3 Ways for Sales & Support Reps to Win Over Angry Prospects

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You're on the phone with a customer and they start raising their voice at you. What did you do wrong?

Probably nothing.

Stress, worry, and rage are at an all-time high in the U.S., and one in five people report feeling angry regularly. That’s terrifying, especially if you work in sales, customer support, or any job where you’re required to constantly interact with customers and prospects.

But don’t panic! I’m going to teach you some tricks to turn the situation around in three different scenarios:

  • They’re angry because of something completely unrelated to you
  • They’ve been burned before, and they don’t want to deal with that again
  • Something’s wrong on your end, and they want you to fix it

Here are three ways sales and support reps can win over angry prospects.

1. Deescalate the situation by redirecting the person’s anger.

There are times when you just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe the customer called you too soon after getting bad news, or you ended up in a meeting with them immediately after they got chewed out.

In either case, you’ve done nothing wrong, and you’re not even sure why you’re getting yelled at—most likely because the person is either too upset to explain themselves, or they don’t even recognize they’re taking their anger out on you.

That’s because anger is a subconscious tool people use to protect the other raw emotions they don’t know how to deal with.

PC: The Gottman Institute

The trick to bringing down a prospect’s anger is to take a step back and not get angry in return, because that will only escalate the situation.

Instead, your ultimate goals are to A) not take the anger personally, and B) transform the situation into an opportunity to comfort the customer.

Follow these four steps to help cool the prospect down so you can have a real conversation with them.

Hear the prospect out.

Start by asking an open-ended question, like:

“Can you help me better understand what's happening?”

Open-ended questions don’t guarantee a solution—but staying quiet as the customer answers your question, instead of arguing or raising your voice, is sure to keep the situation from escalating.

While listening to your prospect, never say “this isn’t a big deal,” or “this is an easy fix” (even if it is), because that implies the person’s frustration is illogical or doesn’t matter. Instead, allow the customer to vent so you can gain insight into what’s upsetting them.

They may even calm down once they’ve had a chance to work through their frustrations or hear how heated they’re getting.

Show that you understand the situation.

After your prospect takes a break from venting, parrot key phrases they just said to demonstrate you heard them. This triggers an “echo effect,” which comforts the person by showing them you’re on the same page.

One of the raw emotions behind anger is being misunderstood. So, using the echo effect to signal you’re someone who understands the prospect can help win them over.

Make an empathetic statement about the problem.

Once you’ve listened long enough to the prospect, you’ll most likely be able to take an educated guess as to what is really frustrating them. You can then make an empathetic statement, like:

  • "You want us to finish up this call quickly, because you’re stressed about getting home to check on your sick child."
  • "You need me to follow up with you later, because you’re overwhelmed with tasks at work this week."
  • "You have to see quick results from my product, because you’re scared by a sudden drop in sales at your business."
  • "You've had a bad experience with a similar product, so you’re worried we can’t help you." (We’ll cover this specific example more in the next section.)

Note how each example identifies another raw emotion beneath the prospect’s anger. These statements also shift the prospect’s attention back to what originally upset them, so you’re subtly reminding them it’s not you who they’re mad at.

Offer a solution step.

After you’ve helped the prospect recognize you’re not a part of their problem, you can wrap up the conversation with a solution step, like:

  • "I’ll call you back tomorrow, so you can go check on your child."
  • "I’ll reach out to you next week and make sure you remember."
  • "Let’s schedule a demo, and you’ll be able to see if our product works for you."
  • "I’ll send you a case study that’ll break down how our service will actually help you."

This final step makes it clear that your goal is to help, and your prospect or customer will remember you fondly for working with them instead of taking their anger personally.

Realistically, you’re not going to be able to solve people’'s problems in the span of a five minute support or sales calls, but that’s not your goal. You only need to remind them you’re on the same team.

PC: Mind Tools

2. Redirect the prospect’s passion toward your service.

Sometimes you’ll encounter a customer who knows exactly what they’re angry about—they were burned by one of your competitors.

You know your company provides a solution that covers the features your competitor botched, and your customer support treats clients much better. But the person is so heated they won’t let you get a word in. In fact, they may even start accusing your company of having the same flaws!

The goal is to not take the customer’s anger personally, but instead fuel their desire to find a solution. How can you do that?

Share your similar frustrations with the prospect.

Chances are your company was created to solve the same problem they find frustrating.

Text Request, for example, originally came into existence after co-founder Jamey Elrod was out eating with a screaming toddler, couldn’t get the attention of her server, and realized she wished she could just text the staff to get the bill and leave.

This means that when prospects call Jamey frustrated to find a solution for faster communication, she can immediately share that dining experience and empathize with them.

And empathy is huge for a person who’s been burned by a previous company, because they’re looking for a new business who sees them as a human being instead of a dollar sign. You need to be their teammate.

Having empathy communicates you’ve been in their shoes, and you’re not going to let the same thing happen to them again. You can show the prospect you’re an empathetic listener by saying things like:

  • “___ makes me really mad too.”
  • “I know you’re so tired of dealing with ___.”
  • “You’re right, it should be easier to ___.”
  • “I can’t handle not getting results either.”

The key is to focus on the similar emotions and experiences you’ve shared with the customer—instead of immediately talking smack about your competitor or jumping into how your service is better. You’ll seem more like a friend, and less like the hungry vulture your prospect is worried about.

From there you can move on to:

“Okay, so this is the problem you had. What do we need to do for you instead?”

Break the prospect’s problem into smaller pieces your service can handle.

After the prospect takes a break from explaining their bad experience, repeat it back to them.

Only this time, break the issue down into smaller pieces that build upon each other—almost as if you’re repeating the plot points of a story (this will also trigger that echo effect we talked about earlier).

“So first they told you they offered this feature, but then it didn’t actually work. And then after that you tried to cancel, but they said you can’t get your money back?”

The trick is to turn what your prospect sees as a giant problem into multiple, smaller ones. From there, you can go step-by-step into how your service is different.

“We have the same feature, but I can personally help you set it up so that everything works right for you. If you cancel within two weeks you get your money back, but we have faith our service will satisfy you.”

Chipping the solution into smaller action steps will make it feel like you’re really productive and helpful as you check off each of those steps. It also gives your prospect a mental checklist of everything your competitor did wrong, without you having to say, “this is what our competitor did wrong.”

This way, you’re just framing a positive narrative around how you and your team do things right.

3. Validate the prospect by addressing their complaints.

If it isn’t a personal matter or weak competitor that has your customer in a bad mood, it may be you. And this situation is especially stressful because if you don’t turn it around, you may have a bad review or a disappointed supervisor on your hands.

Like with the other scenarios, you’ll want to stay calm and hear the person out. Your goal is to demonstrate your ability to take feedback and work with them to accomplish their goals.

Only 1 in 25 prospects will directly complain to you. So, it’s way better to have the knowledge that something is wrong, instead of not knowing and the problem persisting.

Here’s four steps to turn a prospect’s complaint into a positive experience.

Apologize for any mistakes.

An apology is more powerful than any kind of compensation. Even if you don't believe you or your company is at fault, it’s still better to acknowledge that you’re sorry the person has been inconvenienced.

Studies have found that 45% of prospects will withdraw a negative review if they receive an apology.

PC: Super Office

Don’t make promises you can’t keep.

In the heat of the moment, you may be tempted to say whatever it takes to calm the prospect down—but watch yourself. If you sell something that can’t be delivered, your prospect is going to remember.

13% of customers will share a bad experience with 15 or more people. No one wants that.

It’s always better to be honest about the situation than to just say whatever you think the customer wants to hear. 89% of people say a company can regain their trust if it’s transparent about mistakes and the steps it will take to fix them.

Remember to record details about the problem.

To avoid repeating the same situation, you’ll need to document the issue and report it to someone who’s on that side of the business. And that means asking the prospect for information.

  • Your website went down for a few minutes? Document the time and duration for your tech team.
  • Customer charged twice for a product? Write down the product number and transaction times for accounting.
  • Prospect received an email with a bunch of coding errors? Have them forward the email to you so your marketing team can fix it.

In all these situations, you’re immediately demonstrating to the prospect that you’re actively working on the problem by asking these questions and taking notes.

Follow up with the customer later.

70% of prospects will stop communicating with a company if they think they’re not being cared for.

A simple phone call, email, or text after the initial problem is solved can make all the difference in a customer’s perspective of the situation.

Remember to take people's anger with a grain of salt.

All of the methods we covered assume the best of your prospect, and that’s because getting defensive or pointing out how you’re not in the wrong will only escalate things.

Remember, the customer is not always right. Sometimes they're wrong—and they're mad—but you can only do so much.

By remaining calm you will always maintain power in the situation, especially if the prospect is just being nitpicky or unreasonably taking their anger out on you. Killing someone with kindness will always be more satisfying than letting them think they can provoke you.

Your prospect may act like it’s the end of the world, but you know your day is going to move on. Use this advice to increase your sales and improve your support, and remember not to beat yourself up over angry customers.

Related: How to Get More 5-Star Online Reviews for Your Business