10 Ways to Handle Angry Customers (And Make Them Happy)

How to Handle Angry Customers

Creating exceptional customer experiences is something more and more businesses strive for. Delivering delight and putting the customer first is crucial, but it’s not always easy.

Especially in the world of eCommerce, customer expectations are high. No matter how hard you try to keep your customers happy, things go wrong from time to time. Products get broken in transit, deliveries get delayed and complaints will come in.

But the good news is that complaints aren’t always a bad thing, and often, they can lead to positive outcomes – as long as you know how to turn it around with excellent customer service.

Recognizing the value of a complaint

Dealing with an angry customer is an opportunity to learn, and an opportunity to turn a negative situation into a positive customer experience. How you react to an angry customer can make or break the perception the customer has with your brand.

Instead of fearing an angry customer, use the situation to improve your product or service, and to build a better relationship with your customer.

According to research by Esteban Kolsky, founder of customer strategy consulting firm ThinkJar, 91% of unhappy customers who are non-complainers simply churn. So the majority of customers don’t actually communicate to businesses that they’re not happy.

This means we should treat every complaint as a gift. Complaints are packed full of insights that can help customer service teams improve, and in turn, deliver value to a number of other unhappy, but silent, customers.

Here are ten tips on how to handle angry customers.

1. Listen

Practice active listening rather than passive listening. Active listening means concentrating on everything the customer is saying so you have a clear understanding of why they’re upset. Passive listening means only absorbing part of the message, and not paying full attention to the emotions behind their communication.

Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
Steve Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’.

Be present and give the customer your full attention. Read the customer’s inquiry twice before you respond. Focus on the words they’re communicating and not the anger behind their words. To show the customer you’re actively listening, paraphrase what their complaint is, ask clarifying questions, and don’t interrupt them. This is often the most effective way to handle angry customers at the outset of the situation.

Listening is the first step when turning an angry customer into a happy one. Turning the situation around without listening is impossible.

2. Apologize

Apologize for the problem they’re having. Acknowledging the mistake and letting the customer know you’re really sorry will go a long way. Be thorough in your apology.

Instead of: “I’m sorry for the inconvenience”. say: “I’m sorry your order was late, this isn’t the customer experience we’re aiming for and I can see how this would be really frustrating. I’ve looked into the issue and here’s what happened…”

A thorough apology shows the customer you care, and you understand their frustration. Offer a brief explanation but don’t drag this out too much. Keep the explanation short and move forward.

Join our newsletter and get top eCommerce content straight to your inbox.

3. Show empathy

Empathy helps guide your response and reaction to an angry customer. Empathy doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with the customer. It means you truly understand how they feel. 

By truly understanding how the customer feels, you’ll be able to relate with them on a more personal level. As you have difficult conversations with customers, showing empathy will help de-escalate the issue and show the customer you respect them and are really listening to them.

Related: 15 Customer Service Skills Every Support Agent Needs

4. Maintain a calm tone of voice

Don’t let frustration get the better of you. When dealing with an angry customer, you may be tempted to match their tone of voice. Avoid this at all costs, as it will only make the situation worse.

It’s easy to copy a frustrated person’s tone of voice and to respond immediately after they finish a statement. But you’ll have a more productive conversation if you can remain calm and if you can take a brief moment to think about your answer.

Tip for maintaining a calm tone of voice: 

  • Proofread your response to ensure you avoid any aggressive language. If time allows, step away for a few minutes and come back to your drafted response before sending it to the customer. A quick break and a fresh perspective can help filter out any harsh words.

5. Use the customer’s name

There’s power in a name. Using the customer’s name puts a face to the person you’re talking to. It helps instil a strong level of personalization in the interaction. This is much more effective when dealing with angry customers than addressing a nameless entity who could be anyone.

“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the most sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Dale Carnegie, author of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’.

Using the customer’s name shows you care, and it also reminds the customer that you are also a real person working for a real company. Addressing the customer by name also shows them that you respect them. 

Tips for using the customer’s name

  • Use their name sparingly. Addressing someone by their name too much can be awkward.
  • Create snippets to quickly find and pull in customer information. Using pre-defined tags in eDesk, agents can automatically pull in a customer’s name and order information to personalize communications.

6. Build and maintain trust

It’s very likely that the level of trust an angry customer has for your company has been damaged, and it’s important to rebuild and maintain that trust moving forward.

If you’ve made a mistake, it’s okay, you’ll just need to work a little harder to repair the relationship.

The first thing you need to do is show the customer you care and show them you truly understand the problem. When handling an angry customer, make sure you have all of the background information and order history for that customer. This will show the customer you’re confident and capable of helping them.

Be honest and transparent with the customer. Give them a behind-the-scenes view of the things so perhaps they can even empathize with you.

Tips for building trust with a customer

  • Take responsibility for the mistake using simple statements like “we messed up”, and “this is completely our fault”. 
  • Use positive scripting like “Let me find out for you” instead of “I don’t know”, and “I need to check with my coworker” instead of “I’m new here”.

7. Don’t take it personally

Remember, this is work, not your personal life. Don’t take a customer’s anger personally, as if they’re angry with you. They’re not angry with you, they’re angry with your product or service. They had a certain expectation when they purchased a product and they experienced a problem.

If you take it personally, you risk getting angry with the customer and this is when the situation becomes worse.

Taking it personally also brings your own spirits down, and that can negatively affect your overall quality of work and mental well-being.

8. Avoid negative language

When it comes to handling an angry customer, support teams must be skilful in the language they use. Negative language will only add fuel to the fire, whereas positive language is an ingredient to help tame a heated situation.

Avoid using language that implies the customer is wrong or makes them feel isolated. The customer doesn’t want to hear these things right now, even if there is some truth behind the statements. Instead, using positive language will help instil confidence with the customer and begin to turn a negative situation into a positive one.

Avoid negative language
It’s easy to subconsciously use negative language. Make sure you avoid this at all costs!

Tips for avoiding negative language

  • Default to positive words such as “yes”, “absolutely”, “certainly” and “definitely”. 
  • Avoid using words and phrases such as “let me be clear”, “for your information” and “actually”. This tends to make people feel stupid, and can often be seen as aggressive.

9. Resolve the issue

Your primary goal when handling an angry customer is to resolve their issue. Are there workarounds? Is there something you or the customer can do themselves immediately to satisfy their needs? If so, let them know.

If you discover you’re not able to resolve the issue immediately, be honest with the customer. Set expectations with them so they know when their issue will be resolved. More importantly, meet those expectations and if you can’t, let them know ahead of time so you don’t further damage the relationship. If needed, escalate the issue to a senior member of the support team or your manager.

Collaboration is often the fastest way of resolving the issue. You may have more experienced or technically adept members of the customer service team and so their help is often invaluable to solving an issue. If you’re using customer support software such as eDesk, users can easily tag in a member of the team when they need help on a ticket.

eDesk will also automatically assign tickets to the most appropriate support agent. So if you have agents with language skills, you can ensure tickets from the relevant international marketplaces are assigned to them.

10. Share the knowledge

Angry customers can teach us a lot. More often than not, the root cause of an angry customer points to some operational changes support agents can make to improve the customer experience. One of those things is sharing what you learn from the customer.

Have an easy way to share feedback from angry customers with product managers, designers, and engineers. Then, the entire team can collaborate on coming up with long-term solutions to keeping your customers happy.

Final thoughts

Handling angry customers is difficult, but it’s not impossible. The most important thing you can do is let the customer vent their frustrations. Then, meet them with respect, patience and empathy.

Using these tips for how to handle angry customers will put you on the path to success and you’ll be able to turn a negative situation into a positive customer experience. At the same time, you’ll build better relationships with your customers.

More to explore

Join the eDesk newsletter

Get monthly eCommerce tips, trends and news direct to your inbox.