How to respectfully disagree with customers

It’s nice when everyone agrees with each other. But with differing views, opinions, and experiences, there comes disagreement. And this can prove tricky to handle when it happens in a customer service interaction.

No one likes being told they’re wrong. Handled poorly, a disagreement with a customer can brew a storm in a teacup and cause more problems.

But disagreeing with a customer does not need to equal arguing with them. Here’s how to respectfully disagree with customers.

Listen — ensure understanding

Before anything else, it’s important to make sure you understand the customer’s point of view. Be sure to listen to their point and think about how they came to that conclusion.

It’s important that you listen and acknowledge the customer, even if you disagree.

Customers want to feel listened to, and when they do, it has a calming effect — it shows you are taking their problem seriously.

Use empathy statements to show you understand how frustrating the problem must be. If it’s possible, you can also recognise the validity/good parts of their point or proposed solution.

Manage your tone

When looking at how to respectfully disagree with customers, the role of tone of voice cannot be understated. Your tone of voice is how you say something, and it influences how the customer feels about what you’re saying.

Your tone determines whether you’re disagreeing respectfully, or rudely. So, it’s important to get it right.

To remain respectful while disagreeing, you want to make sure you aren’t adopting a defensive or accusatory tone. Rather, you want your tone to remain positive, focusing on the correct answers rather than dwelling on the incorrect information or unattainable solutions.

Tone of voice comes through in a chat session through your word choice, any use of emojis or gifs, and your use of punctuation.

Read more: A guide to tone-matching in live chat interactions

Avoid the pitfalls

Another way to answer the question of how to disagree respectfully is to look at what not to do.

The biggest pitfall when disagreeing with customers is ‘you’ statements. These are statements that place blame on the customer. For example:

  • 💬 ‘You are wrong, the policy states that…’
  • 💬 ‘You’ve done this incorrectly…’
  • 💬 ‘You haven’t taken into account that…’

‘You’ statements highlight that it’s the customer that has made an error. They put the spotlight on this mistake and, in turn, encourage defensive behaviour. This is disrespectful to the customer — no one likes to be shown up as wrong or mistaken. It’s also not productive.

Another pitfall is trying to prove to the customer that they’re wrong when you don’t need to. Remember, the goal is to solve the problem or communicate the correct information to the customer. So, focus on solutions and sharing the correct documents and information.

Offer an alternative

When disagreeing with a customer, you’re taking a possible solution off the table. That’s frustrating. As such, when considering how to respectfully disagree, you should also consider a viable solution — and offer it as an alternative to the customer.

When you have an alternative solution, you take the spotlight off the disagreement. That is, instead of focusing on the disagreement, you guide the customer’s attention to the correct information or possible solution.

This means that the customer doesn’t need to worry about being wrong or saving face. Instead, they’re getting the answers and service they ultimately connected for.

How to respectfully disagree

It’s embarrassing when we’re wrong. And when a disagreement is handled poorly, it’s easy for us to get defensive, double down on our incorrect views, and try in vain to save face.

When it comes to how to disagree respectfully, then, the answer lies in giving the customer a way out. Be sure you understand their point, and then use a positive, non-accusatory tone focused on the correct information so they can focus on fixing the mistake.

Disagreements don’t have to equate to arguments.  

Useful links

How to use deep listening in your live chat conversations

Emojis in live chat – engaging or confusing? 🤔

A guide to tone-matching in live chat interactions