How to deal with angry customers on the phone

It doesn’t matter if you do everything right and as carefully as possible, at some point, you’re going to deal with an angry customer on the phone.

But how to proceed from there? The customer is already angry and in some cases you won’t even know why right away. Is there a way to defuse this situation without making it worse?

Yes. Yes, there is.

1. Relax the customer

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An early tactic to relax the customer is to immediately make sure they know you’re there to solve their problem. That is, don’t try to avoid the conversation or undermine what they’re saying.

Instead, ask what’s wrong and pay attention. They will feel like you’re actively listening and trying to figure out a way to work things out.

2. Listen

Also extremely important for the early stages of the conversation — focus on listening rather than talking.

Whenever you have to say something, speak in a calm manner, don’t raise your voice, and focus on the first point — trying to relax the customer. For this, it’s always better to let them talk first, let them vent off whatever the problem is until the end, and only then make your point.

3. Stay calm

It’s no use getting warmed up here — it would only make everything worse. Keep a cool head and while you’re listening, focus on the two most important matters: why exactly is the customer angry, and can you turn this around?

One thing is for sure: you will absolutely not be able to turn it around if your first reaction is anger.

As frustrating as it may be at first, simply take a deep breath and engage the customer as a friend who’s trying to help.

4. Put yourself in their shoes

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This can help you remain calm while listening to an angry rant: remember the customer has no personal gripe with you.

What likely happened is that they asked for a service and somewhere along the line there was a misunderstanding. It can be one of a thousand possible things, but at its most basic, that’s what it was — a single misunderstanding.

Once you understand that, it becomes much easier to identify it, clear it up, and most importantly, make up for it.

Think of it this way: you would be just as upset if a contractor you hired failed to deliver in some way.

5. Disengage arguments

Arguing with an angry customer is a recipe for disaster… unless you go about it the correct way.

There’s an important distinction to be made here: we’re not saying you should just agree to whatever terms the customer throws at you and accept the blame for everything in order to make it up for them. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to you (albeit necessary at times). What you should do is make your points calmly, rationally, and as clearly as possible.

Be wary though, because the thing about anger is that it blinds you — and your customer might be blind with anger. Even if you make your points perfectly, they might still refuse to see reason.

This is why the early stages of the conversation are so important. If the customer sees you’re listening and believes you’re actually going to try solving the situation, they might be much more relaxed by this point, and therefore much more willing to listen.

6. Offer to call back later or meet the customer

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A tip that can work in your favor is to offer to call back at a later time or even offering to meet the customer in person to discuss the matter more clearly.

Don’t do this right away thought, it might give the impression you’re simply trying to evade the customer. First listen to what they have to say, reassure them, and then proceed.

This is good because not only does it give you time to figure things out and prepare yourself, but if you do meet the customer later (especially in person), you will likely be talking to a much friendlier version. By now they’ve already vented off their frustration in the first phone call (because you listened!) and now they know you’re there to sort things out.

7. Own up to your mistakes

Although it can (and will happen) that customers will rage at you for something that isn’t entirely your fault or simply a misunderstanding, there will definitely be cases where it was actually your fault.

Most of the points in this article were made assuming you might have some fault, but the focus was on dealing with a hot-headed customer — regardless of your fault on the matter.

However, in the event you did make a mistake, and you know the customer is justifiably angry… you have to own up to it.

And owning up is not just apologizing — admit where you did wrong and make amends. Don’t give excuses.


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