Skip to main content

Article 14 min read

How to deal with angry customers: 17 tips, templates, and examples

Not sure what to say to calm down an angry customer? Here’s how to handle an irritated customer and ease tension across channels.

By Patrick Grieve, Customer Service Evangelist

Last updated September 12, 2023

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.

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 defuse 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.

Practise 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. Personalise 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.

Personalise the interaction

Here are examples of how to personalise 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 apologise or say, “You’re right” if your company dropped the ball.

5. Use positive language

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 minimising their pain.
  • Look for opportunities to tweak their language to something less loaded and more tangible.
Restate what they told you

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 analyse their body language, empathise, 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.

Stay consistent

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 analyse 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 analyse 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.

Save time with customer service email templates

Speed up workflows and boost efficiency at scale with our 30 customer service email templates.

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.

How to respond to an angry customer (with templates)

Two fists

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.

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 centre 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

  1. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Let me see how I can 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 apologise for that inconvenience. Thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. I will take action on this right away.

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

  7. I’m sorry our conversation is adding to your frustration. Would you like me to loop in my supervisor for further assistance?

  8. 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

  1. [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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. [Customer Name], I deeply apologise for this inconvenience. I made a mistake and provided the wrong [information]. Here is the correct information.

  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 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?

  7. We apologise, 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 apologise 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?

  9. I sincerely apologise 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?

  10. I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience. Would it be okay if I connect you with an agent who specialises 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

Helping angry customers, playing tug of war

While talking to angry customers can be unpleasant, avoiding or ignoring them is a sure-fire 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 centre of your business, practising customer empathy, and keeping buyers happy is the best way to create customer loyalty and help your business thrive.

Related stories

6 min read

How to use CRM data to create amazing customer experiences

We’ve all heard the adage: knowledge is power. But in business, data is power and understanding…

4 min read

6 easy steps to trial Zendesk Talk

Zendesk believes phone support is a powerful way for companies to help their customers – and,…

2 min read

Play nicely in the ticket queue using the Play button or Guided mode

Optimising ticket workflow is top of mind for any customer service manager and becomes even more…

7 min read

Top 8 change management models: a comparison guide

8 top change management models and change management definitions