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How to Deal With Difficult and Angry Customers (Tips + Examples)

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How to Deal With Difficult and Angry Customers (Tips + Examples)

Nov 22, 2022
7 min read
Hiver HQ
Harsh Vardhan

Table of contents

Dealing with angry customers is a litmus test for your customer service team. It’s something that can make or break your brand, in today’s day and age. 

And despite the millions of dollars companies invest in customer service, it’s probably safe to say that a good share of interactions with customer support still leaves customers angry and dissatisfied.

For instance, here’s a classic case when a billion-dollar corporation managed to screw up:

How an angry customer used social media to share his poor experience | Twitter

The most glaring mistake from British Airways was not that they lost a bag, but rather that they took seven hours to reply to a tweet! This guy went ahead and spent a whopping $1000 to promote the tweet and publicly defame the airlines.

So, let’s try and understand why exactly customers get angry.

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3 reasons why customers get angry

The root cause of your frustrated customers is that they feel disrespected. Unknowingly, companies apply customer support practices that are disrespectful to customers in one way or the other.

Guy Winch, the author of Squeaky Wheel, says: When it comes to the psychology of good customer service, customers have only one sensitive trait – respect.

Let’s dig deeper.

1. Companies have little respect for customers’ time

Time is a commodity everyone values. Every time a customer faces a problem, they lose time (a) finding out contact information, (b) maneuvering through complex websites and support sections, and (c) eventually being able to reach an actual person who will put them on hold or an email address which fetches a reply after ten hours.

Let’s be honest here: a lot of companies suck at dealing with irate customers. Even when they do manage to solve a customer’s complaint, the enormous amount of time that is wasted in the process leaves them irked.

It’s understandable that coming up with a solution might involve reaching out to a few people or going back to the handbook. However, the customer was not ready to face a problem in the first place – every extra minute spent is a minute wasted.

It gets even more annoying when a customer has to talk to multiple support reps. The joy of receiving a solution is usually overshadowed by the test of patience they had to take during the episode.

Hiver’s Shared Inbox will ensure your customers never face delays again. It will also help your support team collaborate better. 

2. Companies have little respect for customers’ dignity

Let’s face another hard truth: companies do not always respect the customers’ dignity. In a market where treating tough customers is a priority for most businesses, there is a surprisingly high number of incidents when companies come across as mean, rude, and rough.

Chip Wilson, the CEO of Lululemon, a lingerie and workout retailer is a classic example. The guy says most of their unhappy customers were just too fat to wear their clothes!

Below are the headlines from around the internet after he made the derogatory comment:

Headlines published over the derogatory comment by the CEO of Lululemon

Such instances are a blow to customers’ dignity – it is natural for them to get angry every time they face a problem.

3. Companies have little respect for customer’s intelligence

You start by coaxing the customer: you value them and that they mean everything to you. You tell them that your company believes in customer satisfaction. You tell them that the product was designed to solve all of their problems. 

Now, when they face a problem with the product, you put them on hold for thirty minutes; you send them automated messages from the support email address; your reps act hostile while trying to make the customer understand a solution.

Impersonal automated emails sent from generic support addresses

Later, when it comes to displaying customer loyalty, you send them knick-knacks such as pens and t-shirts with your company logos. It does not really convey that you respect your customers’ intelligence.

Customers would rather have you treat them like adults. Solve problems diligently – this engenders loyalty more than anything else.

Respect is the cornerstone of building trust among customers. This is one concept that needs to be propagated across the layers of an organization.

How to deal with difficult customers

Customers – both unhappy and difficult ones – are a source of valuable insight. Shunning away from the tough ones is losing out on a big learning opportunity.

Less than 4% of your angry customers will let you know about their frustrating experience. 96% of them won’t share their annoyance, and 91% of them will churn.

The key is to learn as much as you can from the customers who are unhappy and incorporate the same in your business decisions. It is, however, equally crucial to deal with angry customers in a way that sets them up for long-term loyalty.


In addition to putting your customer service skills to use, here are five tips that can help:

1. Approach with a Zen mind and compassion to handle difficult customers

In scenarios when a customer is angry, our first natural reaction is to be defensive.

Our brain perceives handling upset customers as a threat and enters into a stress mode – fight or flight. This is exactly when we have to take control of our minds. 

Firstly, do not assume anything. To deal with difficult customers, keep an open mind. Secondly, do not just focus on resolving your customers’ problems. Understand their journey and make sure you provide them with excellent customer service.

A good service rep should also learn how to combine a Zen mind with compassion. They should focus on putting themselves in the customer’s shoes and understanding why the customer is angry. Let go of what “should have” happened and focus on the current situation.

California Tortilla certainly throws in some Zen here:

California Tortilla’s response to an angry customer

A simple “I understand this must be frustrating for you” goes a long way in handling difficult customers when they are at their worst.

2. Calm them down by asking questions

Our standard response to a customer’s anger is defense. It is a natural tendency to argue with irate customers.

Well, science disagrees.

It is psychological fact that you cannot change even a relaxed person’s mind, let alone an infuriated person’s. Arguing with the customer will only make the situation worse even when their claims are actually unfounded. So, how would you handle a dissatisfied customer?

Ask questions. While dealing with unhappy customers, move straight to asking questions about the problem they’re facing. 

Practice active listening. Focus on understanding what the customer is saying and don’t cast any judgment at this stage. All you have to do is understand the details of the problem.

It is a good tip for dealing with angry customers before you can actually move to a rational resolution.

Being listened to will make the customer feel that you take them seriously. The act of talking and explaining the problem brings their minds to a rational state. They will be calmer than they were when they initially called.

This is also a good time to thank them for pointing you to the issue. A bit of ego-boosting will open doors to a rational conversation.

3. Apologize for the situation

More often than not, the customer would be angry about something that was never under your control. The human tendency is to shift the blame.

A company might respond to an infuriated customer saying it was not their fault. All this does is shake the faith the customer has in your company.

It doesn’t get much better or more direct than Jeff Bezos’ apology for how they handled pulling copies of 1984 and other novels off Kindles:

Jeff Bezo’s apology for pulling copies of novels off Kindles | David Meerman Scott

You have to train your customer service team to use the same principle while dealing with angry customers. They have to remember that they are the face of your company. A rep has to willingly take responsibility for the customer’s issue at hand.

An apology will help diffuse the situation quickly and open doors for resolution. An apology tells your customer that you regret them having to interrupt their day to make that call. Here are some ways how you can write effective apology emails to your customers.

4. Reinstate trust and resolve the problem

The most important part of dealing with angry customers is finding a resolution. That’s where you get to apply your understanding and close the loop.

Put your communication skills to use here. Start with a positive statement such as, “We’re going to solve this together” It will help them feel reassured about the resolution process.

The first question you should ask them is, “What would you consider a fair and reasonable solution?” Asking what they would consider a fair deal helps set the right customer expectations from the start. 

At the same time, you have to watch out for patronizing phrases such as “How can I help you” or “How can I make you happy?” 

In instances when you need to reach out to someone in order to solve the customer’s problem, most reps have a tendency to give out vague responses such as “I will get back to you as soon as I can.” This is a bad idea as it would leave your customer wondering whether you have a solution.

Instead, tell them exactly what you’ll do, and indicate how much time that’ll take. A great response to such situations is: “I will have to reach out to my product engineers for this. Allow me to call you in 2 hours.”

If you do not have a solution within the next two hours, call them anyway and tell them that you are working on it. Tell them the product team thanks you for pointing out the problem. A small reassurance is a must every time you talk to them.

5. Follow up, and express gratitude

The goal of every support interaction must be more than just addressing your customer’s needs and concerns. The actual measure of success is whether you have been able to preserve the investment you’ve made in the customer.

Ask your customer a very straightforward question: “Are you satisfied with the solution?” It goes a long way in showing that you care.

It’s surprising to see most companies in a hurry to close tickets. The most common parting note I have come across is “Is there something else we can do for you?” You do not have to sound like you’re doing the customer a favor by solving their problem!

It’s a great idea to express a little gratitude at the end of customer interactions and say thank you.

These customers have probably helped your team members discover a few areas of the product that did not perform the way they were supposed to – thank them for that! Do not stop at just one follow-up. Reach out to them in a month to see if everything is working fine. 

Wrapping up

There is always a way to defuse a difficult situation or respond to an unhappy customer email. What separates the best support systems from others is their ability to transform angry clients into satisfied customers.

Science shows that to truly become a master on how to calm down an angry customer, you must be able to identify and acknowledge where they are coming from.

Empathy is key. More than anything else, the caller wants to know that they’re being addressed as a real person. Learn to relate to your caller, and the appropriate response will follow suit.

But turning a negative customer experience into a positive one and handling irate customers calmly is just the first step in building customer relationships. Go a step ahead and strive to earn a loyal customer base.

Harsh is the content lead at Hiver. He's jocular, loves dogs, and is always up for a road trip. He also reads - when Netflix gets boring.

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