How to Handle An Angry Customer on the Phone?

Angry and Annoyed Little Girl

Every business receives customer complaints and having these complaints coming through the phone is very common. Some of these complaints may come from angry customers and as a business owner, you need to handle such calls and at the same time, educate your team on how to handle them.

Even though customers may sound angry and frustrated when they called in, you still have the opportunity to retain and even turn them into your biggest advocates if you manage to handle them well and solve their problems in a delightful manner.

Just had an angry or irate customer on the phone and feel like improving on how you can handle such calls better? Let our detailed guide help you out.

The Mindset

Having the right mindset before answering any calls into the office is very important.

You will not be able to tell whether an incoming call is from an angry customer until you pick up. However, having this right mindset helps to paint a consistent and positive experience for any parties, be it customers, suppliers, job applicants, and anybody who is calling into your office.

Call Center Lady Staff Smiling

How Would You Like to be Treated?

Picture the following scenario for a moment and give the question at the end some thoughts:

You are supposed to receive a product today but the vendor delayed its delivery without any prior notification. As a result, you lost a sale worth thousands of dollars. You are angry and you then decide to call up the vendor. When somebody picks up, how do you expect yourself to be treated?

By putting yourself in the shoes of an angry customer, you will better understand their frustrations and be genuinely interested in helping them resolve their issues.

Be Patient

Patience plays a huge role when you are trying to handle an angry customer. Always try to remain friendly, professional, attentive and cooperative even though the other party may portray unreasonable behaviors.

Paying attention and listening to someone yelling at you over the phone is not a pleasant experience. On a positive note, however, it is easier for explanations and suggestions to sink in once an angry person is done venting his or her frustrations.

Before responding to an angry phone call, pause and take a deep breathe. This small action takes the stress away, calms you down and keeps you patient.

Be Positive

Positivity is contagious. Nothing can never be solved. Put a smile on your face before answering any irate customers. If you start a conversation positively, you will not be affected by negative words or emotions coming through from the other end of the call.

Moreover, being positive allows for quick thinking so that solutions can be quickly devised for customers.


Once you have the right mindset to answer the call from irate customers or clients, follow the steps below. Hopefully, you will be able to calm them down, address their problems properly and reach a resolution agreed by both parties.

Be Polite

When you pick up the phone, greet the person politely and offer to help. Apart from expressing respect and positivity, being polite invites reciprocity.

This simply means that if you start a phone conversation with good manners, you are effectively reducing the chances of having a customer shouting back at you, no matter how angry he or she is.

Listen Actively

Many irate customers who called in are usually at the peak of their anger and frustration. Give them time and allow them to express themselves. Don’t attempt interrupt or to cut them off even if they start raising their voice.

While they are venting, take the opportunity to jot down important notes that will help you to understand the situation better or to come up with a solution.

Be Sympathetic and Empathetic

Show sympathy to a customer when he or she is trying to tell you about what happened. Recognize his or her feelings and imagine how will it feel if the same happens to you.

Instead of merely uttering something like “I totally understand,” say something like “That is terrible. I will be angry too if the same happens to me.” Noticed the difference? The second statement puts yourself on the same page as the customer and he or she should feel comfortable placing their trust in you.

Ask Questions

Keep in mind that some customers can be so angry with something that they are unable to explain their problems accurately.

If you don’t fully understand a problem described by your customers, clarify by asking them questions instead of making assumptions or jumping to your own conclusions. Not getting the right picture will worsen the situation as you might end up providing the wrong solutions.

Question Mark Cufflink


Managing an angry client or customer can be intense. Constantly remind yourself of the following don’ts if want to avoid making things worse.

Don’t Feel Angry

Here’s a quote from Laurence J. Peter, a Canadian educator:

Speak when you are angry, and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.

Always remember this. A customer is frustrated with the problems that he or she is facing, not you. Stay calm. Try your best to extract facts and important points from the customer’s statement. Anger will only deviate us from solving the real issue at hand and make our business looks unprofessional.

Don’t Argue

When a customer is complaining, the ultimate aim for you is to provide a solution quickly so he or she is happy at the end of the conversation.

Do not argue by throwing your customers facts and what you think is right. Fuming individuals are often irrational and the best way to calm them down is to show empathy as well as to seek for a mutually agreeable solution.

Don’t Raise Your Voice

When an angry customer speaks antagonistically with a high volume over the phone, we tend to slowly increase our volume too. Throughout the conversation, check your tone and volume on a regular basis to prevent it from turning into a shouting match.

Angry Man on the Phone

Don’t Take Comments Personally

Never take a comment from an angry customer personally because once you do so, you will start to retaliate and everything will go awry from then onwards. As mentioned earlier, complaining customers are angry about the issue that they are facing, not you.

In certain circumstances, however, a customer may start to utter foul words and some may even go to the extent of directing personal attacks towards yourself. In cases like this, do not give in and it is a must to remind the client or customer that being verbally abusive towards yourself is not going to solve the problem.

Don’t Say “I Don’t Know”

When customers are calling in to complain or to vent their frustration, they are looking for somebody who can help them. Telling them you have no idea how to help them, especially when the problem is related to your products or services, is the equivalent of telling them you no longer want their business.

If you require more information, either from another source or from your team members, let the customer knows and make a promise to follow up with them. Many customers will appreciate the fact that you are trying to help rather than just pushing them away.

Don’t Use a Script

Using a script to handle an angry or irate customer on the phone is a huge no-no. Using it does not allow patience and empathy to take place. You will end up following the script blindly and start to rush the customer through the flow rather than trying to understand the problems that they are facing.

Instead of putting a script in front of you with every call, try to come up with a set of golden rules or workflow based on this guide. Once a complaint is remedied, take a couple of minutes to think about how you can improve the experience for the customer. By doing so, you will get better at handling any phone calls from customers.

Resolving the Issue

Once you have fully understood the issue that a customer has, you need to solve it in order to make the customer happy. This is all the more important when the customer is on the line.

Smiling Customer Service Representative

Learn How to Apologize

If you are able to conclude that an issue is caused by your business, products or services, offer your genuine and sincere apology.

In most cases, dropping the formalities when you apologize makes it more genuine. Which do you think will sound more sincere and genuine over the phone? “I am so so sorry about what happened. Let’s work together to get this sorted out, shall we?” versus “Please accept our apology for any inconvenience caused.”

Repeat Their Problems

After you have apologized to the customer, it is time to fix the problem. Before you do that, reconfirm the problem that he or she is facing. This is to obtain a verbal acknowledgement of the issue so that you can proceed to offer a solid solution that will not lead to further confusion.

By repeating what the customer has just told you, you are also indirectly showing them that you are listening and this will help to calm them down.

Improve the Experience of Call Transfers

If you are running a slightly larger business, you may not have the solution or you might not be the right person to resolve a particular problem. Instead of giving vague answers or providing unclear solutions, you should pass the call to someone who is in a better position to help the customer.

There is nothing wrong with this but the following measures have to be taken to ensure the process of call transferring does not worsen the entire experience.

Assure the Customer

Instead of telling a customer that the call is going to be transferred, assure him or her that someone who is in a better position will step in.

Do not say to a customer, “Let me transfer your call to the product department.” Alternatively, let the customer know why a transfer is needed and what is in it for him or her. Saying “I shall transfer your call to Mike, who is an experienced product specialist that can guide you better on using our product” sounds so much better. Also, this will not sound like you are trying to escape responsibility by transferring him or her away.

Don’t Make the Customer Wait

As consumers ourselves, we know that going through a call transfer during a customer support phone call means a long and frustrating wait.

Do not let a frustrated customer wait more than 1 minute on the line. A long wait, especially if you are still unable to solve the issue at hand, is only going to make an angry man angrier.

Traveller Waiting at a Bus Stop with Luggage

Brief the Incoming Team Member

Before letting another team member attends to the customer, make sure he or she is well briefed with what is going on within the 1 minute window. You don’t want a customer to repeat his or her upsetting story right from the start.

Limit the Number of Transfers

The 2012 American Express Global Customer Service Barometer found that 26% of its respondents cite ‘being shuffled from representative to representative with no resolution of their issue’ as the most likely customer service issue to influence them to switch brands or companies.

Do not have your customer support team pass a call all over the office. Doing so will leave customers with a bad impression that you don’t want to assist them with their issues and no longer want their business.

If the second person who steps into dealing with an irate customer is unable to provide a firm and conclusive solution, request some time to work on the case rather than transferring the call to another team member.

Providing a Solution

Finally, after listening to the long rant from an angry or irate client, you have understood the problem that he or she is facing and now, you are at the critical stage of offering a solution. A few things require your attention at this stage.

Know Your Limits

If you are part of the customer support team, be well briefed about information such as how much discount or rebate are you allowed to give, the level of cooperation that you can expect from other departments, standard operating procedures for common issues and others.

On the other hand, if you are the business owner, understanding items such as the current and potential lifetime value of a customer, the capacity of your operations as well as implemented workflows and systems will be helpful in forming a solution.

Be Direct

Provide a straightforward solution to avoid further confusion.

Give the following questions a thought:

  • What actions do your customers need to take right now?
  • Do they have to pay to get their issues solved?
  • Are they actually paying more or less with the suggested solution?
  • How long will it take to remedy their problems?
  • Will someone follow up with them?

All these are questions that a customer usually has so make sure they are well addressed when you are presenting a solution.

Gain Agreement to Your Resolution

After a resolution is proposed, ask the customer whether he or she is satisfied with the arrangement. If possible, provide an explanation on how the solution is derived and why is it the best way forward for the customer.

Arriving at an agreement reaffirms the fact that the issues at hand will be solved. Of course, it is also a form of feedback on whether such a solution can be provided for similar issues in the future.

Closing the Case

When a proposed resolution is agreed by a customer or client, it is time for you to end the conversation gracefully.

Thank Your Customers

Always thank your customers before hanging up. Although they might have given you a hard time initially, they are providing precious feedback for your product, services, and sometimes even on how you run the business.

Instead of just saying “Thank you for calling in,” try “We really appreciate you taking the time to let us know about this issue that you were facing. It is customers like you that will help us immensely in bettering our service. Thank you.”

You can even go the extra mile by offering something like a handwritten thank you note, a discount for future purchases, a small gift or an official merchandize of your business. Doing so will definitely delight them.

Showing gratitude is a simple way to enchant and extend your relationship with customers.

Fulfill Promises

All frustrated customers want their problems solved as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, there will be instances where issues cannot be solved immediately. If you promised for follow up actions, make sure the actions are taken as soon as possible and the customer is well aware of them.

Breaking promises makes customers lose trust in your business. They will start to second doubt your proposal to resolve an issue in the future or worse, they might even bring their business elsewhere.

Follow Up

It is far easier to reach out and engage customers or clients who have interacted with your business. Be proactive and show that you care. Follow up with them a couple of weeks after their issues were resolved.

You can also get valuable feedback on whether the customer still enjoys using your products or services and how you can improve them.

Log Every Call

Your job is not done even after a call has ended. Draft a report for the call. Ideally, the report should contain details such as date, time, person who handled the customer, issues, solutions provided, status and planned follow-ups.

Doing so will allow your business to reap the following benefits in the future.

Delegation and Training

As a business owner, you don’t want to have angry customers calling in every other day. However, you do want to have a system that delivers a consistent and delightful experience for every customer, not just the angry or irate ones, even after the responsibility is delegated to a staff or a team.

To accomplish that, create a basic workflow (remember, don’t come up with a script) based on this guide and revise it when you discover improvement opportunities as you interact with more customers on the phone. You can then use the workflow to train a customer service team later on as your business grows.

Customer Service Team Handling Customer Phone Calls

Customer Feedback on Product

Customer complaints, whether communicated over the phone or via other means, are useful in helping businesses improve our products, services and sometimes even operational processes.

In fact, complaints are more useful than suggestions from customers. Phil Libin, the co-founder and CEO of Evernote, wrote the following about customer complaints in an article published on Inc.:

Complaints are great; the more detailed, the better. They tell us where our product or overall experience is failing. Plus, they are the easiest form of feedback to get. No training or solicitation required. People are naturally good at complaining.

On the flip side, here’s what he thinks about product suggestions:

Your customers can’t design your product for you. People have a great sense of what’s making them unhappy right now, but they’re not very good at predicting what will make them happy in the future. That’s your job.

By compiling all customer complaints, you will be able to generate useful reports based on the cumulative data. You can then make better decisions on which aspect of your business to improve in order to lower the percentage of unhappy customers.

Keeping Track of Customers Complaining for Incentives

Unfortunately, there are customers out there who are complaining only to take advantage of businesses. More often than not, it is unprofitable to continuously satisfy or give in to these customers.

As a business owner, you can identify whether these bad apples exist among your customers by maintaining a complaint log.

If a customer is indeed complaining solely for incentives, refer to your records and remind the customer of past incentives that are rewarded for similar complaints. Such behaviour will usually stop when the individual realizes that you are keeping track of their attempts. The reminder is even more effective if the customer made a written acknowledgement earlier that his or her issue was resolved.

Share Your Experience and Ask Us Questions

What is the most memorable phone call that you received from an irate customer? How did you deal with it? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.

Do you have questions for us relating to handling angry customers on the phone? Ask them in the comment section so we can help you out. We reply to every single comment.

Image courtesy of greg westfall, Alan Clark, Oberazzi, TruckPR, Renato Ganoza and Margot Gabel

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