One of the hardest parts of any customer support role is figuring out how to deal with angry customers in an effective way. Mindy Postoff, Support Ninja for Woo Commerce, lived up to her “Ninja” title in her talk at UserConf Portland by sharing a simple yet extremely powerful mind trick. Instead of suggesting that you apologize to customers when things get tough, she suggests changing your state of mind. You can watch her talk below, or keep reading for a summary.

Dealing with Angry Customers Can Actually Benefit your Company

Angry customers, unfortunately, are inevitable, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Frustrated customers can provide you with valuable information about how you can improve your company’s products, services, and policies.

At the same time, an upset customer can also be a threat. People who are unhappy about a company’s product are more likely to tell their friends about it than people who are satisfied. So bad news travels faster than good news, and in today’s climate of social media, criticism of your company can reach a lot of people quickly. You don’t want a complaint going viral, so it’s important to turn angry customers into satisfied customers before they can share their anger with other people.

But how do you do that when a customer is angry with you and is yelling and swearing? The trick is to understand the mindset of the angry customer:

“Emotion Mind” Will Make a Customer Even Angrier

We all have different mindsets at different times. A customer who is frustrated and angry is in what Mindy calls “emotion mind.” When someone is in emotion mind, they are unable to think calmly, logically, or rationally. Instead, their thoughts and feelings are responses to their raging emotions. When people are in emotion mind, they can’t make good decisions or come up with viable solutions to problems. You’re not going to get anywhere unless you can help your customer get out of emotion mind.dealing with angry customers

The worst thing customer service reps can do is to meet angry customers on their own level and respond with anger themselves. This doesn’t work because it just feeds the emotional flames, and customers will get even angrier.

The temptation to respond with anger can be strong. Mindy says “It’s easy to get pulled into emotion mind when someone insults you, attacks you, or offends you.” But resist getting angry and defensive and falling into emotion mind yourself because that will just make the situation worse.

“Logic Mind” Won’t Defuse an Angry Customer

Many customer service reps respond to angry customers using what Mindy calls “logic mind,” where logical, fact-based, and common sense thinking prevail, and emotions are not part of the picture. People in logic mind stay calm and devise strategies to respond to the problem. This is not a bad state of mind, and is certainly better than getting angry — at least it won’t inflame the angry customer even more. But it’s still not the best way to deal with an enraged customer. That’s because logic mind won’t defuse the customer’s anger. The rep is not addressing the customer’s feelings. Raging customers who are dealing with a strictly logical emotionless customer service rep are likely to get frustrated because they feel that they are not being heard.

“Wise Mind” is the Answer

If responding to an angry customer with angry mind just makes things worse, and if responding with logic mind doesn’t make them better, then what is the answer? The answer is “wise mind,” a state of mind that incorporates the best of emotion and logic minds and strikes a balance between the two. In this mental state, we make better decisions because we reach others on both an emotional and a rational level.

The trick is to get into wise mind and stay there. Then you will be able to pull the customer out of emotion mind and have them join you in wise mind. Then you will be in a great space to solve the customer’s problem.

How to Get into Wise Mind

You can get into wise mind with two steps:

  1. Observe. Think of this like a 10-second meditation session. Pay attention to your breath. Feel your fingertips as they move on the keyboard.
  2. Describe to yourself what you are feeling. Put into words whatever is going on physically in your body.

Being able to get into wise mind, especially when someone is verbally attacking you, takes practice. It’s worth it. It will help you tap the resources of both your brain and your heart. Being in wise mind will enable you to get your brain involved so your heart is not making all your decisions, and at the same time enable you to tap into your feelings so that the customer will be able to understand your logical thoughts.

How to Pull Angry Customers into Wise Mind

The way to pull customers out of angry mind and into wise mind, where you can work productively with them, is to validate them. Mindy, quoting a dictionary, says that the word “validate” means to “recognize or affirm the worth of a person or their feelings or opinions; cause a person to feel valued or worthwhile.”

All people want to be valued, to know that their thoughts and opinions matter and that their feelings are valid. “It feels great,” Mindy says, “when someone actually takes the time to listen.”

Validation works because it acknowledges strong emotions, and that makes room for logic to enter the scene. It works on a subconscious level. The person being validated just knows that they feel like they have been listened to. So when you validate customers who are caught up in the whirlwind of their own emotions, that validation, which feels so good, can have an immediate soothing effect. The customer relaxes and is then able to push aside the tumultuous emotions — which leaves a space for rational problem-solving to come in. The way you respond to an angry customer is very powerful!

When you acknowledge customers’ emotions, they will trust you and feel that you are on their side. Once that happens, you can solve the problem together. At this point, you can apply specific skills in your interaction with the customer:

  • Imagine yourself in your customer’s shoes. This is the skill of feeling empathy. Mindy gives an example where she tells a customer, “I completely understand.” These words validate the customer’s feeling of being stressed.
  • Show you’re listening to your customer by echoing their words with synonyms. For example, a customer described his problem as “urgent,” to which Mindy replied, “I completely understand how vital it is to have your store accepting online orders.” Mindy’s use of the word “vital” echoes the customer’s use of the word “urgent.” When choosing words, the key is to make sure they match the level of emotion that the customers used in their words.
  • Emphasize that you and the customer are on the same team by using inclusive words. Mindy used the word “let’s,” telling the customer, “Let’s figure this out quickly,” and “Let’s run through some troubleshooting steps.” Inclusive words build trust and send a message to the customer that the rep and the customer are working together as a team to solve the customer’s problem.

When customer support reps use these techniques effectively, they can turn a frustrated customer into one who can work with the rep, to find a rational and effective solution to their problem. What starts off as a stressful encounter with a frustrated customer getting angry at a customer service rep can be turned around into a problem-solving session with a happy ending, where everybody — customer, support rep, and company — will come out ahead. That’s the ninja power of working with mindsets and developing the skills of wise mind!