Talking Tips

Six serious faux pas when dealing with angry customers

Sometimes  athe best-intentioned customer service people can be knocked off their game when confronted by an unhappy, emotionally charged customer. I have witnessed company representatives inadvertently exacerbate heated situations due to lack of self-awareness, poor word choices and the inability to finesse discontented clients.

Here are six things you should never do when dealing with a customer who is visibly angry.

Do not try to ignore the fact that this customer is upset in hopes they will calm down. I have seen service reps enrage disgruntled customers by failing to acknowledge the emotion the customer is experiencing. Simply telling an angry customer “I can see this is frustrating for you” helps the customer to see you understand, which is what an angry customer needs in order to calm down. When people feel they have been heard it helps to bring down their tensions.

Do not interrupt an angry customer. Unwittingly, customer service people will try to solve the customer’s issue before they hear them out. However, studies have shown, people lose their ability to reason when they are in an emotional tither. Allowing them to vent helps them to calm down. Trying to cut them off so you can try to resolve the issue is like trying to put a lid on a volcano. In most instances, they won’t be able to hear you until they feel they have been heard.

Do not use words like “I apologize” to try to shut the customer up. Apologizing to a customer who is having a bad experience with your company is very important, however it must be connected to genuine empathy. When these words are rote and your attitude screams indifference, even the best choice of words can do more harm than good.

Do not take the bait. Sometimes customers will provoke you with statements that are irrelevant to the issue. For instance, they may say something like, “You people don’t know what you’re doing”. Do not allow yourself to get caught up in defending yourself or the company, that is a non-issue. Stick to resolving the matter at hand.

Do not use confrontational language. There are words and phrases that convey to the customer you are certain you are right. It does not consider the other person; it suggests the customer is to blame. Co-operative language invites a discussion rather than challenging the other person. This is centered around a mindset that is often missing in the customer service spectrum.

Do not use “That’s against our policy”. This phrase is what customer service people use to shut the customer down. Therein lies the problem. One of the reasons customers ‘carry on’ is because there is a perception of “company against the customer”. This is a horrible way to portray the organization. A company representatives’ job is to convey we are on the same side. Policies are to protect the company not the customer. Instead of creating a divide with the word ‘policy’, explain to the customer guidelines that have been implemented to protect them. Here is an example, instead of “It is against our policy to exchange bathing suits” try “We would never want to expose you or any of our customers to bathing suits that may have been worn.”

When handled properly, your most difficult customer can become your biggest promoter. Your team can discover tactics, the right word choices and mindset needed to not only calm an angry customer but turn them into loyal patrons who sing your praises at my upcoming How to Handle Difficult Customers Workshop, December 5. Send me an email for more information.

• Kim Welcome is the chief executive officer of Influential Voice. A communication trainer and coach, she assists businesses and professionals to achieve their goals by helping them to develop deliberate, skillful, polished communication skills. Contact: or call 242-225-9013.

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