Helpdesk Meltdowns: How Computer Support Techs Handle Irate Clients

Ever felt so fed up with a uncooperative piece of technology that you wanted to just crush it, toss it, or scream in frustration? We've all been there. And in many ways, this kind of experience is inevitable.

We're totally reliant on technology, but most of us have minimal (or zero) knowledge of how our most trusted systems and devices actually work! When things go wrong, it doesn't take long for panic to set in, particularly if you need that piece of tech for work.

Most businesses have a lot riding on computer networks and communications technology. When an employee can't login, or a program/device doesn't work properly, daily operations get disrupted...which means missed meetings, delayed deadlines, and lost revenue. It's no wonder tensions can run high at the tech support helpdesk.

Not all of your clients will be frustrated or in full meltdown mode—but it's safe to assume that at some point, you will need to "talk down" someone who is really fed up with an application or piece of hardware that just isn't working for them.   

How do the best helpdesk analysts calm these clients down enough to understand their problem and find a solution? By following these 4 proven techniques.

Immediately acknowledge the problem & the client's frustration

When a client calls the helpdesk and is already in a state of meltdown, a savvy helpdesk analyst doesn't  launch straight into troubleshooting questions (which the caller is too upset to answer clearly). At this point, the client isn't ready to work through diagnostic steps. They're angry and need to vent.

So instead, right at the outset of the call, an experienced analyst takes a moment to establish three crucial things—namely that he/she:

  • acknowledges the seriousness of the problem
  • completely understands why the client is frustrated
  • will do everything possible to resolve the issue quickly

The goal is to demonstrate that you're on the caller's side—that you're working on their behalf (and not defensively), and won't rest until a solution is found. This usually helps calm the client down enough to start an investigation into the problem, review any previous file notes, and determine appropriate next steps.

Summarize & clarify main points

You may have managed to calm down the client a little using step one, but chances are, they're still not thinking clearly. When describing their technical issue, the caller may skip over a key detail or forget to mention something important. A good analyst avoids further confusion by listening closely, taking notes, and then repeating the facts back to the caller.

By quickly summarizing and clarifying each main point, you will keep the client focussed on solution-finding (rather than finger-pointing), and ensure you have all the information needed to move forward. This is really key, because you may need to escalate the call to another professional or department, and the sooner you figure that out, the better!

Never get angry in return

If a client is very upset, chances are some rudeness will come your way. Expert analysts never take the bait, and always maintain a professional tone. They understand that the client is angry with the technology—not with them personally—and will resist the urge to lash out or fight back.

It's important to stay focussed on the goal of resolving the technical issue. Keep your voice even and relaxed, and if necessary, gently remind the client that you are on their side. With nobody on the other end to spar with, the client will quickly get back on track.

Reassure the client that you will follow-up

Few things frustrate a helpdesk client more than believing their technical issue is resolved, hanging up with the analyst, and then discovering the problem is still there. They'll have to call back, and start the process all over again with a new agent. No one wants to be on the other end of that call!

Don't add fuel to the fire. Reassure upset clients that you will personally follow-up with them after the call, to ensure your solution is working.  Clients need to know that you will take care of their technical issue, from start to finish, and that you're accountable for the solutions you implement.

Providing a means of follow-up is key for demonstrating genuine care, responsibility, and professionalism.  Three traits that go a very long way toward soothing irate clients, and making meltdowns more manageable.

Plus, there's nothing more satisfying then watching an angry caller become a deeply appreciative client—all because you handled their crisis with grace, empathy, and expertise. That's what makes those really challenging calls all the more rewarding.

Remember: Questions about how you would handle upset clients are very common in helpdesk interviews. Draw on the points outlined here to present a thoughtful response, and prove that you've got what it takes to do this job well.

Interested in learning more about becoming a technical support analyst? Looking for quality computing support training in the Montreal area?

Consider Herzing's Computing Support Program, delivered at the Montreal campus, in both English and French. Visit the program page to see a detailed list of courses, admission information, career paths—or to chat live with a friendly advisor. We're here to help!

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