Customer Service / Customer Experience

How to handle an angry customer

Laura Dolan

Updated: Dec 13, 2023 · 5 min read

Toolkit for download in this article

how to handle an angry customer

Let’s face it, you can’t please everybody. You could be doing all the right things, have all the right systems in place to remedy a situation, and you may still have an angry customer on your hands. Regardless of the circumstances, sometimes it may not even have anything to do with you or your business, some people just need to express their anger, this time it just happens to be directed at you. What do you do?

As a business owner, your stance should always be “the customer is always right.” However, that golden rule is never without its complications and confrontations on the road to customer satisfaction.

Customers nowadays tend to take the more impersonal route and leave negative comments or reviews on social media or sites such as Yelp or Google.

That being said, you may not always be aware that there’s a problem if you’re not constantly monitoring your business’ social media or review accounts. People just love to complain, it’s in our nature, even if you do run a nearly perfect business. Somewhere, somehow, a customer is going to get angry and they can’t wait to tell you about it.

Being equipped with a few strategies for how to handle angry customers will help you smooth things over very quickly. Moreover, you’ll be better prepared to communicate with your angry customer and help them get what they need so they can possibly turn the experience into a positive review, which is a PR and marketing win.

Next time this happens, here are some tips on how to handle an angry customer:

1) Don’t interrupt them

When you have someone standing in front of you or on the phone who is raging mad, it’s best just to let them vent. As much as you want to jump in and defend your business in the middle of an argument, it’s important to let the customer fully express what their concerns and grievances are so you can address them one at a time. As the business owner, of course you want to fix the problem immediately, that’s the responsible thing to do.

The hardest part about handling an angry person is the impulse to interrupt, but if you try to cut off their ranting, your communication will go nowhere fast. This is especially true if you’re dealing with someone over the phone, which can make things even more difficult, as there are no social cues to indicate they’re about to take a breath or pause to let you retort. Despite their rage, your job is to remain as calm as can be and try to help them out.

Note: Everyone has their limits, just because a customer isn’t pleased it doesn’t give them the right to be verbally abusive or even threatening toward you or your staff. If you find yourself in that situation, politely ask them to call back or return after they’ve cooled down. If that doesn’t work, it may be necessary to get law enforcement involved as an absolute last resort.

2) Empathize

While it’s difficult to care and be empathetic toward someone when they’re verbally berating you and your business, it’s best just to keep your cool and try to commiserate with their situation as calmly and as practically as you can. If they’re demanding all of their money back on something and it’s just not feasible or even logical, suggest a discount on the item or a voucher for a future purchase, giving them an incentive to return despite the current situation.

Above all, it’s important not to take their tantrum personally, even if they’re directly blaming you for something, much of their response is just a reflection of something they’re going through; maybe they’re having a very bad day and it’s coming from a place of projecting.

3) Repeat what they tell you

Once the customer becomes a little more composed and can better articulate what the problem is, repeat to them exactly what you heard. This ensures you understand them and it also builds trust, demonstrating to the customer that you’re not just tuning them out or dismissing their issues.

Much of a customer’s anger originates from the misconception that the business doesn’t care or doesn’t understand what the situation is. Reiterating what they just divulged will help the customer see how well you processed everything and will give them hope that you know what to do to fix the problem.

4) Do a quick fix

A quick fix is an immediate gift to the customer, whether it’s in the form of a significant discount, comping their entire service, giving them parts for free, etc. How much you decide to accommodate the customer is up to you as the business owner, you get to call the shots–don’t feel pressure from the customer making unrealistic demands, do whatever you feel your company can afford.

Regardless of whether or not the owner is on the premises, there should always be someone at your company who has the authority to do an on-the-spot quick fix, even if it’s just a small one.

For example, I took my car to get a new set of tires. Unfortunately, I own the kind of car that needs a key to unhinge the wheel locks to swap the tires. When they were finished replacing my tires, they realized they made a critical mistake and misplaced the key to unlock my wheels, which would have made doing this again in the future very difficult. After explaining the situation to me, they offered to call the dealership and send me a new key that they would fully pay for, completely owning their error in what they’d done and making sure I still had the piece of equipment I would need going forward. As the customer, I was very grateful for their honesty and how quickly they remedied the situation.

5) Do permanent fixes

This usually follows the aftermath. Once the customer has been satisfied and sent on their way with the situation resolved, it’s time to assess the damage and investigate how this problem occurred and can be avoided.

Do an entire system check, a complete overhaul of all of your departments, inventory and staff. If someone needs to be retrained or if more parts need to be ordered, do your best to ensure this type of situation never happens again. Sometimes it’s a hard lesson to learn, but it may be a wake-up call the company needs to improve and advance to a better standing.

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