When I started my high school job at a craft store, I had no idea how angry customers could get. But the pattern quickly became clear: they raised their voices, their breathing got faster, and they directed all of their anger at me—a teenager wearing a glittery apron. It seemed like a lot of anger over an out-of-stock frame or missing yarn color, but it felt like a personal attack.
After those hard interactions, my wellbeing and productivity spiraled downward. I wished there was a formula for de-escalating my customers’ anger so I didn’t feel like curling into a ball afterward.
Fast forward to my first job in B2B tech as a customer support agent. Even though I communicated with customers through phone and email, dealing with angry ones still took a toll. But this time around, I got help from my manager and coworkers. They taught me some skills to improve these experiences, so my customers would leave the conversation calmer and I could come away unscathed.
In all honesty, there really is no formula to dealing with upset customers. People are complex and so are the emotions surrounding a prickly interaction. But there are some ways to help you navigate those hard conversations while supporting your and your team’s wellbeing. While it all goes back to listening to the customer and letting them be heard, those aren’t the most actionable tips when you’re in the moment. So here’s my best attempt at getting a level deeper toward what you can actually do in these situations.
Why Learn How to Manage Angry Customers?
Many recent studies have proven that repeated encounters with angry customers impact customer service agents both psychologically and emotionally. Learning how to deal with angry customers will help you protect your (and your team’s) mental health. You’re not just learning how to calm your customers down; you’re learning how to lessen the personal impact of these stressful situations.
Because of the damaging impact of working with upset customers, customer service attrition is as high as 45%, which is twice the average turnover rate in other departments. On a managerial level, teaching team members how to deal with angry customers while preserving their mental health can help with attrition. If they’re no longer suffering from these situations, they’re less likely to want to leave your team.
On an even higher level, angry customers are business opportunities. Frustrated customers will tell an average of seven people about their negative experience, stopping potential customers from trying out your products or services. If you can transform their negative emotions into satisfaction, you’ll prime them to shop with your brand in the future. Returning customers spend 67% more than new customers, and cost less in marketing and sales.
Read on to explore some tactics for dealing with angry customers—and learn when it makes sense to disengage.
Looking for new strategies to develop strong customer relationships? Check out our ebook, Conversational Support: A Guide to Personalized Customer Messaging.
15 Tips for How to Deal with Angry Customers
Dealing with angry customers takes careful practice. These 15 tips will help you learn how to respond to an angry customer while preserving your team’s mental wellness. They work when you’re answering customer calls, replying to emails, and chatting through SMS or any messaging channels.
1. Figure out what helps you stay calm.
Angry customers might raise their voices over a call or use abrupt language over text. When this happens, it’s only natural to start feeling stressed and overwhelmed—or even upset that you’re a target for this kind of unfair treatment.
You’ve probably been told countless times to keep calm in these situations, but how do you actually do that? You have to figure out what technique works for you. Test out squeezing a stress ball, taking deep breaths, or focusing on your favorite meme taped to your monitor—whatever works for you. For inspiration, this online keep your cool tool provides a cool-down clock and examples of reframing your gut reactions with customers (and coworkers).
2. Remind yourself they’re not angry with you.
When an angry customer makes negative comments about your company or their experience, it’s easy to interpret them as reflections on your own work. Taking their words to heart can make you feel incompetent and guilty. But how do you avoid nurturing those feelings so they don’t take a toll on your wellbeing and interactions over time?
When a tense conversation starts, it helps to be ready with a routine or technique to remind yourself that your customer is upset with the situation, not you (even if it may seem otherwise). Try these before responding:
- Taking a full deep breath before responding
- Finding a phrase to repeat to yourself (like this one from Good Will Hunting: “It’s NOT your fault!”)
- Remind yourself you’re doing your best, and that your customer’s frustration is not because of you
Once you find your way to get there, not taking customers’ words personally helps you stay optimistic and fresh.
3. Use the customer’s name.
Upset customers are determined to have their voices be heard. One simple tactic for showing them that you’re listening and understanding them is using their name. (On the other hand, having them ask you repeatedly if you’re listening or if you understand what they’re saying could frustrate them further.)
Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People, believed that using a person’s name was key to getting them to like you. While you shouldn’t repeat your customer’s name too often, use it two or three times. This will help them understand that your attention is focused on them and solving their problem.
3. Let them vent and be heard.
It can be hard to understand what customers are saying when they are extremely upset. They may focus on their feelings or be too angry to clearly explain their problem. You might feel tempted to jump in with a solution so you can solve their problem faster.
Instead, listen to them without speaking even if you think you already know the solution. Interrupting may make you seem impatient. You may even miss important details that can help solve their pain point.
Agent: Thank you for calling! What can I help you with today?
Customer: Well, I am a little upset actually.
Agent: I’m so sorry! Can you tell me more?
Customer: I walked into my office this morning, and the computer I bought a couple of weeks ago is rebooting again. I don’t understand. How is it rebooting without my help? I haven’t gotten any work done. Does this have something to do with that software update I installed Monday?
4. Repeat the main problem.
Active listening is most often a sales technique, but it’s worth borrowing it for customer service when situations get tricky. Once you’ve listened to the customer, repeat their main problem. Paraphrase it or put it into your own words. This way, you can ensure you and your customer are on the same page—getting you one step closer to solving their issue quickly.
5. Confirm that you’ve got their problem right.
After you repeat the customer’s problem, ask an open-ended follow-up question. Open questions allow customers to express themselves in detail so they feel heard. For example, you may ask if they can add to your summary of their problem. Listen carefully to any additional notes. If they say “That’s it!” you’re ready to continue.
You’re the face of your business for the duration of your call, email, or SMS customer service conversation. Once you hear their problem and confirm it, apologize on behalf of your business and acknowledge any mistakes. Take the time you need to show them that you mean what you say; customers are good at sniffing out insincerity.
7. Approach it with empathy and understanding.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, customers have come to expect more authentic interactions with agents, especially over messaging channels. You can meet that need by reflecting on the issue they’re describing. This is much easier said than done: the customer is most likely venting about an issue with your product or service. Still, a few words of understanding go a long way.
Tell customers that you understand where they are coming from and why they are so frustrated. While you shouldn’t focus on yourself by sharing similar stories, show that you understand their feelings.
8. Use positive language.
Language is powerful. When a customer is angry, you can lean on how you phrase things to help control the situation. Rephrase your sentences to focus on the positives of the situation. Refocusing your language can help your customers see the bright side, too.
9. Walk them through their next steps.
Customers want to know what you plan to do so they can start to relax—it takes a lot of energy to get angry. Even if it’s a long process, explain exactly what you’re going to do next and how they will participate with you (if they need to). If you can, share an estimated timeline so they have an even better idea of what to expect.
10. Divvy up the problem.
Chunking is a psychological term that involves taking a big problem and breaking it down into parts that are easier to tackle. Try this with tough customer interactions. For example, if you’re facing a multi-pronged problem, you can chunk it into smaller pieces to make it easier to manage for both you and your customer.
11. Lean on your team.
When a customer call or chat gets tense, it’s easy to forget that you have other people around you to help you find the right answer. The customer might need something that’s not in your focus area, or you might have more senior team members who are happy to help.
Focus on giving the customer the right answer, even if that means sending a quick Slack or private comment to your teammates. It’s worth the extra few seconds the customer might need to wait. (But on that note: try to speed up the process by using chats or internal notes so your team members can respond quickly.)
12. If you need to escalate, explain why.
Even if escalation often frustrates customers further, it’s sometimes unavoidable. But when you need to send their complaint to your manager or a specialist, explain to the customer why you’re taking this step and reassure them that it will help solve their problem.
13. Take care of yourself.
Angry customers can make you feel stressed, especially if they remain stressed throughout the conversion. The longer you experience customer service stress, the worse you’ll feel and the harder it will be to help other customers.
After you have a difficult customer conversation, avoid going directly into your next task. Take a couple of minutes to clear your head: Take a 5-minute walk, use calming techniques like breathing carefully, or talk to your manager or coworkers for support. Even watching a quick stress TikTok video can take your mind off things and reset your mood for your next conversation. Remember to maintain good work/life balance so you can get your mind off stressful conversations that occur at work.
14. Share what you learned.
Angry customers can still be informative for your team. If you hear a complaint that your team can expect to hear again, share it with them. They’ll be prepared for incoming questions. Your team may even be able to proactively solve the problem before you get more incoming queries about it.
15. Follow up.
Follow ups are key to ensuring formerly-angry customers are still happy. They keep the lines of communication open so you can address any new problems. If the customer called in, send them an email or text follow-up. If they emailed or messaged, send a follow-up in that respective channel. With a text service for business, for example, you can schedule a personalized followup right after your initial chat.
When Is It Okay to Stop Trying to Help an Upset Customer?
While you should do your best to help upset customers, there is a certain point where you should take a step back and say no.
Sometimes a customer is still angry after you have attempted to de-escalate the situation. Sometimes, they’ll become angrier. They might even shift from criticizing the company to personal insults. This level of anger is unacceptable, and you shouldn’t have to tolerate it.
Your team’s customer service policy should explain what to do in abusive customer situations. For example, you might pass the situation to your manager, end the interaction, and/or flag the customer in your service platform.
How Would You Handle an Angry Customer?
Learning how to deal with angry customers is hard, but not impossible. Ultimately, these tips boil down to three: understand customers’ frustration, show them that you’re there to help, and take care of yourself in the process.
Your business should also have its own special tactics for dealing with angry customers. For example, you might try customer appeasement by offering a gift card to extremely upset customers, giving a free month of a subscription, or providing an upgraded service.
While there’s no formula for dealing with angry customers, these tactics can help you find what methods work for you to tackle these situations as best you can.
Looking for strategies for supporting customers to build happier outcomes? Check out our Conversational Support Guide.