Handling Angry Customers

Handling Angry Customers

Dealing with angry people requires a certain amount of caution. For you to effectively serve an angry customer, you must move beyond the emotions to discover the reason for his or her anger. Here are some possible tactics:


Tell the customer what you can do, rather than what you cannot do. If you say, “Our policy won’t permit us to give you a refund,” you can expect an angry response. On the other hand, you might offer, “What I can do is issue a store credit that may be used at any of our 12 branch stores in the city.”

Note: Before dealing with customers, check with your supervisor to find out what your policies are and what level of authority you have in making decisions. By having this information before a customer encounter, you will have the tools and knowledge necessary to handle your customers effectively and professionally.


You cannot and should not try to deny the customer’s anger. Doing so could result in a serious confrontation. Instead of saying, “You really don’t have to be upset,” try, “I can see you’re upset. I want to help solve this problem, so could you please help me understand what’s happened?” By taking this approach, you’ve acknowledged the customer’s feelings, demonstrated a willingness to assist, and asked the customer to participate in solving the problem.


Reassure the customer. Indicate that you understand why he or she is angry and that you will work to solve the problems. Statements such as these can help ease the frustration of your customers:

  • “I’m going to do my best to help resolve this quickly,”
  • “I can assure you that this will be resolved by Monday,”
  • “You can rest assured that I am going to make this a priority.”


As mentioned earlier, becoming part of the problem is not the answer. Even if the customer raises his or her voice or uses profanity, remain calm. This may be difficult, but it will help keep the situation from escalating. If necessary, count to ten in your head and take a deep breath before responding.

Remember, angry customers are usually angry at the organization, product, or service that you represent, not at you. If they do not settle down, calmly but assertively explain that although you want to assist, you cannot do so until they help by providing information. If possible, suggest moving to a private area away from other customers and ask for help from a supervisor or team leader, if appropriate.


Through a combination of asking questions, listening, feedback, and analysing the information you receive, try to determine the cause of the problem. The customer may simply have misunderstood what was said. In such an instance, a clarification may be all that is required. Try something like, “There seems to be some confusion. May I explain?” or possibly, “It appears that I was unclear. May I explain?”


When people are angry, they need a chance to vent their frustration and be heard. Avoid interrupting or offering “Yes, but . . .” types of remarks. This only fuels their anger. Suppose that a customer calls to make an appointment for an oil change and is told that the special sale ended yesterday.
The customer then says that there was no indication in the newspaper advertisement that there was an expiration date. You respond with, “Yes, that’s true, but we always run our sale ads for only one week. Everybody knows that.” Naturally, the customer is now upset. A better response would be something like, “Although that sale ended yesterday, we will honour the coupon because the expiration date was inadvertently omitted from the advertisement.”

Whether the customer is “right” or “wrong” makes no difference in situations like these. You will build stronger customer relationships when you make this kind of concession, because you are bringing in money you might not have received if the customer got upset. Moreover, the customer is now satisfied, may tell others, and will likely return.

In cases such as this, inform your supervisor of the problems caused by the omission of expiration dates in ads.


Don’t say or do anything that will create further tension. For instance, don’t transfer a caller to another extension if the customer told you he or she has already been transferred several times, interrupt to serve another customer (especially for a telephone caller—unless your organization’s policy requires that you do so), or put the person on hold repeatedly to handle other customers or tasks not related to serving the original customer.


Elicit ideas from the customer on how to solve the problem. If the customer’s suggestions are realistic and feasible, implement them. Or negotiate an alternative. By using customers’ suggestions, you are likely to gain their agreement. Also, if something goes wrong later, they may be less likely to complain again since it was their idea in the first place.


Don’t assume that the organization’s system will work as designed. If there is a breakdown, the customer has your name and may complain to your supervisor. Or, the customer may not complain but instead go to a competitor. Either way, you lose.

Once an agreed-upon solution has been implemented, take the time to follow up to ensure that all went well. This may involve personally calling the accounting department to ensure that proper credits were made, delivering an order or materials or shipping them yourself, or calling or writing the customer after a period of time to make sure the customer is satisfied and to offer future assistance. Whatever it takes, do it to ensure customer satisfaction.


See the Global online course in: Managing Complaints and Difficult Customers

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