The 15 Point Checklist on How to Handle Difficult Callers

Working in customer service can be extremely rewarding – helping customers to get the information, services or help they need is always an amazing feeling! However, it’s inevitable that you’ll be faced with a difficult caller at some point, and knowing how to handle those tricky conversations is essential. Not only will it make the call less stressful for you, but it can also protect your business’s reputation, reduce the likelihood of negative reviews and preserve customer loyalty and retention.

Here at AllDayPA, we have more than 20 years of experience in helping businesses to improve their customer service and handle incoming calls. We’ve spoken to our fair share of upset or irate customers, so below we’ll be sharing our top 15 tips and tricks to help soothe difficult callers. And if you’d rather have our expert call handlers take over your telephone answering duties, feel free to get in touch and let us know how we can help you. 

What is a difficult caller?

In customer service, the criteria for what makes a difficult caller can vary somewhat from business to business. However, the one thing that stands out as a unifying factor is a caller teams find taxing. Typically, these callers are unhappy about some aspect of their interaction with your business – and while some callers may discuss their issue in calm, measured tones, difficult callers tend to be louder, more demanding and sometimes even verbally abusive. 

These kinds of callers can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t been in customer service for very long. But it’s important to know that, when armed with the right tools to help de-escalate the situation and resolve the customer’s problems, a difficult caller doesn’t have to be overwhelming.

How to handle difficult callers

Without further ado, let’s take a look at our 15 top tips for dealing with tricky customers over the phone.

  1. Complaint handling and customer service training

Whenever you employ new staff for your customer service team, make sure you give them comprehensive customer service training. If new employees have experience in customer service, they may already know some things, but it’s important to make sure they can handle calls, and especially complaints, to your high standards. This helps to ensure they fit in with your business and can protect and build your reputation confidently. 

  1. Avoid distractions

When dealing with difficult customers, you and your call handlers should limit distractions so you can give the situation and the caller your undivided attention. Even though callers can’t see you, they’ll still be able to tell if you’re not concentrating – especially if it leads to you making a mistake. Miscommunication can prolong and even stoke the caller’s frustration, which can easily translate to a negative review after the call. 

By giving your full attention to the caller and their problem, you’ll give yourself a much better chance of understanding the issue, finding a solution and turning an irate customer into a happy one. 

  1. Never interrupt the caller

If a customer is ranting about their problem, it can be tempting to butt in with questions or solutions to try and solve the issue quicker, but this is an easy way to anger your caller. Instead, practise active listening and try to only ask questions during natural pauses in the conversation. If you’re worried about forgetting something, making notes can be a great way to record your questions ready for the appropriate time to ask them. 

  1. Remember that the customer is human too

Irate callers are often in a state of heightened emotion, whether directly because of an issue with your product or service or because of something else in their life that is affecting their behaviour. Although it’s unpleasant for you to have to deal with the effects of that, remember that your caller is human and might be having a bad day outside of the issue you’re discussing. Try to have compassion and empathy for your customers, and treat them with the respect you’d like to receive if you were in their shoes.

  1. Ask questions to improve your understanding

Asking questions can be a great way to clarify your understanding of a customer’s issue and avoid costly mistakes. However, it can sometimes be interpreted in the wrong way if a customer wants you to take action and all you’re doing is answering questions they perceive to be irrelevant or obvious. 

Therefore, it’s a good idea to let your caller know at the beginning of the conversation that you’ll be asking a few questions in order to find the best solution. It’s also a good idea to take notes so you don’t forget important details or repeat your questions. All of this helps to prepare your caller for what to expect, helping to reduce the risk of frustration as the conversation goes on.

A call centre employee speaks with a difficult callers over his headset.
  1. Avoid an emotional reaction – be pleasant and professional at all times

Difficult callers can often sound angry, and may even be verbally abusive, but it’s your job to help soothe them, not rile them up further. Responding to an irate caller with anger or rudeness will likely make the situation worse, so remember to be pleasant, calm and professional during all your interactions. 

It’s unlikely that your caller is upset with you specifically, so don’t take their behaviour personally. Focus on solving the problem in an appropriate manner and remaining a soothing presence to help your caller calm down themselves. And if they are abusive, remember that your business likely has a policy for dealing with that kind of behaviour from callers. Ask your supervisor for assistance if you’re not sure what to do.

  1. Apologise and validate the caller’s feelings where appropriate

If your caller’s problem is the fault of the business, it’s important to take responsibility for that and offer an apology to the customer. In many cases, admitting a mistake and taking steps to rectify it can reassure the caller that you’re not ignoring their concerns. This helps to build trust with that customer, helping to increase their loyalty to your business. 

When you apologise, it’s important to acknowledge the effect the mistake has had on the caller. This will help to show you’ve been listening to them, as well as validating their feelings of anger or frustration.

  1. Be honest

Sometimes, quick solutions and easy fixes aren’t possible, and that’s okay. What’s important is to be completely transparent in communicating this to your caller so that they know what to expect. If you promise to do something and then fail to deliver it, your caller will feel they’ve been lied to and lose trust in your business. Instead, always endeavour to underpromise and overdeliver.

  1. Set expectations clearly

Regardless of what the next steps in the process are – whether that’s putting the caller through to another team, going away to investigate or even putting in place an instant solution – make sure they know and understand what to expect. Let them know what you plan to do, why you’re doing it and how you expect it to help. 

It’s also important to give a timeframe in which you’ll take action. Tell your caller when you’ll get back to them or when you expect the issue to be resolved. This helps to reassure them that they’ll hear back from you or have results by a certain time, encouraging them to have patience while you work on the problem. 

  1. Work as quickly as possible to find a solution

From your perspective, you might be dealing with dozens of customer issues, but it’s important to remember that the customer’s problem is the most important thing to them in your conversation. While not all solutions can be instant, try to ensure you reach a resolution as quickly as possible to help convert an angry caller to a happy one.

  1. Avoid putting the caller on hold

Nobody likes being put on hold, so try to avoid doing so wherever possible to make the customer service experience more pleasant for your caller. Of course, sometimes it can’t be avoided, especially if the call needs to be forwarded to another team who is better equipped to handle the query. If this is the case, explain your reasons to the caller, apologise for the inconvenience and try to make the transition as speedy as possible.

  1. Don’t make the caller’s decisions for them

When it comes to finding a solution to a particular problem, there may be multiple options that could be effective. In this situation, it’s best to present the different options to the customer so that they can make the choice themselves. Be transparent about the pros and cons of each option and explain how each one could help resolve the problem.

The customer may ask for your opinion on which option would be the best one to pick, and that can be a good way to make them feel supported and assisted. Ultimately, though, it should be the caller’s decision, as this maximises their agency and control over the situation to help them feel as pleased as possible with the outcome of the call.

  1. Compensate the customer

If the actions or mistakes of your business have let the caller down, sometimes a simple apology isn’t enough. Compensating them for their poor experience can help them feel like they’ve made progress on the issue and can generate a positive response, even if it’s not immediate. Your business will likely have a policy in place that explains what exactly you can give away for free, so familiarise yourself with that information. And who knows, a free trial of a product or service might just lead to a future purchase!

  1. Uphold the caller’s trust

In order to rebuild trust and loyalty with customers, it’s vital that you stick to any promises you’ve made. If you said you’d get back to them within a certain timeframe, make sure it gets done. It may seem simple, but if your customers can’t trust you to contact them when you said you would, they likely won’t trust your business with future purchases either. Uphold their trust, and they’ll be more likely to agree to small inconveniences such as waiting longer for an update, because they know you’ll deliver on your promises.

  1. Give your contact information to the caller for future queries

If you’ve been successful in building up a rapport and helping your customer, it’s likely that you’ve established some trust. If the caller has any further issues, questions or just wants to check in on the progress of their query, they’ll probably want to speak to you again. After all, you already know the details of the case, so they won’t need to waste time bringing you up to speed. Giving the caller your details helps to speed up this process and keep them happy as you assist them.

A woman speaks to a customer over the phone in a call centre office.

How AllDayPA can help you to handle your calls

The above tips and tricks can help you to train your teams, but if you’re struggling with demand or want to streamline your customer service spend, you might want to opt for an easier and cost-effective alternative by using our call handling services. Here at AllDayPA, we offer a range of packages to help businesses big and small maximise their return on investment for all sorts of customer service channels.

Whether you need a hand with telephone answering, call handling or you’re looking for something more comprehensive like a virtual receptionist, we have something for you. Our customer service representatives are highly experienced in a range of communication channels to get the best results for your business, giving your team the time to get on with what they do best.