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Turning that frown upside down: How to manage an angry customer

Working in a customer service environment means it’s never a question of if your team members get an angry caller, so much as when. No matter how good your customer service scores may be, or how strong your brand is in the marketplace, operating a customer service team is still a numbers game, and irate callers are a fact of life. Dealing with a caller over the phone or any other channel can be a dehumanising experience, so it’s important your team helps customers feel at ease as quickly as possible, especially when they’re trying to manage an angry customer. Re-affirming their humanity plays a big role in building rapport, and it all comes down to displaying human virtues of empathy, respect, and sincerity.


In a recent article on how staff can show empathy in calls, identified five core actions that grease the wheels of successful engagement.

1. Assess

Make it clear to the caller that you want to help them solve their issue or complaint by asking questions to help better understand the problem.

2. Clarify

Help the caller feel heard by paraphrasing your understanding of the situation back to them, and asking if you’ve missed anything, or if they want to add anything further.

3. Reassure

First up, thank the caller for helping you understand and, if it’s a serious issue, for bringing it to your attention. Then, tell them what you will do next to address their matter, so they’re clear on what action you’ll be taking on their behalf.

4. Act

Even the calmest caller doesn’t want to be stuck on a long call; an already angry customer will want action. Fast. Explain what you’re doing for them right now, and how long this step (or the whole process) will take. In taking control of the situation for them, you’re relieving them of the problem, and putting them at ease.

5. Commit

Commit to following up with them as you progress and resolve the issue (if this is what they want) and give them a clear time frame. Encouraging the caller to reach out again if they need further help will build rapport and strengthen their perception of your company.


Sorry. We had to do it. And besides, if anyone knew the value of respect, it was the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. But respect is a two-way street, and boundaries play a strong part in that. Whatever your staff have to deal with, you expect them to be courteous and professional. [Related article:  Tips for dealing with distressed & vulnerable customers

Customers call in for a huge variety of reasons and may have all sorts of things going on in their lives at the time. Which is why empathy can be so powerful. Sometimes, callers need to let off steam before they can get down to the business of letting you solve their issue. It’s important your staff don’t take these tirades personally or feel unnecessarily uncomfortable.

Make sure every team member has the tools and support they need to manage an angry customer effectively and take the appropriate action. This might be something like offering an alternative service or solution or escalating the call to a supervisor or manager. Importantly, make sure you have processes in place on how to deal with aggressive or threatening callers.  It’s so important that your team members keep their cool, while remaining resolute in attempting to resolve the underlying issue.


Tact and sensitivity are paramount when you’re empathising with callers.

Any whiff of condescension or dismissal can undo all your other efforts to diffuse the caller’s anger or frustration. While we’ve so far talked on how to approach an angry caller, we’ve not given any advice on the words or language you should use. Information abounds on what to say and what not to say, but what counts more than anything is the delivery. To make a real impact with an angry customer – or any customer – the caller needs to hear the sincerity of concern in your team member’s voice.

Yes, they should be aware of phrases that show empathy without admitting fault or making presumptions; or that clearly express their commitment to act, swiftly, on the caller’s behalf. But it’s important they express those sentiments in a way that is meaningful and sincere to them so they make a more genuine connection with your customer.

Helping you weather the storm

Under the cloud of unknowns that is the current COVID-19 climate, people are under more stress than ever before We all handle stress differently, and you may have found it starting to show in some of your staff, and with customers’ calls.

Ensuring your team has exceptional tools to enable them to do their jobs efficiently will be one less source of stress.

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Get in touch to get started.