How To Deal With Angry Customers—Turning a Negative Experience Into a Positive

Last updated December 3, 2020 written by Tetiana

Even if your business does everything right, and you set out to keep all of your customers happy, there can be times when something goes wrong. It might not even be your fault and a few difficult customers may take frustrations out on staff unfairly. Have you ever seen someone in the supermarket getting angry at a member of staff for something that really wasn’t their fault? 

Whether there is blame attached to you, your staff or your business, or whether the situation is more complex than that and a customer is just trying to get something for free or even use your staff as a chance to vent their anger, there are helpful ways to deal with angry and upset customers. 

In this guide, we look at how to deal with irate customers in the best way possible, to ensure that you don’t lose their business and that any negative experiences can be turned into positives in the future. 

how to deal with angry customers

How To Handle Angry Customers: Our Top Tips

1. Try to Remain Calm Throughout

You might be a little blindsided by the encounter, especially if your job is not always to deal with complaints. Some people are naturally better at staying calm in a stressful interaction. One of the top tips is to remember to breathe properly or even use breathing exercises. According to Healthfully.com, this “activates the hypothalamus, connected to the pituitary gland in the brain, to send out neurohormones that inhibit stress-producing hormones and trigger a relaxation response in the body.”

Some people find it easier to stay calm when fielding customers’ phone calls rather than dealing with them in person. Even if there is no physical threat, some people struggle to read body language and generally find it intimidating when being in a challenging interaction with someone who is angry or disappointed. Remembering that there is a way to resolve any issue is important and recalling difficult situations that have been resolved before reminds your brain that this anger is just temporary.

Everyone has different ways of staying calm and doing so may get easier with experience. If you really don’t find the situation manageable, consider whether you have a colleague or supervisor who can help. Their presence might be enough to calm you down. In fact, in many jobs such as retail, there are often staff in place who know how to deal with an angry customer, and are paid to do exactly that. If you are dealing with angry customer calls on a regular basis, a virtual receptionist service might be a good solution for your business, because these professionals are trained to deal with and de-escalate these difficult interactions.

2. Be Understanding and DiffuseThe Situation

Whether your customer’s issue is legitimate or not, you should try to be understanding and diffuse the situation. The reason a customer is getting angry is usually to make a statement and try to communicate urgency; they want the issue resolved. One of the best ways of dealing with angry customers is to quickly make sure they know that you are taking the issue seriously. This will usually calm down the situation or at least buy you some time to get to the bottom of the customer’s concerns.

Promising to look into a problem immediately is a good way to try to diffuse the situation. A customer’s anger may instantly reduce if they know that you are immediately going to look into the issue and try to deal with it.

Empathy is key here. It is a basic but effective method of getting the customer onside and showing that you understand the inconvenience, rather than taking an opposing view and causing your unhappy customers to continue to grow in rage.

The way you phrase your reaction is key. If you were to be presented with a customer experience that had nothing to do with you, it could be easy to say, “Well, I don’t know anything about that.” This is not going to help the customer’s anger. It doesn’t show a willingness to make a change or give any attention to customer problems. Instead, phrase your creation with empathy, something like, “Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention. I will do my best to get to the bottom of it straight away.” This is a far better way of signaling your intention to actually help.

Empathy also comes in the form of simple body language. If you are in person, make eye contact, apologize that they have been put in a position where they need to complain and show them that customer satisfaction is high on your priorities.

3. Apologize

This is probably the most simple tip on the whole list. An apology costs nothing and doesn’t even have to be an admission of any sort of wrongdoing. Not apologizing quickly can make your customer feel like you really don’t care about the issue they are having.

There is a bit of a tightrope here. If you feel that the customer is being unreasonable in their complaint, it is still a good idea to say sorry, but not admit that their complaint is 100% justified. “I’m very sorry that you aren’t satisfied” is a good way to apologize without admitting a substandard product or service. If you say, “I’m sorry our service wasn’t good enough” you have admitted that you have done something wrong and it is time to issue a refund or deal with the customer’s complaint in some other way. 

An apology is one of the basics of customer support. It doesn’t resolve the problems completely, but it certainly helps. If you are concerned about how to word your apology, this guide can prove helpful.

4. Make Promises You Can Keep 

A promise is a great way to get customers back onside, but don’t promise them something and then not deliver. Basically, don’t promise a refund to your customers if you aren’t authorized to do so. Don’t tell them they will definitely get their money back if you don’t know that this is going to be the case. Don’t tell them everything is going to be fine in a few minutes when you don’t know that this is the case. You want to build your brand and ensure loyal customers, and in order to do this, broken promises are not an option.

What are some things you can promise to your customers instead?

  • “I can assure you we will get to the bottom of this issue straight away.” Promise that you will promptly deal with the customer’s concerns.
  • “I will do my absolute best to get this resolved for you.” Promise that you will put effort into finding a resolution for your customer’s issue.
  • “We take complaints very seriously.” Promise them that their complaint won’t get left by the wayside.

If you instantly say, “We will get you a refund” and a manager decides that this is not a suitable response, things can get even worse. It is tempting to just say you will make everything okay for the customer, as this might calm them down, but these sorts of comments don’t actually help your cause.

5. Gather The Facts

Once you have defused the situation, it is time to get to the bottom of the situation and what the customer complaints relate to. If their complaint is legitimate, it can be time to just accept your liability and fix their issues. This is the only way to keep customers happy.

If a product has broken, politely ask for proof. If service wasn’t up to standard, ask your staff if this was actually the case. If they were overcharged, check the bill of sale. If a promise was broken, check the record of communicating with the customer.

Customer loyalty, ultimately, is often more important than whether their complaint is totally justified. You want happy customers to ensure that they keep coming back. Knowing how to deal with an angry customer is actually about ensuring they come back. Gain an understanding of why they have felt the need to complain and then decide the best way to take action. Even if you feel the customer’s complaint is a little over the top, you might want to evaluate whether it is still worth acting to keep that customer happy. Providing an exceptional customer experience should be your priority.

6. Treat Online Complaints With The Same Seriousness

Have you ever heard the saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease?” In some businesses, it can be really easy to ignore the complaints you get on social media. A “real person” on the phone or visiting your business feels like a more immediate concern. However, the complaints online are just as legitimate and also incredibly prevalent. Many studies estimate that most people who have a negative experience now take to social media in some way, shape or form to communicate their problems and hold staff accountable.

Teach your customer service team to be on the lookout and to find complaints via email or social media. Make a point of stamping these issues out before they become too much of a problem and your business finds telephone complaints or in-person complaints more common.

A customer complaining about your business online is also an opportunity to show how ready you are to make things better. Act with speed and try to show that their experience was not one you are happy to see replicated.

Social media is only going to become more ingrained in the way businesses operate. Treating online complaints just as seriously is key to creating an experience online that your customers will value.

7. Follow Up and Find The Root Cause

Dealing with angry customers can be an opportunity to learn. Follow up with the customer to check if their issues were resolved. Not only does this show that you care and increase the chances of customers coming back to you, it helps you to evaluate why the issue happened in the first place and avoid the same things happening in the future.

Maybe your product is substandard. Maybe your customer complaints and anger can be dealt with by training your staff to be more understanding and communicative. Maybe your customer problems are rooted in the culture of your business, and addressing this is the only way to stop the same thing from cropping up time and time again.

A follow-up can also be an opportunity to try and retain the loyalty of the customer in question. You can offer a discount, explain what you are doing about the issues, or give them another incentive to continue to use your services. You might even provide a gift by way of apology. Customers really value businesses that show how seriously they take your complaint. This is all about turning a negative experience into a positive one, but there are financial implications, too. It could be that the customer continues to visit your business for years after you show them just how much you actually care.

Is Dealing With Angry Customers Over the Phone Different?

Over the phone, you might find that a customer feels a little more liberated to get angry with you. They’re probably in the comfort of their own home. If you have to deal with angry customers over the phone, there are steps that you can take to show the urgency with which you are treating the situation. You won’t be able to make eye contact or show your body language, so try some other methods of being personable. Address the customer by their name, don’t leave awkward silences and be sure to let them know what you’re doing about their complaint.

You can take advantage of Nexa’s staff and the full call handling training they go through. Our virtual receptionists are able to resolve conflict and are always calm and helpful, meaning that an angry customer can often be turned into a grateful customer. 

How to Deal With Angry Customers: In Closing

How would you handle an angry customer? Hopefully, the process for most people will change after reading our guide. Complaints are almost inevitable when you are running a business. Accidents and mistakes will happen, and some things might even be out of your control, but lead to customers wanting to take their concerns out on your business. Sometimes, the staff just happen to be in the firing line. 

The key is to stay calm and look at the bigger picture. Giving your customer a refund is one way to approach things and, in fact, it is usually all the customer is after, but you can also take a different approach and turn their angry experience into an opportunity to show that your business cares and values their business.

The customer might be having a bad day and they may even be overreacting, but if you make the situation worse, they’ll likely never return to your business. If you make them feel like you care, then you might have a customer for life.

Having a process to deal with customer complaints is important and some businesses even have specific staff who take on the role of resolving any conflict or anger that customers might experience. Follow the tips above and come from a genuine place of wanting to help, and you can successfully resolve almost any complaint. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is The Customer Really Always Right?

You will have heard this old saying, “The customer is always right.” It really isn’t true. Some customers will try their luck and some people can be considered professional complainers. However, these are definitely in the minority. In the vast majority of situations, a customer’s anger is real and may even be justified. Most people won’t go out of their way to cause issues or make a scene unless they feel they have been wronged. So, while it isn’t always the case that your angry customers are totally in the right, it is best to take all complaints seriously. 

Should A Business Have Specific Staff For Complaints?

When a business gets to a certain size, they might even have a specific complaints department to deal with issues around their customers not being happy with their service. As a business grows, having receptionists or other staff who know how to resolve complaints and angry customers can be extremely helpful. For very small businesses, this might not feel realistic, but using virtual receptionist services that allow you to only pay for the time you use actually makes it possible. You can create a script and ensure you have all the benefits of a full support team, even without having to employ full-time staff within your business.