Businesses will always have to face angry customers – it’s an immutable fact of life.
And one thing we can say with confidence is; it won’t be long before you face an angry
customer yourself. Someone who demands you resolve an issue they deem to be the fault
of your business.
Customer service staff need to have the skills to handle difficult, angry customers shouting
demands. Demands which are often accompanied by threats to take their business
Your staff, therefore, needs to learn strategies they can use to help appease angry
customers. Soothing a customer brings dual benefits: you get to keep their patronage while
gaining valuable feedback on where your business is going wrong.
This article gives you five tactics you can employ to manage and deal with irate customers.
But let’s first take a quick look at the psychology of anger to better understand the tactics
you can call on.
The Psychology of Anger
Anger at its most basic level is a reflex response to the feeling of pain or loss. Psychology Today says that anger is one of the six basic emotions and is closely associated with the ‘fight, freeze, or flight response’. Anger is the emotion we call upon when we are preparing to fight.
While anger was necessary to help early humans survive in a dangerous world, today, it can surface when we face situations that aren’t necessarily life or death problems.
A new product breaks in a week, we suffer unexpected charges, or new features don’t live
up to customer expectations. All these scenarios can prompt anger in customers, clouding
ordinary judgement and reasoning.
An angry customer believes they have suffered a loss. Anger converts the pain of
vulnerability and transforms it into a sensation of power and control. When a customer is
angry, they feel justified in their position and are looking to you for a resolution which takes
the pain away.
It’s also worth remembering that occasionally anger can be misplaced. A furious customer
may have just argued with their partner or scratched the car wing mirror, and they are having
a bad day.
Now let’s take a look at some of the tactics you can use to soothe an angry customer and
reach a peaceful resolution.
Tactics for Dealing With Angry Customers Via Text.
1. Remain Calm.
Your first reaction to being presented with an angry customer might be to become defensive or even angry yourself. Reacting in this manner is likely to be counterproductive and make the situation worse.
If you meet fire with fire, then the probable outcome will be continued escalation from both
parties, lowering the chance of a successful resolution.
Communicating via text compounds the problem of dealing with angry customers because
you aren’t able to interpret any body language or facial expressions to help you clarify the
situation. The only information you have to go on is the words on a screen in front of you.
Also, occasionally cultural differences can mean that the angry person thinks that their
approach is normal, and it’s acceptable to be rude and aggressive because that is the
standard approach used towards businesses in their home country.
Sometimes too, you may be communicating with a person in a language which they don’t
have much experience speaking. Online translation tools are not perfect. If the angry
customer is translating their messages first before sending, they may appear rude or
So when faced with an angry customer in the medium of text, try to remain calm. Recognise
that angry customers are inevitable from time to time, and it’s normal to be facing the
You need to obtain further information first, before jumping to any conclusions.
I can be useful to employ cognitive distancing techniques. Cognitive Distancing is the
practice of placing the situation into its proper perspective. Pause a beat and think that this
dilemma will be over and forgotten in a few weeks, and life will carry on as usual. It’s only
one angry customer.
Another cognitive distancing technique you can try is to close your eyes and change your
seated position. Try and envision yourself as an interested onlooker to the situation, what
advice would you give to handle the situation?
Cognitive Distancing helps you to remain more objective and see the situation more clearly,
giving you space to work out the practicalities you can employ to deal with the problem.
2. Ask Questions
The first step in achieving a resolution with an angry customer is to acknowledge their anger
and politely ask for further information about the complaint.
Phrases you might use here are:
‘Thank you for your feedback, can I ask a few questions to make sure I understand
‘I’m sorry for this problem, and I’ll work with you now to find a solution. Can you tell
me when the issue first started?’
It becomes more difficult for a customer to maintain a heightened state of anger when asked
to explain the details of a situation. The customer needs to pause to organise their thoughts
and compose their response, taking heat away from the outburst.
When the customer is answering your questions, don’t interrupt them; let them say
everything they want. If you interrupt a customer because you think you know where they
are headed, you could likely make the situation worse because the customer may feel they
are not being listened to.
Handle the customer’s anger first, before you work on a resolution to their issue.
Follow up on the customers stated problem with appropriate questions to clarify the situation.
Avoid immediately telling the customer that they are wrong. You need to understand the root
of the problem the customer has first.
Is your store out of stock of the customer’s favourite product? Maybe it’s not the first time the
customer made contact about a known issue with your product that remains unresolved.
Until you establish the reason behind the customer’s anger, you can’t begin to work on a
Customer anger can also derive from the perception they are not being listened to.
Remember, the customer is not solely looking for a resolution; they likely also want some
sort of recognition that they are angry.
Use your questions to try and quantify the level of anger the customer is feeling. Is it only a
small scratch on the wing mirror or a considerable dent in the car door? Understanding the
level of anger and the scale of the problem will help you to measure your response.
3. Show Compassion, Empathy, and Remain Polite.
Always endeavour to treat angry customers with compassion and empathy and, above all,
remain polite. Begin the conversation with a neutral tone, at least until the situation develops
where a shift in tone may be appropriate.
Messages that acknowledge the customer’s problem and anger are a great starting point, so
you might type a message like one of the following;
“I understand; I’d be frustrated too in your position.”
“I know this can be frustrating; let me get this resolved for you now.”
“I’m sorry that this is happening; let me take some details first.”
One word of caution, just because you use compassion and empathy doesn’t mean that you
need to become emotionally invested with the customer. Of course, you want to do your
best for them, but try and resolve the problem without forming an attachment you’ll take
away with you after the conversation ends.
Think about how a Doctor has to give tough news to patients, perhaps several times per day.
The Doctor would be unable to fulfil their role effectively if they feel the anguish of every
life-changing interaction they have.
There is a balance to be struck between acting with empathy towards your customer and
letting the emotion of the situation cloud your feelings.
A further point worth mentioning is that pseudo compassion and empathy is easy for most
people to spot. Using tired old platitudes, like; “I’m sorry we’ve not met your expectations” or
“ I hear how difficult this challenge is right now.”, are likely to annoy the customer and make a
resolution more difficult.
When the customer is looking to have their problem resolved, and their pride restored, an
apology can go a long way.
Whatever the issue at hand, begin your messages with an apology. You should start by
saying sorry, even if the problem’s not your personal responsibility. Customer-facing
employees represent the company and should respond as such.
It’s a good idea to make your apology appear personal too. Steer clear from using phrases
“We’re sorry if this has caused any inconvenience.”
“We’re sorry that you feel that way.”
These types of phrases minimise the customer’s anger, demonstrate insensitivity, and are
unlikely to lead to a happy resolution.
Instead, use these types of phrases, which contain a personal element to them.
“I’m sorry that this has happened, let me resolve this for you right away.’
“I’m very sorry for this [problem], it must have been awful for you to deal with.”
Another route to that also serves to quell customer anger is to apologise and do a little
ego-stroking at the same time, like;
“I’m sorry that this problem happened, but thank you for bringing it to our attention.
This [problem] could affect other customers too, so I’ll start the ball rolling on a fix
Sometimes, though, it’s OK to say ‘no’ to a customer. Occasionally, the customer is angry
because of a problem where they are at fault. For example, you may have sold them an
expensive cashmere sweater which they have washed at a high temperature, shrinking the
In this situation, it’s OK to acknowledge the customer’s anger and empathise with them but
without taking any responsibility. In this situation you might say;
“I’m sorry to hear that you shrank your new sweater, that must be very frustrating for
you. However, we do print laundry instructions on the sweater label and only
recommend a cool wash for our cashmere garments.”
If the problem lies with your business, own it. If not, be sensitive without accepting blame.
5. Give A Reason.
Sometimes there are no alternatives to giving a customer bad news. The customer cannot
always be right, so when you need to tell the customer ‘no’, always provide them with the
Try and avoid giving responses like the following when you have to deliver bad news:
“It’s company policy.”
“You can find further details on the help section of our website.”
These typical inadequate customer service responses aggravate customers. Remember,
upset customers are looking for recognition of their anger and their problem resolved. If you
remedy neither of these, then at the very least you face losing their custom and potentially
word-of-mouth reputational damage too.
Instead, soften the blow of saying ‘no’ by providing the reasoning behind your position. You
“Unfortunately we are unable to accept a return and issue a refund because those items are
classified as intimate, and we are unable to resell them.”
“I’m sorry, but you can’t pull through that data, because that process contains proprietary
information, so it’s not available via our API.”
The keyword to remember in this situation is ‘because’; should you have disappoint your
customer, always include the reason why.
The best way to handle angry customers is by understanding and empathising with their
Remain calm and let the customer explain the issue and ask further questions to clarify in full
the precise nature of the complaint. Be polite and be sure to acknowledge their anger and
empathise with their situation without becoming personally invested.
If their problem is your organisation’s fault, apologise. Use personal language for your
apology, and try to avoid stock phrases which minimise their experience. Tell the customer
how you will resolve the issue, and give them the exact steps of the resolution process.
Should the fault lie with the customer, acknowledge their anger but politely explain why you
can’t help them and give the reason why.
Empathy is key to dealing with angry customers. We all get angry from time to time; it’s a
natural human emotion. So when you face your next angry customer, recognise that it’s an
expected occurrence and apply some of the tactics outlined above. Good luck!