Dealing With Aggressive Clients
No individual enjoys being shouted at or getting reproaches or accusations. However always remember: even when a customer presents their grievance in an ill-mannered way, they do not mean it personally. Delegates attending sales training courses repeatedly protest about antagonistic clients and ask for direction on how to cope with them successfully.
What they really want is your understanding of their position and to motivate you to do something about their problems, even if they do this in a very tactless way.
The surest way of losing clients to your competitors is to get into an argument with them. As regrettable as it is, you should not expect fair play. This sometimes means acting as a lightning conductor for complaining clients.
The more strained the economic situation is, the frostier the business climate becomes. Clients who are put under pressure by their own company are particularly critical and do not tolerate mistakes made by their suppliers.
They also respond very sensitively to theoretical assignations of blame. The very fact that you, fully without any hidden motives, dig deeper in an attempt to really comprehend the customers complaint, can activate a fierce response.
Tip: look for points that you can agree on without making any commitments. You could say, for example:
"I understand how unpleasant the current situation is for you."
"You are completely right to point out this function limitation."
Confront your clients in an optimistic frame of mind. Express your confidence that you will be able to solve the clients problem. Say, for example, "Im sure that we will be able to agree on a solution that is suitable for both sides." It is important for the continuation of a good business relationship that you always end a discussion about complaints on a positive note.
Dont put up with everything! Despite the understanding you may have for a complaining client, sometimes you need to apply the emergency brakes. If the client confronts you with a massive reproach - e.g. "Youve cheated us!", or "Your products are rubbish!" or "Your company is not reliable!", you need to first of all talk about the feelings that have triggered these outbursts in the client.
The clients outburst consists of two elements: a factual statement and a personal reproach. Make a conscious effort to move from the factual to the relationship level: "That is a strong accusation youre making. I take that personally." By reacting in a controlled emotional way like this, you put the client in their place without them being insulted.
The client will then normally adopt a reconciliatory tone and indirectly apologise. This way, emotions will have been removed from the discussion and you can go on to discuss the factual heart of the complaint. It can be problematic, however, if angry clients forget their manners and become abusive. Register the clients reaction silently as a sign of over-excitement and a cry for help.
The client is convinced that they are correct in making the complaint. If you also then react rudely, you will only provoke further complaints. Furthermore, the client will never buy from your company again and will use every future opportunity to badmouth your company.
Tip: Talk to the client about their concerns in a friendly way and ask for details. By addressing the grievance politely and by not being offensive, you will take away the clients moral validation to carry on behaving irrationally. This is an important technique as covered on sales training courses. Encourage the customer to talk, do not fall into the trap of making excuses.
How to take control of angry clients:
If you have an angry client on the phone, take deep breaths and do not allow yourself to become tense. This way you will keep a clear head and can think and argue logically.
Do not grind your teeth - instead, relax your facial muscles, shoulders and neck. If you have your body under control, you can also control your answers and remain business-like. Speak calmly and coolly with the complaining client. The more irritated your voice sounds, the more aggressive the client will become. If you raise your voice you will only be increasing the amount of tension inside you. If you react in a friendly way, you will calm the client down.
Note down the details of what the client is complaining about. That will help you to concentrate on the factual questions rather than getting angry at the client. At the same time you must make it clear to the client that you are taking their complaint very seriously.
Show the client that you are prepared to investigate their complaint. Mention the clients name when speaking to them. Deal with them in a business-like way and ask questions.
Summarise the complaint. Relate the situation back to the client to ensure that you have understood the situation correctly. People react in a more business-like fashion when confronted with the facts.
Ask the customer what resolution they see for the dilemma. By asking them to consider a solution, you will be distracting them from their anger. You need not immediately accept the clients suggested solution - the question alone is helpful in itself. Dealing effectively with complaints and objections is a subject that is covered in detail on sales training courses.
Richard Stone is a Director for Spearhead Training Limited that runs management and sales training courses that improve business performance.