding and identify with the customer’s issues, the agent validates them and shows interest in creating a solution to the problem. This builds trust and more rapport with a client and can turn around the entire interaction with the company, to provide a positive experience for them. 4. Positive Attitude: It can be difficult for customer service support staff to maintain a positive attitude when dealing with angry customers, especially if these interactions make up the bulk of the agent’s workload. By committing to staying positive during their conversation and avoiding discouraging or pessimistic dialogue, the agent directs a potentially adverse customer service interaction to a conclusion that is beneficial for all parties. Reps should avoid going over what they’re not able to do for the customer and instead focus on the actions they’re capable of taking. Even an answering service agent can assuage a customer’s fears with a confident tone and positive assertion that their problem will be addressed as quickly as possible. Focusing on constructive action displays a dedication to creating a suitable outcome for the consumer. Train your customer service support team to keep these four customer care practices at the ready: active listening, discovery questions, empathy, and positive attitudes. In doing so, you can save your company revenue by retaining customers who would certainly have taken their business elsewhere after receiving an unacceptable response to their issue. If a customer’s complaint is resolved in their favor, they are willing to do business with that company again 70 percent of the time, according to Lee Resources. And a 2011 American Express survey shows your company’s profits will grow with these existing customers. In this survey, seven of ten Americans said they were willing to spend more with companies that provide excellent customer service. Establishing these practices will ensure your angry customers are given the opportunity to become loyal clients—and hopefully, rabid fans of your brand. B. Miller is a customer care consultant for Call Center Sales Pro, a premier consultancy for corporate call centers. She has twenty years of experience in the customer service industry, beginning as an outbound agent and working up to call center manager. She has managed a multi-vertical call center for four years. B strives to provide excellent customer care not only to her clients, but also to the co-workers she relates with daily. Contact Call Center Sales Pro at firstname.lastname@example.org or 800-901-7706.