Article | 26 min read

10 ways to deal with angry customers (with examples)

Not sure what to say to calm down an angry customer? Here’s how agents can respond to upset customers and diffuse tension across channels.

By Dave Dyson, Customer Service Evangelist, @dave_dyson

Published March 19, 2021
Last updated August 8, 2022

An angry customer is one of the most difficult things to deal with in customer service. It’s hard to help someone who’s complaining, venting, or even cursing at you. It’s even harder to want to help them. What’s more, these exchanges are difficult to shake, making it tough to help the next person, who may be perfectly nice.

So, how do you deal with irate customers in a way that lets you give them the help they need without feeling wounded in the process?

How to deal with angry customers: 10 steps

Your instinct might be to yell back, be sarcastic, disengage, hang up, or close the ticket. But, in most cases, you can’t really do that without consequence. Here’s what you should do to grow stronger customer relationships instead.

  1. Give them the floor (at first)
  2. Acknowledge your customer’s emotions
  3. Restate what they told you
  4. Move to an appropriate channel
  5. Think critically
  6. Set clear next steps
  7. Stay consistent
  8. Explore solutions
  9. Ask for help
  10. Hang up as a last resort

1. Give them the floor (at first)

They’re angry. They have something to say. So the first thing you should always do, no matter if you already know about the situation, is give them the floor. Take opportunities to verbalize that you’re listening (using words like “I see” or “okay,” for example) but don’t interrupt. It’s your customer’s time to express what they’re feeling and experiencing. It’s your job to listen.

That is unless you’re the second or third touchpoint for this customer. While this tactic is great for initial interactions, it can actually make a customer angrier to rehash their experience over and over again. Even worse, the more your customer repeats their story, the more it sinks into their head and becomes their source of truth. When a story becomes true, it’s more difficult to reframe and reach a solution when it’s time to problem solve.

2. Acknowledge your customer’s emotions

Instead of jumping straight into problem-solving, spend a moment validating what your customer feels. 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.

Use this opportunity to play to your customer’s human side. If your team made a mistake, give them context. Let them know the cause—whether that’s unanticipated sick leave or pandemic pressures—that contributed to their pain. That context helps your customer understand that everyone, even the customer service rep they’re yelling at, is just trying to do their best.

Whatever you say, make sure it’s a genuine and specific acknowledgment of where the failure occurred. Most customers can tell when you’re faking, and doing so only makes them angrier.

3. Restate what they told you

Restating what they said shows that you’re listening and taking them seriously. You can also use this tactic to make sure you understand their situation and what they want from you.

Choose your words carefully when you restate the situation back to your customer. You can use the customer’s words to signal that you’re not minimizing their pain. However, also look for opportunities to tweak the language to something less loaded, more tangible, and more along the lines of a problem you can solve.

After restating what your customer said, ask them to confirm that you got it right. A simple agreement there goes a long way to deescalating the tension and putting you both into more of an “ally” space.

4. Move to an appropriate channel

It might make sense to move a social media or text conversation to phone if it’s particularly heated. Likewise, you may need to switch to a video call so you can screenshare as you troubleshoot their issue. Don’t be afraid to embrace omnichannel and move the conversation to a different medium so you can better help your angry customer.

At Zendesk, we prefer to bring upset customers into a video call as it makes it easier to connect, analyze body language, empathize, and have a more human conversation. “Jumping on a Zoom call signals that I’m taking this seriously. But it also works in my favor, too, because it forces my customer to make a human connection,” said Ana. “Suddenly, ‘Oh, I’m not yelling at Zendesk. I’m yelling at Erin, a real person. And here’s a picture of her dog, and I like dogs.’”

We use Slack to quickly follow up with customers—particularly our B2B customers. WhatsApp is our go-to for global customers.

Jumping on a Zoom call signals that I’m taking this seriously. But it also works in my favor, too, because it forces my customer to make a human connection. Suddenly, ‘Oh, I’m not yelling at Zendesk. I’m yelling at Erin, a real person. And here’s a picture of her dog, and I like dogs.

5. Think critically about what your customer really wants

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 need to understand what’s behind it.

You may need to go above and beyond your usual problem solving to help your customer out, and that’s okay. “It’s not a bad thing to give your customer homework because most problems aren’t solely on us,” said Ana. “They can execute and see better results. And maybe they’ll remember when you recommended they do that and think of you fondly.”

For example, when an angry customer reached out to Zendesk because he hadn’t received a promised follow-up, Ana did a little digging to see what went wrong. She discovered that the customer hadn’t received the email she’d sent him weeks before.

After talking the customer through his product issue on the phone, Ana went the extra length to walk him through how to approach his IT team about the email issue. The IT team found wider greylisting issues with the company email account. They were able to resolve the problem and prevent future ones from cropping up, thanks to Ana’s persistence.

It’s not a bad thing to give your customer homework because most problems aren’t solely on us. They can execute and see better results. And maybe they’ll remember when you recommended they do that and think of you fondly.

6. Set clear next steps (and follow through on them)

Often enough, you 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.

We walk our customers through a roadmap of how we plan to resolve their problem. This roadmap includes what we’ll do for them right away, what comes after that, and when the customer can expect a resolution. For example, if we can’t troubleshoot a product issue with a customer immediately, we’ll schedule a next-day appointment with a product manager on that call. Then we’ll tell the customer to expect a follow-up email from the customer support team 24 hours after the appointment to make sure all is well.

Set customer expectations by telling them specific next steps. If your customer knows when you’ll follow up or when their problem 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 de-escalate your customer’s anger.

7. 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.

Share customer data, history, and context to stay consistent. Everyone who interacts with a customer needs to know what the customer wants, what their history is, their plan, their pain, what’s been done so far to resolve it, and the recommended solution. Consistency keeps the customer from rehashing the details too many times, often causing them to become more irritated. Zendesk, for example, helps service reps and managers keep track of everything they need to know about a customer in one place.

Consistency also deters agent shopping. When a customer hears different things from different people, they may insist on speaking to someone else until they get what they want. Agent shopping wastes your team’s time and encourages your customer to return to this bad behavior in future customer service interactions. You can discourage this by making sure everyone on your team offers the same solutions.

8. Explore solutions even if you know they’re not available

Say your customer comes to you demanding a refund, and you know a refund isn’t an option. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go to your manager and ask for it anyway. Doing so demonstrates to your customer that you’re putting in the effort to do everything in your power to help them. “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,” said Erin Hampe, senior manager of customer trust at Zendesk.

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.

9. Ask for help from your team

Don’t be afraid to ask for help in uncomfortable situations, like when a customer is using abusive, sexist, or otherwise inappropriate language. If you’re unsure whether you need to terminate a customer interaction, ask a manager to come in and do a subjective review. They can analyze the situation and determine the best next steps for you and the customer.

Teammates and managers can also provide solutions for customer issues you’re unsure of how to solve. Reach out to your product or engineering team for more technical questions or ask fellow customer service reps how they approached a similar issue. A manager can also do more investigating and open closed doors for your customer in some cases.

10. Hang up as a last resort

Yes, it’s an option. But if you go this route, be sure to involve a manager beforehand. Involving a manager gives them a chance to help you think through creative solutions and exhaust all options. It also provides them with the visibility they need to know that you did everything you could in that situation.

Ready to hang up on an upset customer? Revenue might stay your hand. You and your manager are more likely to fight harder for a repeat, loyal customer on a pricier plan than someone who just purchased your product for the first time with a 70 percent off code.

However, customer revenue is only part of the picture. You might consider firing a customer who repeatedly contacts your team to the point of harassment. Long-term customer issues can take up hundreds of hours and cost teams more than the customer’s worth.

What makes an angry customer angry?

So what drives a customer to get angry in the first place? Knowing what contributes to customer anger and frustration can often help you solve their problem and help get them (and keep you) in a better mood.

1. Product problems

Customers are usually pretty up-front with their feelings in these situations. There’s a gap between their expectations of your product, and the reality they’re encountering. Your customer might feel shame for not being able to get things to work—no one likes feeling incompetent, and asking for help can be challenging and stressful to people who are used to being self-sufficient.

Why?

  • 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

Alternately, they might feel lied to or betrayed by your company, or even the product itself. If they have reasonable expectations that aren’t being met, you can apologize and work to find a solution. If their expectations are incorrect, whether because they assumed, missed, or misinterpreted some information, or if they were given inaccurate information, it’s important to reset their expectations and to see if there’s a way to prevent others from having the same experience.

2. Support woes

It happens. Customers get frustrated with customer support. They may be upset over an escalation, or simply because they don’t trust that you’ll be willing or able to help them. It may be that they’ve had bad customer service experiences with your organization before, but they may have just been burned often enough in the past that they no longer trust that any company cares about their needs.

Why?

  • They’ve been waiting longer than anticipated for a response
  • They think they won’t like your answer
  • They’ve been passed around from agent to agent without concrete results
  • 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

And what’s even 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

Similar to product-related issues, there may be an expectations gap that needs to be bridged. A customer might be feeling abandoned, powerless, or victimized. There’s often a great opportunity in these situations to show that you really do care. The commitment you bring to solving their issue not only can help rebuild trust in your organization, but in their faith in customer service. And who knows, you might set the gold standard for expectation transfer.

Designed with you in mind

With Zendesk for customer service, everything you need to provide a great customer experience is unified in one place.

3. What’s hitting the fan

With emotional anger, the customer is dealing with the immediate and near-term consequences of the current unacceptable situation. There are a lot of feelings that might be coming up for them—guilt, anxiety, fear, loss of self-esteem, powerlessness, and even protective defensiveness on behalf of their customers. They may communicate these feelings up-front, or may bring them up later if they feel like they’re not getting their needs met.

Why?

  • They can’t accomplish the tasks they need to do and this could have personal and business implications
  • Your product might be just one of many tasks they have responsibility for
  • Their customers are unhappy and some are leaving
  • Their personal performance can suffer, leading to lost opportunities, or getting fired

Meet their emotions head-on: Reassure the customer that you’re on their side, and 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 that 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 be pre-existing resentment towards you if this customer advocated for a different product and lost that debate.

Why?

  • They advocated adopting your product to their company or family, 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 doesn’t work, it makes them look bad
  • Their company has invested significant time, money and resources in your product—if they can’t get things to work, they may have to research, choose, purchase, set-up, and train their team/family on a replacement
  • They actually wanted a different product, and resent that yours was chosen instead
  • They may be under stress from economic pressures, company problems, or hand-me-down stress from their boss

These can be some high stakes with visceral feelings attached, so providing reassurance can help get your interaction focused on the immediate (and hopefully solvable) problem at hand.

5. It’s not you, it’s me

There are many things completely beyond the scope of work that can add to a person’s baseline stress, increasing the likelihood that any new problem encountered might be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” 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,

Why?

  • Health issues
  • Personal or family conflicts or crises
  • Economic pressures
  • Unmet personal goals
  • Personal overcommitment
  • Politics

You’ll rarely know when these are what’s behind someone’s anger, and it’s neither your job to diagnose or fix these issues. But we all experience these kinds of stress, anxiety, and grief, and that puts us all in the same boat. If we can be understanding and forgiving, we can help each other out and make each other’s day a little better.

How do you respond to an angry customer? (with templates)

Here are a few examples of how to respond to an angry customer over email, the phone, and live chat.

How do you email an angry customer?

Email is a great channel for responding to customer complaints. The medium doesn’t allow for interruptions or shouting, so it’s harder for angry conversations to escalate. You’re also not speaking spontaneously, which means you have more time to carefully consider your wording. That being 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 do need more time to answer a particular request, it’s best to send an initial reply email acknowledging that the customer’s message has been received. Make sure to apologize for the inconvenience and promise to have an answer within a certain timeframe. You might use the following email template to immediately respond to a support request:

Hi [Customer Name],

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, have you had a chance to look at [resources related to issue]? They may help shed some more light on the situation.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

While some inquiries may take longer to sort out, common customer complaints can usually be addressed more quickly. Regardless, it’s important that 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. It can be very frustrating when an order doesn’t arrive by the promised delivery date. This is especially true if it’s a time-sensitive item such as a gift for the holiday season.

If a customer reaches out to complain about a delayed order, be sure to track the package and send an email explaining its status.

Dear [Customer Name],

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.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

3. Wrong item email template

Getting the wrong order in the mail is incredibly exasperating. Not only does it further delay the correct item, but it also creates more work for the customer. Make sure your email 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’ve just checked on your original order, and it should arrive on [date] via [carrier] (tracking number [#]). If you’d like to track your package, you can use this link: [link].

I’ll 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 also have one favor to ask: Could you please return the incorrect items you received within the next [#] days? Inside the box you should find an adhesive, prepaid return label. If not, please click this link, print the form and attach it to the box, and drop off the box at any [carrier] location (click here to find the nearest one).

Once again, [Customer Name], I sincerely apologize for the mistake and the inconvenience it has caused. Thank you for your patience and assistance.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

4. Technical difficulties email template

Tech companies and service providers have to 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’s caused.

Dear [Customer Name],

I sincerely apologize for the frustration these issues must have caused you. To help 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.

Sorry again for the inconvenience this has caused. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you need any additional assistance.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

5. Late response email template

When there’s a high volume of emails, it’s possible for one to slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, getting ignored will only make an angry customer even more irate. If a customer complains that they haven’t gotten a response to their email, quickly address the original problem and then apologize for missing the initial email.

Dear [Customer Name],

I’m deeply sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I completely understand your frustration. Your email deserved a much timelier response.

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 to the [coupon code].

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.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

How do you respond to an angry customer over the phone?

The phone is the most stressful channel for engaging with an angry customer. 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 at times, as your response may sound canned or disingenuous. Also, 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. Keep these phrases in mind so you’re able to adapt them to the next volatile situation.

When a customer is angry–whether justified or not–the most important thing is to communicate understanding and sympathy. Start with a sincere apology, immediately followed by an offer to resolve the issue.

Phone scripts for angry customers

1. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Let me see if I find a way to make this right.

2. I’m so sorry to hear that. Can you tell me exactly what happened so I can help?

3. I’m so sorry about the mistake we made. Let’s see what I can do about correcting your order.

4. 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?

5. 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.

6. I’m truly sorry, and I’m going to do my very best to help you, [Customer Name], but I won’t be able to resolve this issue unless you’re able to answer my questions and discuss this calmly.

7. You seem very upset right now, [Customer Name]. Would you rather continue this conversation over email?

8. I’m sorry that you’re so upset, [Customer Name]. Would you like for me to call you back when you’re feeling a little calmer?

9. I’m sorry you feel so frustrated by this conversation. Would you like to speak with my supervisor instead?

If a caller becomes abusive, hanging up is an option—it should always be a last resort, though. It’s best to involve your supervisor before completely ending the call. Your manager might find a creative solution for placating the customer or be able to validate your decision to end the interaction.

Dealing with angry customers 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. However, proactive chat scripts can help make conversations less tense.

Designed with you in mind

With Zendesk for customer service, everything you need to provide a great customer experience is unified in one place.

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 best lines to use.

If a customer describes a negative experience, the first thing you should do is apologize. There are a few different lines you might use to let the customer know you are sorry for what happened and are ready to remedy it.

How do you respond to an angry customer over live chat?

Live chat templates for angry customers

1. [Customer Name], I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with this problem. Let me quickly check to see if I can fix it.

2. I’m sad to hear that you had a negative experience. Please tell me what happened, and I’ll do everything I can to make things right.

3. I understand how you’re feeling right now, and I’m very sorry about it. I’m sending your request to the right person immediately to make sure we correct this as soon as possible.

4. [Customer Name], I deeply apologize for this inconvenience. I made a mistake and showed you the wrong [information]. What I should have shown you is…

5. [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.

6. I’m sorry, I’d really like to help you with this issue, but I’m afraid I’m unable to fulfill that request. Is there anything else I can do for you?

7. 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.

8. I’m really sorry, but I’m afraid our department can’t help you with your problem. Would it be alright if I transferred you to one of my colleagues who can handle your request?

9. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but my department doesn’t have the type of information you need. Would you mind if I transferred you to the right department?

10. Unfortunately, I’m not equipped to handle your request. I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience, but I can transfer you to another agent who specializes in this type of issue if you’d you like.

How to not take customer anger 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. Yet, you’ll have to bear the brunt of their venting. So what are you supposed to do to avoid feeling angry as a result, or burned by the white heat of the customer’s anger?

As the Reverend John Watson said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” 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.

Remembering that your customer’s anger is not about you helps you distance yourself from the fault the customer may be trying to force on you. It also prompts you to investigate all the things that could be contributing to your customer’s anger. Finally, it makes it easier to see the other person as nuanced, in pain, and worthy of your empathy.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Verbal abuse can hurt, but if you can envision the other person as someone who’s in pain, it becomes easier to stay empathetic when they lash out. It even makes it possible to become your customer’s ally and resolve to help them through their anger.

To be clear, you don’t deserve to be abused. There are people who will present anger as a tactic, using harsh, insulting, and even degrading language as a means to achieve their goal. Your company should have policies in place to protect you from that.

Designed with you in mind

With Zendesk for customer service, everything you need to provide a great customer experience is unified in one place.

Designed with you in mind

With Zendesk for customer service, everything you need to provide a great customer experience is unified in one place.

Learn more