Dealing with Abusive
Article by Donna Earl
customers go beyond angry and become abusive. They might start the
call in abusive mode, or might escalate to abusive from mere anger.
Sometimes if you don't tell them what they want to hear, they become
abusive. Abusive is defined as verbally threatening, using foul
language, and emotionally out of control. When you've used your
best skills at defusing the angry customer and the customer is still
out of control, or if the customer begins the conversation in an
abusive manner, its time to utilize some advanced strategies for
managing the customer's behavior. It's also time to protect yourself.
It's more likely the customer will become abusive with telephone
customer service reps, as the contact is more anonymous.
Here are some specific steps you can take to manage the out of control
1. Personalize the conversation. The less personal the interaction,
the more likely it can escalate out of control. As soon as you perceive
the customer's anger might escalate out of control, and you've tried
your well practiced defusing skills and nothing works, its time
to use the 'personalize the conversation' strategy. Call the customer
by name, and refer to their company by name. Restate your name,
and remind them that (your company name) wants them to be satisfied.
2. Declare your intent and boundaries. Remind the customer
you want to solve the problem. Let them know you can solve the problem
only when the language is appropriate, and demands are reasonable.
You should never allow the customer to continue if they're using
inappropriate language, or if they're totally out of control. Nothing
will be accomplished, and they'll sabotage your efforts to stay
composed. They'll lose respect for you and the company for allowing
the situation to continue. If they cannot maintain enough control
to conduct a reasonable conversation, its time to switch strategies.
3. Transfer the call. Whether you transfer the call to a
supervisor or to a colleague, the customer has the opportunity to
regroup. When you transfer the call, tell the customer you've done
all you can, and its time for them to speak with "fill in the name"
who will now handle the problem. This serves notice to the customer
that they cannot continue to abuse you, and that behavior will be
interrupted. When the second person handles the customer, typically
the customer will try to appear reasonable and soft spoken.
4. Discontinue the call. If there's nobody to transfer the
call to, or you've been the recipient of the transferred call and
the customer is still out of control, it's time to end the cycle.
Remind the customer you're there to help, and also willing to discuss
a solution in a reasonable manner. Let them know your company wants
them to be a satisfied customer, but also does not allow customer
service professionals to continue in abusive conversations. Ask
them to please contact the customer service department at another
time, and tell them "I am now releasing this call."
Remember the customer behavior has nothing to do with you, so don't
take it personally. Take a deep breath, and if you're stressed,
try some stress management techniques. See our article on Stress
Management for Customer Service Reps for some proven stress
See our workshop on Dealing
with Difficult Customers for more information.
Copyright © 2004 Donna Earl. All rights reserved.
Donna Earl teaches the above
techniques for dealing with difficult and abusive customers, in addition
to many other techniques, in her customized on-site seminars
on Customer Service. For more information on her courses or for
permission to reprint this article phone 415.929.8110 or email at