In the hospitality business we aim to keep customers happy. Unless your Basil Fawlty nobody deliberately sets out to make a customer angry. It doesn't matter who you are though, there will be a situation where a customer is unhappy with a product or service that you provide. Here's how to handle an angry customer.
The first step in how to handle an angry customer is to stay calm. If a customer starts yelling at you do not respond by yelling also. The focus will immediately turn to who can yell the loudest. This escalates the situation and will not help solve the cause of the anger. Focus on deep breathing as a way to remain calm.
Change your frame of reference
From the outset assume the customer is right and take that frame of mind rather than being defensive. By changing your frame of reference from being defensive to a position of empathy, you put yourself in a better position to defuse the situation.
Don't take it personally
Remember that if a customer is angry, they are angry at the product or service, not you as a person. Repeat this to yourself as a method to remain calm.
The best thing to do when a customer is angry is to listen. By actively listening to the customers complaint you put yourself in the best position to understand the cause of their frustration. Allow the customer to keep talking until there is silence. This will help diffuse the customers anger. Only once the customer has finished speaking should you talk. Summarise what you have heard from the customer and clarify with any questions. Confirm with the customer that what you've heard is correct. By listening to the customer you should be able to determine the emotional reason and the technical reason for the complaint. For example a customer may complain when they don't receive the correct meal they requested. After listening to the customer you may discover that they are now late for a movie. Deal with the emotional issue before you deal with the technical as this is the cause of the frustration.
Having discovered the cause of the customers anger the next step is to sympathise with their anger. The first step is to speak softly. Summaries what you have heard from the customer to show you've actively listened to what they've said. Ask questions if you need to and ask the customer to confirm what you have relayed back to them is correct. Part of sympathising with the customer is focused on body language. Ensure eye-contact, stand or sit upright and make sure your arms aren't folded. Showing you understand a customers frustration through words and body language can go a long way in addressing the concerns of an angry customer.
Whether you feel the customer is right or wrong the best thing to do is to apologise. For whatever reason their expectations of your product or service have not been met. A simple "I'm sorry, let's make this right," is enough.
Own the problem
The customer has come to you to express frustration at the business, you should be the one to help. You may feel tempted to pass off the issue to someone else because it's not your responsibility. This is likely to make the person more angry because they have taken their time to explain their situation to you and now feel powerless to have it resolved. Call on any assistance you need but ensure you remain committed to resolving the problem.
Find a Solution
Solving the problem for the customer is a two step process. Having listened to the customers concerns you should have identified the emotional issue and the technical one. Using the example above, the technical issue may have been that the waiter misheard the patron when they ordered. The emotional issue is that the customer is now running late and is what has made the customer angry. Resolve the pressing emotional issue first and then go about rectifying the technical. Work out what went wrong and implement a long term fix to at least minimise the likelihood of the situation repeating.
Take time out
Confronting an angry customer can be a stressful situation. This is the case even if you've handled the situation well. Make sure you take at least a few minutes to yourself after such an event. Go for a walk, talk to a friend, do what you need to do to get back in the right frame of mind to talk to customers again.
It is likely that the technical side to any complaint will involve a longer term fix. Ensure that the customer who made the complaint receives a follow up. Reassure them that steps have been taken to rectify the issue. By reassuring the customer and showing attentiveness you are more likely to avoid the loss of a customer and may even attract new ones based on your determination to set things right.