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Dealing with angry customers

Great advice from Service Untitled about how to calm down angry customers:

  • Lower your voice. This will force the customer to lower his or her voice to hear you.
  • Provide a plan of action. Let the customer know what you can do and make it clear if you are doing anything special or going out of your way for that customer.
  • Apologize to customers about the inconvenience and tell them that you are going to work with them to get their issues resolved.
  • Ask them what they would like to happen to get the issue resolved (this works really well when customers are going on and on; simply ask, “Okay, what would you like us to do to get this issue resolved for you?” and go from there).

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  1. Amy Alkon September 27, 2009 at 8:59 am #

    Actually, what infuriates me is the apology that’s part of their dialogue. I’d rather have no apology than repeated insincere ones read off a sheet they got in their training.

    You show me you’re sorry as a business or as a person by making good in some way to make up for what you’ve done wrong. Conversely, as somebody who complains when things are wrong, I compliment and write nice letters about people who’ve helped me when things are right.

    Also, when people help me who are doing me a favor, I don’t take that like it’s free help — I recognize them for it in a meaningful way. A publicist at a publisher — not the one who’s publishing my book — took time to advise me on promoting my upcoming book. Not only did I thank her on the phone, I ordered her a pound of coffee I love to be sent to her mail order, along with a note from me that I mailed to the coffee company ( — it’s AMAZING) to send along.

  2. Chris Bailey September 27, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    LIke Amy notes, an apology that earns a checkbox mark is hollow and only ratchets up the anger in most folks. Two important things that appear to be missing here:

    1. It’s subtly hidden in the subtext, but it really needs to be called out in big neon letters every time anyone rights about providing customer service. It’s to remember that the individual on the other end is a human and so are you. It’s astounding that so many are hired into customer service roles based on their problem solving skills without regard for their ability to empathize with others.

    2. The advice above is very short-sided. Want to make sure that angry customer doesn’t come back in another fit of frustrated anger? Make sure the problem gets resolved. This may be outside of the scope of the CS rep, but just apologizing and talking about how it will be resolved is meaningless unless it actually does get resolved.

    Maybe these two items fall outside of the scope of the advice, but in the end angry customers just want to feel heard and know their problem is going to go away. Anything else is just gravy on top.

  3. Laura September 28, 2009 at 4:49 pm #

    Empty apologies are aggravating, but so are customers who are angry before they understand the source of the problem. In my workplace (an online mail order company), often the problem is incorrect data entered by the customer, or assumptions made about shipping times (hint: if the shipping is free, or cheap, there is no way it is getting there overnight!!).

    You may see the apology that the Customer Service rep offers as aggravating, but often it is a way of trying to get you to calm down. There would be fewer empty apologies if there were fewer people taking out their frustration on innocent employees of ignorant corporations. If you’re angry about the service, write an angry letter to the CEO, or let the customer service person know, calmly, that you don’t blame them but you would like some help with your problem. If they can’t help you, then you can CALMLY ask them to elevate the issue until you can talk to a superior. Yelling is not the answer.

    This article is written for the benefit of a customer service person who deals with angry people every day. If you see it from that perspective, it’s very good, effective advice. Unfortunately no advice will work 100% of the time: some people are just looking for someone to be angry at.

  4. Amber September 28, 2009 at 10:02 pm #

    As a customer who is sometimes extremely disappointed in a company, I have found it very easy to be overly emotional when trying to resolve the issue. Like Chris mentioned above, I have have empty promises that an issue would be resolved only to get letters from collections agencies about the issue because it wasn’t resolved. But, I’ve found that if I address the emotion at the beginning of my conversation with a CS rep, then it dissipates and I am able to calmly discuss the problem.

  5. Andee Sellman, One Sherpa October 1, 2009 at 7:40 am #

    Love the point on providing a plan of action.
    So many time when things are confrontational or really difficult its easy to shut down and hope that the situation will pass.
    Going in with a suggested plan of action will normally provide forward impetus and allow you to show leadership.


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