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'Stop Apologizing' - 5 Tips for Handling an Angry Customer

If you’re in customer service – or sales for a company without a designated customer service team – chances are you’ve faced an angry customer or two. They’re the ones who approach you at the height of their frustration. Their package hasn’t arrived, or they found a hair in their risotto or they want to cancel their account right now. If you’re a sales rep, you might be the only human they’ve been able to reach. Whatever the cause, they’re unhappy and looking for you to provide answers as quickly and accurately as humanly possible.

As a former customer service and sales manager, I’ve had my share of these interactions. A lot of people would have the impulse to run and hide, but when you are the frontline of a company, and it’s your job, you can’t. You have to stay calm, cool and focused.

Here are my tried-and-true tips for handling an angry customer:

1. Stop apologizing so much. The most common mistake customer service representatives make is apologizing too much. The angry customer doesn’t care about your apology. They want their problem solved. That’s why they are coming to you, that’s why they are on the phone with you, not because they want to hear how sorry you are, but because they need your help. Instead of saying ‘sorry’, focus on solutions. What can you do to help them?

2. Stay curious. Many people feel nervous about asking customers – especially angry ones – direct, blunt questions, but sometimes, you need to in order to help them. If you are missing a critical piece of information, ask them for it. If something doesn’t quite add up, ask for more details. They often have the information we need to quickly and efficiently serve them.

3. Set and manage expectations. A common misstep is telling the customer whatever they want to hear in an attempt to calm the situation. But really, this is not helpful and only creates a bigger problem for them – and you – later on. Instead, find out correct answers to their questions before parlaying them to the customer. This way, you can accurately tell them what they can expect. For example, if you know a delivery is going to be seriously delayed, don’t hesitate to tell them that. Be as transparent as your job allows and set and manage expectations.

4. Be a human. If you repeatedly recite scripted corporate responses to an angry customer, they might feel like they are not being heard, their problem is not being addressed, and it can really drive up the emotion. Instead, lean into your humanity. Acknowledge how ridiculous the situation might be, and while you are investigating the customer’s specific case, ask them about their day or the weather. In this way, you remind them that even though you represent the company that caused their frustration, you are a human trying to help another human. It can distract them from their anger, lower the temperature of the situation and even make it easier to find solutions.

5. Keep it in perspective. The issue is most likely not a matter of life or death. The stakes are just not that high. Even if the package never gets delivered, it’s going to be okay. If you can remember that, you can maintain your own sanity and self-worth, no matter how the angry customer treats you. (But seriously, if you are going home and crying about it – and I know some of you are – you might want to consider a new job. Customer service can be tough, and if it’s too much, it’s not worth your mental health and wellbeing.)

Practice is the best way to really learn to incorporate these tips. I always recommend role-playing. Try out a few different scenarios with your coworkers – or call me to schedule some time. Handling angry customers with curiosity and humanity will help keep your customers cool, allowing you to solve problems more efficiently and maintain your own sanity.


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