Posted & in Customer Service.

Companies invest a significant amount of time and effort into keeping their customers happy. But no company has complete immunity from angry customers. De-escalating a customer over the phone takes care and patience. An experienced customer service representative will know how to handle an angry customer over the phone but an inexperienced representative could make the situation worse. Here are tips for staying calm and turning an angry customer into a happy-ish one.

Let the Customer Vent

The quickest way to calm an angry customer is to let them express their concern and frustration without interruption. It’s harder for a customer to maintain the same level of frustration throughout an entire call if they’ve had the opportunity to release it in the beginning.

During this phase of the call avoid interrupting, talking over them, or immediately placing them on hold. In instances where a customer immediately asks for a manager, kindly inform them that you will get someone on the phone but to ensure you get the right manager for their situation, politely ask them what it is regarding. In many cases, you’ll discover their issue is something that can be handled by the representative.

Listen to Understand

For seasoned customer service professionals, in particular, it’s common to have an arsenal of loaded responses readily available for frequently occurring situations. Although many situations can be similar, outliers and other factors exist that make each situation unique. Avoid tuning out and take the time to actively listen to your customer’s situation without prejudgment. Listen to understand – do not listen to respond. Take note of nuances that make the customer’s situation unique.

Let your customer tell their story. Jot down details while the customer is speaking, to avoid frustrating the customer more by asking them to repeat themselves. Wait for the customer to pause before speaking. If you need additional information, stick to relevant questions that assist you in understanding where the source of the problem is and how to fix it.

Be Objective but Empathetic

When a customer is upset, it’s natural for the customer service agent to immediately feel defensive even if the customer’s anger is not directly related to them. Anger is the hardest emotion to control and matching a customer’s frustration with your own will only further escalate the situation. The best way to defuse an angry customer is to be objective about the situation and empathetic to the customer’s frustration. Remaining positive and maintaining the desire to provide quality customer service can lead to a more positive outcome.

Redirect your focus to the facts. Remove personal views, biases, and emotions from the equation and lean into the opportunity to help solve the problem. If you find your emotions rising, reach for a stress ball, or item on your desk and play with it or stare at a happy photo on the wall or your desk. You can also stretch your arms, clench your fist or take a moment to focus on your breathing. Movements act as a divergent that can help redirect an emotional response without completely disrupting your focus. Don’t take it personally. Remember the customer doesn’t know you personally and probably wouldn’t yell at you if they did. Have empathy. Picture yourself or someone you love experiencing this same concern. Ask yourself, how would you want to be treated? Proceed accordingly.

Apologize Sincerely

Apologizing is the first step in transitioning an escalated call from problem-focused to solution-based. Apologizing is a standard form of good customer service and often is an expected sentiment that helps calm an angry customer. However, there is a difference between a disingenuous “I’m sorry” and a sincere apology. Apologies should be specific and personalized with the customer’s name. It’s best practice for apologies to occur after the customer has expressed their grievances so the representative knows exactly what they are apologizing for on behalf of the company. Whether it was a company oversight or the customer’s error, be sure to refrain from placing blame and apologize for the issue and the frustration the customer is experiencing. Thank your customer for bringing the issue to the company’s direct attention and allowing you to make it right. Social media and review sites are riddled with bad reviews from customers who publicized their frustrations before talking to the company so make the most of the opportunity to make this right.

Use these steps to craft a sincere apology:

  • Thank them for detailing the issue.
  • Use the customer’s preferred name.
  • Specify the problem you are apologizing for.
  • Show sincerity.
  • Show your appreciation for allowing the company to make it right.

Thank you for the information, Mr. Smith, I apologize your subscription was accidentally canceled. I can understand how frustrating that is and I appreciate you letting us know so we can get that fixed for you as soon as possible.”

Even if a situation cannot be resolved as expected, a meaningful and well-executed apology can make customers feel valued and that they are working with a company and representative who sincerely cares about them and are willing to help.


The best way to ensure you completely understand the reason behind your customer’s anger is to paraphrase the customer’s concern back to them. Refer to the notes taken while you were actively listening to summarize your understanding of the situation back to the customer. Paraphrasing ensures both you and the customer are on the same page. It also helps calm an angry customer who may not have felt understood. Paraphrasing allows the customer to clarify missing or misleading details and the customer service professional to gain additional information that can help in finding a solution.

Focus on facts. Skip notating or paraphrasing feelings or irrelevant phrases expressed by the caller. Often notes are used to relay information between departments, used to document the customer’s account, or can become part of a summarized record. Safety reasons aside, you don’t want negative or irrelevant characteristics unnecessarily tied to a customer’s file. Paraphrasing can be done at any time after the customer has explained the situation and before or after an apology. For example, “Thank you for the information, Mr. Smith. Let me make sure I understand what’s happened.” . . . “Does that sound correct?” [continue to apologize].

Focus on the Solution

Tell the customer what you can do, not what you can’t. Stay clear of words like “can’t”, “Our policy doesn’t allow”, “Not my job” or statements that tie a negative connotation to the solution. Instead, highlight things that can and will be done. Even if a customer is requesting a solution your company is unable to meet, respond positively with “Here’s what we can do”. Keep the customer optimistic but be realistic and honest about what the customer can expect to curb future frustration. Check in with the customer each time as you’re explaining the solution to ensure they understand.

A great tip for complicated problems is to break them down into smaller segmented solutions. For instance, in the example of Mr. Smith above, his subscription was mistakenly canceled, which caused him to miss out on the service he prepaid for and the account to lose the new member special offer. You can break up the solution by first, reinstating his subscription. Second, crediting the account for the missed service. Third, reapplying the promotion or applying a new or current promotion that is better for the customer. Taking a big problem and breaking it into segments gives the customer a satisfactory and digestible solution without either the customer or agent feeling overwhelmed.

Customer service is the bridge that connects companies to their customers. Angry customers are unavoidable but with the right approach, de-escalating an irate customer can be the difference between a public relations nightmare or a loyal advocate. If your company is struggling with how to turn angry customers into happy ones, Responsive Call Center can help. We adhere to the highest standard in quality service to ensure your customers receive the best direct 24/7 support on every call. Call us today to learn more about our line of inbound and outbound call center services to meet your needs.