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How to Talk to an Angry Customer

man holding up an drawing of an angry face looks like an angry customerWe’ve all been there. An angry customer calls or shows up at your place of business “gunning for bear.” Obviously, you want to do all you can to defuse the situation and make your angry customer happy again. But if you’re like most small business owners, you’re not always sure how.

One truism of customer service that many of us forget is this: Words matter. What we say to an angry customer is just as important as how we say it. Certain phrases tend to calm while others tend to annoy or enrage. Knowing which is which is an important part of knowing how to turn unhappy customers into allies again.

Here are a few examples of what we mean.

Don’t Apologize, Empathize

Offering a heartfelt “I’m sorry” isn’t necessarily a bad move when talking to an angry customer. But it rarely does much to soothe angry feelings on its own. “I’m sorry” only tells the customer how you feel. It doesn’t tell him you understand his anger or frustration at all.

We all know how infuriating it can be to engage with someone who dismisses our feelings as unimportant or trivial. That’s why a little empathy goes such a long way.  Simply saying, “I’d be angry, too, if I were in your shoes,” tells your customer that you understand his frustration. It makes you more human and helps defuse the emotion at the same time.

Handle It

In 2011, American Express conducted a survey of consumers to look at attitudes towards customer service. Not surprisingly, a vast majority of those responding said customer service was extremely important to them. But a big chunk of those respondents — one in six, in fact —  felt that most companies weren’t working as hard as they could to keep their customers satisfied.  

When AmEx asked consumers what kind of response most upset them in a customer service interaction, two phrases were tied for first place:

“We’re unable to answer your question. Please call [this number] to speak to a representative from our [some other]  team.

“We’re sorry, but we’re experiencing unusually heavy call volumes. You can hold on or try again later.

The message here is pretty simple: Figure out a way to handle an angry customer in one interaction or one call, and do it efficiently. And if you can’t answer a question, don’t leave the client on hold indefinitely. Say “I don’t know the answer to that but I’ll find out. Can I call you in an hour to discuss how we can get this resolved?”

Coach Your Staff

If your employees regularly interact with angry customers, teach them how to handle negative interactions appropriately. In 2010, RightNow Technologies did a customer impact report that showed that 73 percent of customers had left a business due to interactions with rude staff. So training your staff on how to defuse negative interactions and turn them into positives is an essential business strategy.

What exactly should you teach your staff? Here are a few suggestions from Michael Staver’s “21 Ways to Defuse Anger and Calm People Down:”

  • Breathe: Three slow deep breaths is a time-tested way to calm the body and the mind.
  • Relax: Consciously relax the muscles in your face, jaws and shoulders.
  • Don’t take anything personally: The customer is angry at the situation, not you.
  • Acknowledge the customer’s feelings: “I hear that you’re angry, and I certainly understand why.”
  • Ask directed questions: “What can I do to help?” “How can I make this better for you?”

Teach your staff, too, that they don’t need to handle every angry customer alone. If it seems wise to involve a manager or a supervisor — or if the customer asks to speak to someone else — they should know it’s OK to do so.


Once you’ve addressed your customer’s complaints, make sure that nothing has been left unresolved. You may be anxious to move on from the negative interaction, but it pays to ask “Is there anything else I can do for you?” This gives the customer an opening to ask additional questions or clarify your response.

Say “Thanks!”

Everyone wants to be liked and appreciated. And while you may not feel warm and fuzzy towards a customer who just berated you, their feedback is valuable nevertheless. Research shows that only one out of every 26 angry customers will actually voice their complaints. So your angry customer actually did you a favor by telling you that you’re doing something wrong.


At The Carmoon Group, we know how important customer service is to all of our clients. That’s why we work with you one-on-one to develop a risk management package that’s tailored to your needs. Give us a call today to make an appointment for your annual business insurance review. Or contact us online and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.


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Floyd Arthur

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