How to deal with angry customers and resolve a conflict

How to deal with angry customers and resolve a conflict

Kim Mercado
By Kim Mercado
Aug 17, 2021
9 min read

Listening to your customers is a crucial part of running a small business. But what should you do if you encounter a customer who's yelling, upset, and even using foul language? As a business owner, it happens and learning how to deal with angry customers is an essential part of growing your business's success.

You need to use skill and tact to determine whether you have an unhappy customer or a rude, bullying customer. There's a difference; a customer could just be having a bad day and will return to normal the next. 

The situation will determine your strategy in dealing with difficult customers. It’s the key to dealing with irate customers and improving your overall customer experience.

How can I tell the difference between a rude and an unhappy customer?

A 2017 study conducted by a team of international researchers showed that the best response to an angry customer was polite, professional and firm.

In the case of an unhappy customer, use your business policies and good sense to find the root cause of their anger and unhappiness in the first place. The upset customer is frustrated for a reason. They can be very angry, but solutions can also calm them.

One hallmark of a rude customer is that nothing calms them: not a solution or any agreement. Sometimes, the more you agree with a rude customer, the angrier they'll become. If you say "I'm sorry," they may even agree and add some additional verbal abuse.

Simply saying "I'm sorry" if you don't mean it and aren't offering a solution isn't effective when handling a customer’s anger. It would be best if you acknowledged the customer's concerns. Forbes offers effective communication alternatives to repeating "I'm sorry" with no resolution.

For example, if the customer feels that you didn’t perform a service well, say, "I hear you. We can handle that." Or, if it isn't something you understand and can handle right away, try saying, "I hear you. Let me see if I can understand exactly what is the matter." 

"I hear you" could be three of the most powerful words in customer communication, especially with challenging customers.

An unhappy customer can be justifiably unhappy. They can be unhappy because of a misunderstanding about your services, payment, or many common problems. They can be unhappy because they're having a bad day, which has nothing to do with you. 

Unhappy customers are great business opportunities because business studies show that they become happy and loyal customers once their concerns are met politely and professionally. You can leverage the negative situation to build customer relationships.

Dealing with Angry Customers

What should I do in case of a truly rude customer who cannot be satisfied?

There will always be a certain segment of your customers who will never be satisfied. You can’t make these perpetually aggrieved customers happy because often, their satisfaction has nothing to do with your business.

Luckily, most of your customers won’t fall into this category. So when you come across a habitual complainer who can’t be satisfied, it may be better to cut your losses with this customer. After all, is it worth your time, energy and emotional toll to bend over backward for someone who’s made up their mind?

Here are a few ways to handle rude customers:

  1. Politely remind them how you’ve addressed their problem so far.
  2. Stand your ground and remind them of your company policies firmly.
  3. Suggest that a competitor may be able to serve their needs better.

Even though your goal as a business owner is to bring in as many customers as possible, you also need to weigh the time and effort spent solving a customer's issue. It may be better to lose one rude customer to focus on getting three new ones.

Recommended step-by-step actions for dealing with angry customers face to face

It’s tough to deal with an angry client, maybe even more with other customers watching to see what will happen. Your job is to try to diffuse tense situations where (hopefully) cooler heads can prevail.

1. Stay calm 

Don't escalate your own emotions when they approach you with anger or verbal abuse. Of course, this is easier said than done, so it's wise to practice ahead of time, even if it's just in your head.

If you can feel your temper rising, try some anger management exercises. For example, take a deep breath and slow your breathing down.

2. Practice active listening

One way to stay calm is by putting yourself in the customer’s shoes. You can do this and potentially calm an angry customer by practicing active listening, which is making a conscientious effort to hear someone and engage with what they’re saying.

Earlier, we recommended saying “I hear you” and repeating the problem. This is active listening.

  • Face the speaker. Give the customer the courtesy of facing them and giving them your attention.
  • Maintain eye contact. We’re not talking about a stare-down, but eye contact is considered an important part of effective communication.
  • Don’t interrupt. Let the other person say their piece about why they’re unhappy. Sometimes when they’ve vented their frustration, it gives them a chance to cool down. Interrupting or talking over them is likely to aggravate them more.
  • Ask questions to understand. Wait until the customer has paused and then ask things to help clarify. You can say, “Let’s back up a second. I don’t understand when you said…”

Working on your active listening skills helps you get to the root of a customer’s complaint and helps boost overall communication skills.

3. Respond professionally

First, be sure to manage your tone of voice. When someone is agitated or angry, it’s instinctual to match their tone and energy when speaking. Instead, try to speak calmly and get the customer to match your tone.

Answer their concerns factually and professionally. If an apology is in order, make it a simple and genuine one. Offer a solution politely and quickly.

  • An unhappy customer will calm down and accept the solution. 
  • A rude, abusive customer will continue to raise objections or even ignore all you've said.

If the customer starts using profanity or threatens you, it’s okay to warn them and tell them you will not tolerate being spoken to that way. You can tell them that you’re there to help them but that if they continue the abuse, you will call security or the police. 

And even though it may take every ounce of your strength, resist the urge to retaliate. No matter how deserved it might be or how satisfying it could feel. Remember, you want to put out the fire, not fan the flames.

4. Know when to walk away

This is your business. You don't have to let anybody walk all over you. If you’ve gone through the previous steps but are no closer to a resolution, it’s time to end the conversation.

You can politely but firmly say that you have disagreeing viewpoints and feel that you can no longer go further with the conversation. You can advise them of your policies and tell them to take any complaints to an industry regulatory board or authority.

When you’re on the phone, you can simply hang up, but in person, you need to tell the customer to leave the premises. You have a right to refuse service to rude customers

How should I ultimately deal with angry customers?

Being polite, professional, and assertive is important for your safety and that of your employees. The overwhelming majority of rude customers will quickly move on to another target for their anger if you remain calm and assertive. 

Also, it's important to have policies in place for common problems you know may occur. For example, let customers know if you don’t accept cash (card-only) or if you don’t accept walk-in customers (appointment-only). Communicating ahead of time about your work process, payment terms, and ways to solve concerns about your work is key to successful contracting.

Why insurance helps protect you from irate customers

While business insurance can’t magically make angry customers happy, it can protect you from costly business disagreements or accidents.

Whether it's covering your work in case of unforeseen damages to inventory, making a professional mistake or helping to pay for medical expenses in case someone gets injured on your worksite, insurance helps pay expenses. 

NEXT Insurance helps small business owners thrive by making it easy to get business insurance online. You can get a quote, review options and purchase coverage in less than 10 minutes. 

Your certificate of insurance is available immediately, and if you have any questions, our team of U.S.-based, licensed advisors are standing by to help.

Get an instant quote today.

How to deal with angry customers and resolve a conflict


kim mercado
About the author
Kim Mercado is a content editor at NEXT's blog, where she writes and edits posts for small business owners. She enjoys helping entrepreneurs solve their business challenges and learn about insurance. Kim has contributed to Salesforce, Samsara and Google.

You can find Kim trying new recipes and cheering the 49ers.

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