Angry Man on Phone

8 Ways to Cope With Cursing Self-Storage Callers: Tips to Diffuse the Anger

Self-storage managers, owners and operators put up with their fair share of cursing from angry customers over the phone. Here are eight tips from the pros to help you deal with cussing callers.

By John Egan

Reprinted with permission from "The Storage Facilitator" blog.

It appears self-storage managers, owners and operators put up with their fair share of four-letter words over the phone. And were not talking about words like unit or feet.

A recent study by Seattle-based mobile-advertising company Marchex Inc. ranked 20 service industries based on the rate of expletive-filled customer calls they handle. The top industry was  Satellite TV, with one of every 82 calls laced with customer profanity. In seventh place was self-storage, with one of every 192 customers spewing swear words over the phone.

Consumers expect great service and easy-to-understand pricing from national and local businesses, and they arent afraid to voice their displeasure when they dont receive it, John Busby, senior vice president of the Marchex Institute, a branch of Marchex Inc., said in a news release.

The study found that a considerable amount of cursing actually happens while customers are on hold. This should be a clear signal to businesses that long hold times leave a negative and lasting impression, Busby said.

Now that you know the self-storage industry rates high for incidences with cussing customers, you may be wondering what to do the next time you confront a cursing caller. Here are eight tips from the pros.

No. 1: Dont Hang Up Right Away

Let the customer finish. Give [him] an opportunity to calm down. Let [him] know you are there to help. Use the techniques that your company trained you on to deal with this situation, says customer-service expert Shep Hyken, chief amazement officer at Shepard Presentations LLC, a St. Louis-based company that offers customer-service training. If all else fails, ask the customer to call back when he is willing to be reasonable.

Ending the call is an extreme measure that should be avoided, says Stephanie Willis, a member of the Amazing Customer Experience (ACE) Team at online self-storage marketplace SpareFoot. Why? The cussing customer will likely call back and be more aggravated than before.

Taylor Zarsky, an event and ticket specialist for hospitality organizer Red Carpet Experiences, says shes never resorted to hanging up on a fuming customer. But one time I did ask a customer if he kissed his mother with that mouth, Zarsky says. Guilting typically works in a pinch.

No. 2: Remain Calm

Customers will react to your tone and demeanor. If you get defensive or use words like cant, no or wont, chances are thecustomer is going to become completely irrational and may even begin to cuss at you, says Patrick McKernan, president of American Mobile Glass of New Jersey Inc., which repairs and replaces glass for cars, homes and businesses. Too often, Ive seen customer-service representatives overreact and let the customer get them in a frenzy.

Instead, withhold judgment about the cursing customer and dont take the barrage personally, says industrial psychologist Janine Sergay, president of The Sergay Group Ltd., an organizational development training firm in Long Grove, Ill.

No. 3: Be Empathetic

Tron Jordheim, director of operations for self-storage call-center firm PhoneSmart, says the companys customer-service agents typically adopt a caring tone during the first round of cussing. We let the caller know we are there to help with their problem or situation and that we want to help. This usually calms the person down enough for the cussing to stop, he says.

Albert Hood, a member of SpareFoots ACE Team, says he generally lets cursing customers vent. I try to interrupt positively when I can after that, and then figure out a way to change the tone and direction the conversation is going, he says. I finally offer the solutions that I can, and try to be honest about what I can do and where I may be able to send them to resolve their dilemma.

No. 4: Be Firm

Sometimes a customer takes out his frustration on a customer-service agent by launching a very aggressive and very offensive tirade, Jordheim says. If thats the case, PhoneSmart call-center agents respond with something like, I am trying to help you with the issue. I am glad to help you. But I cannot help you if you continue to speak to me this way.

If the verbal abuse continues, agents will add, I am going to end the call if you continue to speak this way. Let me get a little more information from you and then I can help you.

If that doesnt do the trick, they tell the customer the call is being ended.

No. 5. Weigh the Situation

Jenelle Cottriel, another member of the ACE Team, said her reaction to a cursing customer depends on the circumstances. If the caller is merely using colorful language, she lets it slide.

But if its meant in offense, I ask them to stop. If that doesnt work, I start speaking quietly and slowly, Cottriel says. Angry customers are looking for more fuel for their anger, so they do want to listen. If youre harder to hear, they have to listen harder and longer. In that pattern, fiery, curse-filled anger is much more difficult to maintain.

No. 6: Grab the Reins

For someone to curse at a customer-service rep, [he] generally feel like [hes] being screwed over in some tremendous way, or has potentially gone through multiple channels already and feels extremely frustrated, Willis says. At that point, its about taking ownership of the problem and committing to solving it. Hopefully by telling [him] confidently that you will do your best to resolve the issue, [he] can relax.

Offering a discount or a refund, if appropriate, could help defuse the situation, according to Janet Attard, CEO of, a website geared toward small businesses.

No. 7: Match the Callers Volume

When their voice rises, raise your voice, but keep your intensity just below theirs. The customer just wants to know you get them, says Traci Brown, an expert in body language and persuasion. After just a little time, you can lower your voice slowly and theyll lower their intensity right with you and settle down. Then you can have a meaningful conversation and resolve their issues.

No. 8: Emphasize Training

How to deal with irate people should be included in training for self-storage professionals, especially those who spend much of their time on the phone. The best thing to do is provide the best service from the get-go, says Austin Brandt, co-founder and customer-support lead at Chasm Health LLC, an Indianapolis company that helps consumers obtain their medical records. Dont screw up in the first place. If youre a customer service-centric organization and constantly work to deliver an awesome experience, your chances of being cussed out by a customer are next to zero, he says.

At American Mobile Glass, agents jot down details about over-the-phone complaints. Then, during a weekly meeting, the customer-service team reviews those situations. Why did it happen? What could be done to prevent something like this fromhappening again in the future? McKernan says.

John Egan is the editor in chief at SpareFoot, an online marketplace for the self-storage industry. Before joining SpareFoot, he was the editor in chief at Bankrate Insurance. The Storage Facilitator is a self-storage blog managed by SpareFoot  and hosted by .

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