For a support agent, few things can ruin your day faster than answering a call and hearing an angry customer start venting on the other end. It’s hard to help someone who’s complaining, venting, or cursing at you—and it’s even harder to want to help them.
These uncomfortable exchanges are difficult to shake, making it tough to focus on the next customer, who may be perfectly nice.
So, how do you deal with irate customers in a way that allows you to help them without feeling wounded in the process?
How to deal with angry customers: 17 steps
As a customer service representative, you’re likely the first point of contact for customers, acting as the face of your company. When a frustrated customer reaches out with an issue, it’s important to practice techniques that allow you to diffuse the situation and provide a great experience to build a stronger customer relationship.
- Stay calm
- Be an active listener
- Personalize the interaction
- Acknowledge your customer’s emotions
- Use positive language
- Restate what they told you
- Build trust
- Thank them
- Move to an appropriate channel
- Think critically
- Don’t take it personally
- Set clear next steps
- Stay consistent
- Explore solutions
- Ask for help
- Share knowledge with your team
- Hang up (as a last resort)
1. Stay calm
When an angry customer takes their frustrations out on you, it’s perfectly natural to take it personally. Your instincts may tell you to get defensive, especially when you know the customer is wrong. But remember, you’re there for customer support. You need to help them resolve their issues and diffuse tensions.
Before reacting, take a moment to process the situation so you can respond with a level head:
- Try to understand that the customer isn’t mad at you: They’re frustrated with the product or service, and you’re the person to vent to.
- Keep calm and speak with a composed voice: This can help disarm even the angriest of customers and increase the odds of de-escalating the situation.
Remember, you always have the option to involve your manager for extra support, especially if the customer is being abrasive, aggressive, or rude.
2. Be an active listener
They’re angry, and they want to be heard. If you’re their first interaction, give them the floor and actively listen to what they have to say. It’s your customer’s time to express what they’re feeling and experiencing. Take the opportunity to listen and support them through the resolution process.
If you’re the second or third touchpoint for this customer, repeating information or rehashing their experience might escalate the situation even further. If you have a conversational CRM, all their interaction history will be in one place, giving you the context to help them resolve their issue—when you have the floor.
Practice active listening by:
- Taking opportunities to verbalize that you’re listening—use words like “I see” or “of course.”
- Focus on key words they use so you can mirror their language and acknowledge their feelings.
3. Personalize the interaction
Saying the customer’s name and introducing yourself can be powerful when de-escalating a stressful interaction. It creates a human connection and serves as a reminder that you’re real people instead of faceless, nameless voices.
Here are examples of how to personalize the interaction:
- Use customer data and context provided by your conversational CRM to lead with information, so they don’t have to repeat or rehash things they’ve said in the past.
- Make suggestions based on their purchase history or preferences to show them that they aren’t just another customer—and you aren’t just another rep.
4. Acknowledge your customer’s emotions
Instead of jumping straight into problem-solving, spend a moment validating how your customer feels. Use this opportunity to play to your customer’s human side.
If your team made a mistake, be transparent about the cause that contributed to their issue. That context helps your customer understand that everyone, even the customer service rep they’re angry with, is just trying to do their best.
Here are some examples of how to acknowledge your customer’s emotions:
- Try something as simple as stating that you understand the pain they’re experiencing.
- You can also apologize or say, “You’re right” if your company dropped the ball.
5. Use positive language
Using negative language during an interaction with an angry customer is a great way to light the fuse in an already explosive situation. Instead, carefully craft your responses using positive language to lift the conversation and steer it toward a satisfactory resolution. Injecting positive language into the interaction suggests to the customer that you’re glad to help and want to work toward a positive resolution together.
Positive language tips:
- Avoid language that isolates the customer or suggests their concerns aren’t valid.
- Use words like “absolutely” and “definitely” instead of “actually” or “unfortunately.”
6. Restate what they told you
Restating what the customer said ties into active listening and shows that you’re attentive and interested in helping them resolve their issues. You can also use this tactic to ensure you understand their situation and what they want from you.
After restating what your customer told you, ask them to confirm that you got it right. A simple agreement goes a long way toward de-escalating tension and putting you both into a more comfortable space.
Here’s how to restate what the customer said and improve the situation:
- Use the customer’s words to signal that you’re not minimizing their pain.
- Look for opportunities to tweak their language to something less loaded and more tangible.
7. Build trust
An angry customer has likely had a negative experience with your product, service, or company in general. The relationship may be damaged, and to repair it, you need to work on re-establishing any lost trust.
Here are some examples of how you can demonstrate to the customer that you care, understand their issue, and genuinely want to help them find a resolution:
- Take responsibility: The customer will respect your ownership of the issue when you’re at fault and start to let down their walls.
- Be honest and transparent: Walk them through each step of the resolution process to show them you’re doing everything you can to help them.
8. Thank them
Simply thanking an angry customer for bringing the issue to your attention can help you build rapport with them. This makes the customer feel that they are a valuable part of your business and can help improve issues that you may not have otherwise known existed.
Other examples of when to thank your customers:
- When they provide feedback
- To acknowledge their patience during a lengthy resolution process
9. Move to an appropriate channel
Don’t be afraid to embrace omnichannel support and move the conversation to a different medium so you can better help your angry customer. It might make sense to move a social media or text conversation to the phone if it gets particularly heated.
Likewise, you may need to switch to a video call so you can screen share as you troubleshoot their issue. Communicating via video will also allow you to analyze their body language, empathize, and have a more human conversation.
Here are a few best practices to follow:
- Don’t force your customer to move to a channel they aren’t comfortable or familiar with.
- Meet the customer where they are and only move the conversation to another channel if it’s appropriate for better communication or a faster resolution.
10. Think critically
Do they want a refund or are they just looking for someone to validate their experience? Remember, the reason your customer is angry can change throughout their interaction with you and your team. Before addressing your customer’s request, you must understand their motivation.
You may need to go above and beyond your usual problem-solving to help your customer out, and that’s okay. Take in all the information the customer provides and try to track down the root of the problem. The issue may not be your fault after all.
Here are examples of how to think critically during an angry customer situation:
- Review each step of the process with your customer to try and pinpoint what caused the issue.
- Ask the customer for detailed answers when you suspect the issue may have occurred on the customer’s side.
11. Don’t take it personally
Whether you’re a customer support representative or the manager that an irate customer demands to speak with, most times, your customer’s anger will have little to do with you. But you’ll have to bear the brunt of their venting.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”Reverend John Watson
Your unhappy customers are at the mercy of their situations, ramifications, baseline stress levels, and coping skills. They may be angry, but you’re not to blame.
- Remember that your customer’s anger is not about you.
- Investigate everything that could be contributing to your customer’s anger.
Understanding these things will help you distance yourself from the fault the customer may be trying to force on you. It also makes it easier to see the other person as nuanced, in distress, and worthy of your empathy.
12. Set clear next steps
You often won’t be able to solve your angry customer’s problem right away. When that happens, it becomes even more critical to communicate exactly how your team will fix their issue and what to expect.
One best practice is to walk customers through a roadmap of how you plan to solve their problems. This roadmap includes:
- What you’ll do for them right away
- What comes after that
- When they can expect a follow-up or resolution
Set customer expectations by telling them the next steps. If your customer knows when you’ll follow up or when their issue will be resolved, they won’t need to call every hour for an update. Communicating clear next steps prevents the situation from becoming more heated and putting more pressure on your team. By following through as promised, you can diminish your customer’s anger.
13. Stay consistent
Inconsistent customer service interactions can confuse and escalate angry customers. It’s critical for everyone on your team to be on the same page about what’s happening and what the solution is.
Consistency keeps the customer from rehashing the details too many times, which can often make them more irritated. Repeating information is a big pain point, and most consumers will reward businesses that save them from repeating themselves. According to the Zendesk Customer Experience Trends Report 2022, 92 percent of shoppers will spend more with companies that won’t make them repeat information.
Examples of how to stay consistent include:
- Share customer data, history, and context across channels.
- Collaborate with other customer-facing departments so everyone knows what the customer wants, their history, their plan, their pain point, what they’ve done so far to resolve it, and the recommended solution.
14. Explore all solutions
This demonstrates to your customer that you’re putting in the effort to do everything in your power to help them. It also shows them you’re trying to find the best solution instead of a quick fix so you can finish the conversation and move on to the next one.
“Showing that you’re willing to work for them, not take the easy way out, goes a long way even if it results in the same outcome.”Erin Hampe, Senior Manager of Customer Trust at Zendesk
Say your customer comes to you demanding a refund, but you know a refund isn’t an option. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to your manager and ask for it anyway. Even though the odds of a refund are small, your manager might have alternative ideas for a solution that could satisfy the customer.
15. Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to ask for help in uncomfortable situations or when you have trouble finding a satisfactory solution for an angry customer. A teammate or manager can analyze the situation and determine the best next steps for you and the customer. A manager can also do more investigating and open closed doors for your customer in some cases.
Here are examples of when to ask for help:
- When a customer uses abusive or inappropriate language, loop in a manager for a subjective review to help navigate or terminate the customer interaction.
- For more technical questions, reach out to your product or engineering team or ask fellow customer service reps how they approached a similar issue.
16. Share knowledge with your team
Understanding angry customers and the reasons behind their frustration can help your teams:
- Identify the root cause of recurring issues.
- Proactively address and eliminate similar issues before they can occur.
- Build training and coaching exercises on how to deal with irate customers and handle uncomfortable situations.
The best way to analyze this information is to share knowledge between teams. Create an easy way for employees to share feedback about—or from—angry customers, so everyone has valuable information at their fingertips. When teams can easily collaborate on customer issues, it helps the business find better solutions.
17. Hang up (as a last resort)
Yes, it’s an option. But if you go this route, involve a manager beforehand.
Involving a manager gives them a chance to help you think through creative solutions and exhaust all options. It also gives them the visibility needed to know that you did everything possible in that situation.
If a customer repeatedly contacts your team to the point of harassment, it may not be worth spending the time and resources to nurture them into loyal customers. Long-term customer issues can take up hundreds of hours and cost teams more than the customer’s worth.
Hanging up is an appropriate action when:
- The customer makes personal insults to the support agent.
- The customer makes physical threats.
- The customer refuses to stop yelling or using inappropriate language.
What makes an angry customer angry?
What drives a customer to get angry in the first place? Knowing what contributes to customer anger and frustration can often help you address their issues quickly—and get them back into a better mood.
1. Product issues
When customers experience a gap between their expectations of your product and the reality of what they’re experiencing, they’re usually up-front with their feelings.
Your customer might be embarrassed about not being able to get your product to work, and because you represent the company, they’re taking it out on you. No one likes feeling incompetent, and asking for help can be challenging and stressful for people who are used to being self-sufficient.
- Your product is more challenging to set up and/or use than they anticipated.
- Your product doesn’t do what they thought it would.
- Your product isn’t making life as easy as they think it should.
- Your product has stopped working, partially or completely.
- They’ve tried to figure it out already, without success.
They might feel lied to or betrayed by your company or the product itself. If they have reasonable expectations that aren’t being met, apologize, and work to find a solution. If their expectations are incorrect—because they received inaccurate information or they assumed, missed, or misinterpreted some information—it’s important to reset their expectations and see if you can prevent others from having the same experience.
2. Support woes
With more than 60 percent of customers saying they have higher customer service standards now compared to last year, it’s no wonder that customers can quickly become frustrated with subpar support. If past customer service experiences with your organization haven’t met the customer’s expectations—or they’ve been burnt by other companies—they may no longer feel that businesses care about their needs.
- They’ve been waiting longer than anticipated for a response.
- They think they won’t like your answer.
- They’ve had to repeat information when speaking to new agents.
- They have other unresolved issues with you.
- They had one or more bad previous support experiences—with your team or other companies.
- They have an incorrect expectation of the level of support they are entitled to.
What’s more challenging—the customer may have had a phenomenal service experience with a different company, perhaps not even in your industry, and they now expect that same level of support from everyone.
Because an angry customer might feel abandoned, powerless, or victimized, there’s often a great opportunity to show that you really do care. The commitment you bring to solving their issue not only helps rebuild trust in your organization but also their faith in customer service. You might even set the new gold standard for their next support experience.
3. What’s hitting the fan
When your product or service is impacting or causing issues for your customer, they could be dealing with the internal consequences on their side.
This can stir up feelings like anger, guilt, anxiety, fear, loss of self-esteem, and even protective defensiveness on behalf of their own customers. They may communicate these feelings right away or bring them up later if they feel like you aren’t meeting their needs.
- They can’t accomplish the tasks they need to do (which could have personal or business implications).
- Your product might be just one of many tasks they’re responsible for.
- Their customers are unhappy and could be leaving.
- Their personal performance can suffer, leading to lost opportunities or putting their job in jeopardy.
Meet their emotions head-on, reflecting and validating that their tasks and customers are important to you. Reassure the customer that you’re on their side to help put them in a better place to listen to your solutions.
4. Anticipation anguish
When customers face consequences that can be more long term or threaten their standing among peers, anxiety and fear can take over. The concern over a negative future can be highly stressful and lead customers to lash out.
There might even be a pre-existing resentment towards you if a customer advocated for a different product and their company picked yours instead.
- They advocated for your product, so it’s their neck on the line if it doesn’t work.
- They (individually) represent your product to their coworkers or family, so if it isn’t producing results, it makes them look bad.
- Their company invested significant time, money, and resources in your product—if they can’t get value out of it, they may have to research, choose, purchase, set up, and train their team on a replacement.
- They wanted a different product and resent that yours was chosen instead.
- They may be feeling the pressure from economic slowdowns, company problems, or hand-me-down stress from their boss.
There can be high stakes with visceral feelings attached, so providing empathy and reassurance can calm the customer and help you find a solution to the immediate problem.
5. Personal stuff
There might be things going on in your customer’s personal life that are adding to their stress. The issue they’re now encountering with your product or service may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, so to speak.
Health or family issues, unrelated troubles at work, being overcommitted—any of these can make it hard to work even when everything’s going well, and make it harder to deal with unexpected challenges.
- Health issues
- Personal or family conflicts or crises
- Economic pressures
- Unmet personal goals
- Personal overcommitment
Unless they volunteer the information, you’ll rarely know what’s behind someone’s anger. We all experience feelings like stress, anxiety, and grief, so being understanding and forgiving can help ease situations and improve the overall experience.
How to respond to an angry customer (with templates)
Here are a few examples of how to respond to an angry customer over three common communication channels.
Tips for responding via email
Email is a great channel for responding to customer complaints. Because it doesn’t allow for interruptions or shouting (unless you type in all caps), it’s harder for angry conversations to escalate.
You’re also not speaking spontaneously, meaning you have more time to carefully consider your wording.
That said, you should never wait too long to respond to an email—if customers don’t get a response for hours or days, their irritation will only fester while they wait.
1. Initial reply email template
If you need more time to answer a particular request, it’s best to send the customer an initial reply email acknowledging that their message was received. Make sure to apologize for the inconvenience and promise to have an answer within a certain time frame.
Here is a sample email template for immediately responding to a support request.
We have received your support request regarding [customer complaint] and are working to fix the issue. I’m deeply sorry for any inconvenience you’ve experienced, and we’re committed to resolving it as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience and hope to have a solution for you by [date and time].
In the meantime, this [resource related to the issue] may help shed some more light on the situation.
While some inquiries may take longer to sort out, the customer usually demonstrates more patience when they know you’re working on the issue. Touching base regularly shows them that they’re important to you and that you haven’t forgotten about their issue.
Make sure the tone of your message remains apologetic, understanding, and sincere. Try basing your message on customer service email templates that correspond to the situation.
2. Delayed order email template
Customers have grown accustomed to fast shipping, so when an order doesn’t arrive by the promised delivery date, the customer might get frustrated. This is especially true if it’s a time-sensitive item, such as a gift for the holiday season.
Though it’s best to be proactive and contact the customer to advise them of the delay before their expected delivery date, you may not catch every one of them. If an upset customer reaches out to complain about a delayed order, track their package and send an email explaining its status right away.
I’m so sorry that your order hasn’t arrived yet. I can understand how frustrating this must be for you.
I have tracked the item’s progress via [package carrier], and it’s currently listed as “[status].”
If you’d like to monitor its progress, you can use this link: [tracking link]
If your order doesn’t arrive within [time frame], please contact me directly. I will do everything I can to locate your package.
I’d like to apologize again for the inconvenience, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any additional questions or concerns.
3. Wrong item email template
Getting the wrong order in the mail frustrates the customer and damages the customer’s perception of your brand. Reprocessing and shipping the correct item adds extra delays and creates more work for the customer, too. Your email must acknowledges both pain points.
Dear [Customer Name],
I’m so sorry that we mixed up your order. I know how disappointing it is to not get what you expected.
I have reshipped the correct item, and it should arrive on [date] via [carrier]. The tracking number is [#]). You can use this link to track it: [link].
I will follow up with you on [delivery date] to make sure you’ve received the correct items. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
I understand how frustrating this situation has been, so we’re making it as easy as possible for you to return the incorrect item. I apologize for adding this extra step.
Here are the return instructions:
- Inside the box, you should find an adhesive, prepaid return label.
- Please attach it to the box.
- Drop off the box at any [carrier] location (click here to find the nearest one).
If a prepaid return label is not found inside the box, please click this link to print the form.
Once again, [Customer Name], I sincerely apologize for the mistake and the inconvenience it has caused. Thank you for your patience and assistance.
4. Technical difficulties email template
Tech companies and service providers must apologize for spotty service or back-end issues when they occur. It’s important to explain what went wrong and try to atone for the headache it caused.
Dear [Customer Name],
I sincerely apologize for the frustration these issues must have caused. To make it up to you, I’ve refunded your subscription fee for this month.
It appears that the problems you experienced were a result of [explanation]. We’ve identified the source of the issue, and we’re working hard to implement a fix as soon as possible. Everything should be resolved by [expected time]. Once access is restored, I’ll reach out and let you know.
Once again, I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you need additional assistance.
5. Late response email template
When there’s a high volume of emails, it’s possible for one to slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, this makes the customer feel ignored, escalating their feelings from angry to irate. If a customer complains that they haven’t gotten a response to their email, quickly address the original problem and apologize for missing the initial email.
Dear [Customer Name],
I’m deeply sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Your email deserved a timely response so I completely understand your frustration.
As you requested, I’ve [resolved original issue]. If you experience any further problems, please contact me directly.
Due to the inconvenience we caused you, we’d like to offer you a [discount or deal]. Just follow this link [coupon code link].
Once again, [Customer Name], I sincerely apologize for the delay. We will do everything in our power to improve our response time so we can provide you with the speedy customer service you deserve.
Tips for responding over the phone
The phone is the most stressful channel for engaging with problem customers. In addition to finding the right words, you’ll need to ensure your tone of voice remains calm if you hope to de-escalate the situation. This isn’t easy, so it’s helpful to have some scripts handy.
Reading from a call center script or template can be risky, as your response may sometimes sound canned or disingenuous. In a live conversation, you may not have much time to consult a script before responding to the caller. The best technique is to learn a few lines that are effective at diffusing a heated conversation and keep these phrases in mind so you can adapt them to the next volatile situation.
When a customer is angry—whether justified or not—the most important thing is to stay calm and to communicate understanding and sympathy. Start with a sincere apology, immediately followed by an offer to resolve the issue.
Phone scripts for angry customers
- I’m so sorry that happened to you. Let me see how I can make this right.
- I’m so sorry to hear that. Can you tell me exactly what happened so I can help?
- I’m so sorry about the mistake we made. Let’s see what I can do about correcting your order.
- I completely understand the frustration you’re feeling. I’m sure I’d feel the same way. Can I ask you a few questions so we can get this resolved?
- I’d like to sincerely apologize for that inconvenience. Thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. I will take action on this right away.
- You seem very upset right now, [Customer Name]. Would you rather continue this conversation over email or live chat?
- I’m sorry our conversation is adding to your frustration. Would you like me to loop in my supervisor for further assistance?
- I’m truly sorry, and I’m going to do my very best to help you, [Customer Name]. I won’t be able to resolve this issue unless you’re able to answer my questions and discuss this calmly.
If communication with an impatient customer becomes extremely difficult or impossible, it’s best to involve your supervisor before completely ending the call. Your manager might find a creative solution for calming the customer or be able to validate your decision to end the interaction.
If a caller becomes abusive, involve your manager right away.
Tips for responding over live chat
Dealing with an angry customer over chat can be stressful. Annoyed customers are often impatient, so you don’t want to take too long to come up with a response. Having proactive chat scripts ready to go can help make conversations less tense and guide you to a solution.
Live chat templates for angry customers
- [Customer Name], I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with this problem. Let me check to see how I can fix it.
- I’m sad to hear about your negative experience with us. Please tell me what happened and I’ll do everything I can to make things right.
- I understand how you’re feeling right now, and I’m very sorry. I’m sending your request to the right person immediately to make sure we correct this as soon as possible.
- [Customer Name], I deeply apologize for this inconvenience. I made a mistake and provided the wrong [information]. Here is the correct information.
- [Customer Name], I’m afraid we accidentally sent you the wrong invoice. I’m very sorry for the mix-up on our end. We’ll resend the correct invoice in a moment, along with a special discount code to help make up for this inconvenience.
- I’m truly sorry. I’d really like to help you with this issue, but I’m afraid I’m unable to fulfill that request because [reasons]. Is there anything else I can do for you?
- We apologize, but we’re not able to help you with that particular issue. I’m afraid your request goes beyond the scope of our support capabilities.
- I apologize and would love to help, but our [department] is better equipped for these issues. Would it be alright if I transferred you to one of my colleagues who can better handle your request?
- I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but my department doesn’t have the type of information you need. Do you mind if I transfer you to the right department?
- I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience. Would it be okay if I connect you with an agent who specializes in this type of issue?
In some cases, it might be best to transfer the conversation to the phone. But it is possible to be personable, empathetic, and responsive over chat—especially if you know the right lines to use.
The importance of helping angry customers
While talking to angry customers can be unpleasant, avoiding or ignoring them is a surefire way to drive them into the arms of your competition. Here are a few reasons why it’s important to help angry customers.
- Profit: 61 percent of customers surveyed in our CX Trends Report said they would turn to a competitor after just one bad experience. Letting angry customers leave rather than putting in the work to satisfy their needs will result in fewer customers and less profit.
- Cost: Retaining an existing customer is cheaper than finding a new one. Creating great customer experiences and nurturing your current customer base creates the loyalty needed for a successful business.
- Feedback: Angry customers provide valuable feedback about your products and services. When a customer is upset, they tend to speak up with brutal honesty and provide information that will help you identify areas of improvement.
- Brand perception: Ignoring complaints can result in bad reviews, and 93 percent of customers read reviews before making a purchase. Brushing off angry customers will create negativity around your brand that can take years to remedy.
Some of your customers will get mad about something—it’s inevitable. But now that you know how to deal with upset customers, you can stop dreading the interaction and look at them as opportunities.
Putting your customers at the center of your business, practicing customer empathy, and keeping buyers happy is the best way to create customer loyalty and help your business thrive.