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How to Handle Angry Customers


Going from zero to hero in 5 easy steps.

If you're not making customers angry, you're not in business. Any business owner or consultant who claims they never make their customers or clients angry, is a liar, liar, pants on fire.

No one is perfect. No one can make it through their entire career without angering at least one client. Eventually, someone is going to get mad at you. You might deserve it, and then again, you might not. They might have a right to be angry, or they might be entirely irrational.

Regardless if you made the mistake or not, angry customers present a GOLDEN opportunity: you get to be a super-hero.

Let's examine why super heroes are super heroes. They are not super heroes because they pour a good cup of tea, nor are they super heroes because they always put on their turn signal before they change lanes.

Super heroes are super heroes because they take bad or impossible situations, and turn them into a "good guys win" situations.

Therefore, an angry customer is presenting you with an opportunity to be a super hero.

The Secret Ingredient for being your Customer's Super Hero

The biggest mistake you could ever make is to allow the customer to believe that they are on a team by themselves. They need to know and understand that you and the customer are going to attack the problem TOGETHER. It's the two of you versus the problem. The PROBLEM is the evil villain.

As long as you understand that, this 5 step process will work every time.

1. Take the responsibility off the shoulders of the customer

Even if they pressed the red button that said 'do not press this or your system will explode' you cannot blame them for it. If they were the computer expert, they would know not to press the button. Whatever happens, never blame the customer. It will only cause the situation to get worse.

Do not make them feel stupid for what happened. No one wakes up in the morning, and says to themselves: "I think I will try to make the system crash today. I have nothing else to do. I have been bored for the last couple of days, and crashing the server should be a bit of fun. I think I'll crash it just to see the look on the IT guy's face."

Chances are, even if the crash IS the customer's fault, they were only doing what they thought was best. You cannot fault them for trying.

Moreover, even if it is the customer's fault, you must give them a way out so they can save face. Even if the customer tried to put out a small fire with a gallon of gasoline, you cannot fault them for it. You have to give them a way out: "Mr. Customer, I can understand how you could have mistaken that gasoline can for a fire extinguisher. Not only are they the same color, but the words WARNING: GASOLINE. EXPLOSION HAZARD were printed far too small."

2. Gain the customer's confidence

Lead the customer to believe you can actually help them. Let them know that you have the ability to fix the problem and make their life easier. Provide structure for them. Most people find great confidence and reassurance in being told what to do. It gives them something to do so they can feel like they are making progress. It also relieves them of responsibility for a problem they know they cannot fix.

At this point, if you have a procedure, follow it. Be a beacon of calm in the storm. Even if you're scared out of your wits, don't let the customer know it. They can smell fear. Don't let them get a whiff of it!

Always express confidence, even if you have to fake it until you make it. Just like when a child falls down: if the parents overreact, the child will overreact. If the IT people under react, the clients will remain calm.

3. Gain control of the conversation

Gaining control of the conversation is about removing the illogical components of the angry customer's conversation. If you can diffuse that part of the conversation, you'll actually be able to make progress.

The number one key of gaining customer confidence is to let the customer know that they are important. You must be sincere here. If you robotically tell them "You are very important to us" they may or may not believe you. If, however, you tell them you are personally concerned about the problem, and want to really see them through it, they will give you credence.

This can lead right into making them understand that you can empathize with them. Let the customer understand that you understand how they feel. Telling a personal story that is comparable is the best way to help them understand that you have been in their situation too. If their computer is broken, then let them know about a time your car was in the shop. When the customer understands that you understand, they will stop yelling, and start askimg for help.

Once they understand you empathize with their situation, they will become much more amiable and willing to cooperate. So, now is the best time to explain to them the benefits of cooperation. Just lay it out in simple language: "Mr. Customer, I need your help to solve your problem. If you can do the following things for me, then I will be able to give you benefit #1, benefit #2, and benefit #3."

One more hint on gaining control of the conversation: Ignore insults and accusations by the customer. A person who is insulting you has reached the end of their rope, and are now gasping for control over their situation. Remember, you need to get control of the conversation, but you do it by giving them control of the situation. Just help them.

4. Start the process

First, create the case or documentation that is required to work with the customer. Open the ticket, record the case, or do whatever standardized method of tracking that your company uses.

Next, give the customer a realistic depiction of what is going to happen. Don't make promises. Don't give them false hope. It is better to never promise anything than it is to break a promise. Breaking a promise breaks your credibility, and once that is gone, you have no future hope of gaining that customer's trust.

Double check the customer's contact information so they can be secure in the fact that they will be contacted if their further assistance is required.

Put them on the internal schedule, and then give them a time-frame that they can expect the service will BEGIN. Do not promise a resolution date or time if you can help it. You don't want to break a promise that you could have never kept in the first place.

5. Have the customer turn full control over the situation to you

In step three, we gave control of the situation to the customer to empower them while we took control over the conversation. In this step, we ask for them to turn over control back to us. You give the customer a simple list of tasks to do so they can feel like they are contributing to the solution. Ask them if they are ready to get started. If you've done it right, they will give you a resounding "yes!". If not, start the process over again until you are successful.

Once they give you the "OK" to get started, setup clear boundaries. Let them know that you are going to start on it ASAP, and YOU will call THEM once you've made progress to give them an update. You don't need them on the phone or over your shoulder while you are trying to fix the problem. This part of the process is important so that they do not interfere. Nervous customers will invariably prevent you from being able to do your job to the best of your ability.

The Final Hint: Never Apologize

Apologizing is just you blaming yourself for the situation. In this day and age, apologies are often taken as superficial anyway. So don't bother saying "I'm sorry." Not even a passive apology like "I'm sorry you're having this problem." Any apology is superfluous. Instead, tell them that it will be your personal mission for the rest of the day to make sure their problems are fixed. Take ownership of the problem. The customer will appreciate it more.


This five step process will diffuse any situation once you learn to pull it off with tact, finesse, and most importantly: empathy. Once it is perfected, you will not only be able to calm down a hot situation with an angry customer, but you'll even be able to get those same formerly angry customers to recommend you to their friends and colleagues!

Try it out, and post back your results here.

Comments (4)

Author of the Year 2011
Top Expert 2006

DrD -
Well thought-out piece that articulates some good 'Common Sense' thoughts we can all benefit from.
Thank you for putting it together.

"Yes" vote up above.
evilrixEngineering Manager

Still not had a chance to read but I will later. Even so, knowing the author I already know it's gonna be good so +ve vote from me too!
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Nice! It got my thumbs up (Yes vote). I've had angry customers. Far more painful have been the (fortunately rare) patiently disappointed customers. Fortunately, a similar approach works for them as well.
Top Expert 2010

Another terrific article under the category "Things any professional should know and practice"--it's great that EE is getting these types of articles in addition to the articles on specific technical topics.

Great job!

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