• Stuart Chant

Why customers get upset and how your call-center can avoid it

Why customer service should use empathy, even when they don’t have any?

It was one of those days; I was in Hartford conducting a workshop.  When class concluded, I flew to Indianapolis.  I landed at 12:45 am, picked up my rental car and drove to the hotel.

Once in my room, I fired up my computer to send an email.  The Wi-Fi would not connect.  I thought back to all of the calls I’d had with IT departments and the question they always ask: “Have you turned it off and turned it on again?”  I did that, still no connection.  I was tired and becoming frustrated, the clock was ticking, and I knew I had to get up in five hours. I called the front desk.

“Hi this is Stuart in room 103, I just checked in, my laptop is not connecting to the Wi-Fi, is there a problem with the system?”

“No, mine is working.”

“Oh, good for you!” (trying hard to keep the sarcasm out of my voice.)

“Sir, just open up your laptop and follow the prompts.”

“Uhhmmmm, well this is my 52nd night in one of your hotels and that process has worked 51 other nights but is not working tonight, which is why I rang you.   Is there is an IT support number that I can call?”


The receptionist was showing a complete lack of empathy in her voice.   When we, as customers, hear that tone, we feel disrespected, this puts our Amygdala on high alert.  The Amygdala is the trigger point for our fight, flight or freeze response.  When threats are perceived, the Amygdala releases stress hormones.   Our brain function starts to change.  Our senses diminish, hearing gets worse; tunnel-vision kicks in, and we become laser focused on the person we are talking to.

I could feel myself becoming angry, I said, “Well, thanks for your outstanding service!” and slammed the phone down.”

I cannot stress this enough: If you are in customer service, it is critical that you use empathy statements and that those empathy statements sound sincere and heartfelt.  Whatever your client is upset about,  they must sense that you genuinely care about them, if they do not, you will likely lose a customer.

Here are two tools for dealing with upset customers:

  1. Empathy

Empathy statements prove that you understand your customer’s emotional state and why they are feeling that way.  You may not agree with or understand your customer, but you must show them that you care.


  • “Sorry to hear that not getting connected to Wi-Fi is so frustrating.”

  • “Not being able to connect is ”

Effective empathy statements put a name to the emotion and identify the source:

Emotion = Anger, upset, frustration, stress.

Source = no internet connection, no email, no communication.

  1. Refocus- the refocus step moves the conversation forward to the resolve phase.

  • “Sorry to hear that, not getting connected to Wi-Fi is so frustrating, let me check around and see if any other guests are having issues with the system, let me call you back in 5 minutes.”

You have not resolved the problem – yet, but you have also not annoyed a customer.   Often, customers may not expect you to do anything.  Just be empathetic.  In my case, the problem was with my computer and not the hotel Wi-Fi, but instead of simply showing empathy they chose to give poor service.

If I had heard the empathy in the receptionist’s voice, I would not be writing this piece.

Good luck.

If you want your team to get even better at defusing angry customers, let’s have a chat and see how we can help you and your sales force.

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