Dealing with angry customers is inevitable and learning to deal with them effectively is an essential skill in business.
Aside from the risk of losing that customer for good, there is also the risk of them damaging your reputation and driving away other customers.
If you deal with them effectively, you will be able to retain them and prevent them from publicly airing their grievances and damaging your reputation.
In some cases, you will even be able to convert them to a trusting, loyal customer and your best advocate.
So, what is the best way to deal with angry customers? How do you effectively solve their problems, while making them feel valued and cared for?
Today, we’re covering everything you need to know about dealing with angry customers!
We cover why it’s important, the types of angry customers you will encounter, effective strategies to deal with angry customers, and also what not do to.
Let’s jump right in!
No matter how great your products/services are, or how great your customer service is, there will always be difficult customers to deal with.
Angry customers pose a risk to your business in several ways and failing to deal with them effectively can result in:
How you handle angry customers will determine if you lose them, lose others because of them, or earn their trust and loyalty.
In fact, customers who have overcome a challenge with you and feel valued and cared for, are often more loyal and become some of your best advocates.
Angry customers can also provide valuable insight into your business and overall customer experience.
Their feedback is more direct, honest, and immediate than the feedback you get from happy customers.
Paying attention to complaints and how you’re able to resolve them gives you the opportunity to improve how you do things.
Dealing with angry customers well is essential to ensure that you’re providing high-level customer support and a great customer experience.
To understand how to handle angry customers, you need to understand them and know what you’re dealing with.
Let’s look at the types of angry customers first, and then we will move on to strategies to help you deal with them effectively:
Every customer is unique and brings their own complex mix of needs, emotions, and past experiences with them.
Dealing with them effectively comes down to listening and understanding them, as an individual.
That said, most angry customers fall into one of three broad categories:
Every company makes mistakes and there will always be times when a customer is justifiably angry. These customers have a clear reason for their frustration and there is usually a straightforward solution to the problem.
Justified anger from a customer has the potential to escalate and become a serious issue if it is not adequately addressed, quickly.
Handling these angry customers effectively means understanding the problem, acknowledging their frustration, a sincere apology, and an appropriate solution.
If necessary, someone higher up in the company should be called to address their concern and apologize for the incident, as well as rectify whatever lead to it.
This type of angry customer is the most likely to be converted back to a happy and loyal customer after a bad experience. If they feel genuinely heard and appreciated, and their problem is resolved, they’re likely to give you another chance.
An irrationally angry customer is disproportionality angry or angry about something that you have no control over.
These customers are particularly difficult to deal with because you can’t actually solve their problems for them.
To handle this type of customer effectively, you need to be empathetic and deal with their emotions about the problem.
A generally helpful and sympathetic attitude is essential here – the best you can do for them is let them vent, use reflective listening techniques, and acknowledge their frustrations.
In some cases, managing their expectations and helping them understand where the issue is or who to talk to get the issue resolved goes a long way.
In other cases, they’re using their anger and aggression to ‘bully’ you into giving them what they want, even though they’re not justified in demanding it from you. Sometimes they’re just venting because they didn’t like the product.
If that is the case, it is best to offer a solution that ends the immediate interaction and provides a cooling-off period for both of you. However, be careful not to use delaying tactics that will frustrate them further and end up justifying their anger.
If they’re really pushing and not accepting any of the solutions you can offer, you may need to be assertive and stand your ground – provide some options for them and let them choose which one they want. Faced with a calm and firm boundary, many bullying customers will take it down a notch.
Regardless of the cause of their anger, some customers will be rude, insulting, and abusive. This is the type of customer that requires the most self-restraint and calm from you.
Listen to them and hear their full complaint, then calmly acknowledge their frustration and move on to providing a solution.
It is best not to engage too much with their emotions and frustrations, acknowledge them and move on.
If they’ve used personally hurtful or abusive statements, try to move past those without engaging with them and focus on the portion of the complaint that is relevant to the business.
When customers turn to personal insults, it may be useful to hand them over to someone else to deal with or terminate the conversation entirely.
Dealing with angry customers is always challenging, especially when there seems to be no clear path to resolving their problem or they’re especially heated and abusive.
Here are seven strategies to help you handle angry customers effectively, in person or on the phone:
No matter what the problem is or what type of angry customer you have, they all want to be heard and they all want to be understood and validated.
Learn to listen and really understand what they mean and how it makes them feel. Oftentimes, we focus on solving the technical or practical problem, while neglecting to address the customer’s emotions.
Identify the underlying feeling and acknowledge it. Simple phrases like “I can see how frustrated you are, let me see how I can help” help your customer feel seen and understood.
Reflective listing techniques are also very helpful and a skill that can be learned by anyone.
Reflective listening involves a cycle of listening to what they say, understanding what they mean and what they need, and then reflecting it back to them in your own words and seeking confirmation from them that you have understood them correctly.
Use this technique to ensure that you’re properly understanding your customer’s problem. This will help you solve the problem properly and it will help your customer feel heard and cared for.
When you’re dealing with an angry customer, it can be very difficult to keep calm and manage your own feelings and responses but it is critical that you do!
Be mindful of and actively practice maintaining:
Staying in control of yourself will help you stay in control of the interaction and keep it from escalating. Practice remaining engaged, without being emotionally activated.
It will improve your ability to deal with angry customers, and make the whole process easier for you to deal with too.
When you’re dealing with an angry customer, a sincere apology can go a long way.
Apologizing is critical if your customer is justifiably angry – in that case, own your mistake or wrongdoing, apologize for how it affected the customer, and note the steps you have taken to ensure that it won’t happen again.
Even if the customer is not justified in their anger, it is still important to apologize. If there is no clear mistake or misstep to own, acknowledge their feelings and apologize anyway.
The important thing is to make sure they feel heard and acknowledged.
Attending to an angry customer’s problem quickly is key to deescalating the situation.
There is nothing worse than the frustration of needing a problem solved, only to sit on hold for a long time and then be passed from person to person, having to re-explain your problem every time.
That alone will turn a disgruntled customer into a furious one. Make sure that their time is respected and that the first person they speak to gets all the details before they hand them on to someone else.
When you encounter irrationally angry and abusive customers, there will be times when you simply have to end the interaction.
If a customer is swearing at you or using any kind of abusive (often deeply personal) insults and it is clear that there is going to be no satisfactory solution, the best thing to do is to calmy end the interaction.
To do this, warn them that if they continue to insult or curse, you will not be able to continue to help them. Ask them to confirm that they understand that. If they continue, tell them they have left you no choice but to end the conversation. Then hang up or walk away.
Check out this short video by Canity to see how this works:
Every angry customer has a problem that needs to be solved. Finding an appropriate way to help them solve that problem, even if it’s not your fault or within your control, is vital when you have an angry customer.
An angry customer should never leave you feeling like you did nothing for them or couldn’t help them.
If you don’t have a direct fix for their problem, or you need them to talk to someone else about their problem, be sure to do whatever you can do to help them.
This can be as simple as giving them the phone number so they don’t need to look for it themselves or explaining exactly what they need to tell that person.
Always follow through. If you said you would do something, do it. Once you have done it, communicate that to the customer. Never underestimate the importance of a quick message to let them know where things stand.
If you’re dealing with more customers than you can maintain a personal line of communication with, make sure that there is a system in place to keep customers updated, even if it is not by the same person or is done via an automated system.
Most of us don’t really want to get back in touch with a difficult customer once their problem has been solved and they have gone away. But, if you want to keep that customer, it is a very important step to take.
Some customers you’re just better off without. These are the low-value customers that require a lot of resources to retain and do not offer much in terms of cross-selling potential or referrals. It’s ok to let these ones go, gracefully.
For the rest, following up after a problem has been solved is important. It lets them know that you care about them, that you value their patronage, and that you genuinely care about the customer experience you provide.
The more personal this process is the better, but automated surveys and feedback forms work well too.
When you’re dealing with angry customers, there are a few things you definitely should not do!
The following will likely escalate the conflict, alienate the customer, delay the problem-solving process and make the whole interaction even more taxing for you:
When we engage with the conflict and get heated, it only adds fuel to the fire. Take a few deep breathes, ground yourself, and remember that this is not about you – it is about the customer and solving their problem.
It is vital that you respond quickly to customer complaints. If your process takes too long, or pass them off to someone else, the problem-solving process is delayed and the customer becomes even angrier. Even an unjustifiably angry customer will then have a justifiable reason to be angry.
Cutting a frustrated customer off before they have vented their problem is likely to make them more annoyed. They will feel like you don’t care about them as a person, even if you do solve the problem.
Ignoring how the customer feels might speed up the process a bit, but that comes at the cost of acknowledging how the problem affected them. To make them feel genuinely cared for and validated, you need to address the human, emotional part of the problem.
Avoid saying ‘when you did or didn’t do x, y occurred’ and rather say ‘when x didn’t happen, y occurred’. This subtly shifts the conversation to a less adversarial exchange. A blame game is a waste of time and energy, focus on their feelings and solving their problem.
When we fail to take accountability and apologize, we miss out on an opportunity to build trust with the customer. Trust is very important, especially for customer retention and loyalty. A sincere apology goes a long way to repairing damaged customer relationships.
If you have customers, dealing with angry customers is a fact of life. You must deal with them effectively and minimize the damage they can do to your business.
If you don’t, you risk losing them as a customer. You also risk their negative experience losing you more customers when they turn to social media to air their grievances.
Dealing with angry customers effectively allows you to smooth things over, solve their problems and regain their trust.
You may even be able to use the opportunity to build a better relationship with your customer – increasing their trust and loyalty.
Angry customers and the process of solving their problems also offer valuable insight into the way your business runs and how you can improve your processes to provide a better customer experience.
Very broadly, there are three types of angry customers:
1. Reasonable and justifiably angry customers
2. Irrational and disproportionately angry customers
3. Rude and abusive angry customers
When you're dealing with angry customers in person or on the phone, it is useful to know which type you're dealing with. Take a look at the full article for more on how to effectively handle difficult customers.
Reflective listening involves four steps:
1. Listen to the message - hear what the customer is saying and let them finish
2. Determine the meaning of the message - understand what the problem to be solved is, and how they feel about it
3. Reflect the message and the meaning you have made of it back to the customer in your own words
4. Ask them to confirm that you have heard and understood them correctly
Reflective listening is very useful when you're dealing with angry customers. Read the full guide for strategies to handle angry customers well.
Staying calm is critical when you're talking to an angry customer. You need to remember that this is not about you, personally and try not to take what they say or how they say it personally. Breathe deeply and relax your shoulders. Take a moment to pause before you respond and use a calm and even tone of voice. Check out the full article for more on how to talk to angry customers.
Buffer: A People Leader’s Guide to Active Listening
European Business Review: Why is it Important to Solve Customer Problems Quickly?
Fonolo: Why Active Listening is the Best Customer Service Skill
HubSpot: 40 Customer Service Stats to Know in 2021
Mediate: Customer Complaints: Five Easy Steps To Turn Conflict Into A Competitive Edge
Zendesk Blog: A Customer Service Guide to Conflict Resolution