How to deal with rude customers on the phone

Peyton Duplechien • 19 Sep 2019 • 11 min read

Whether you’re dedicated to handling the customer service department of your business, or you sometimes have to step in when things get busy, you’re probably no stranger to dealing with the occasionally angry customer.

And let’s be honest, we’ve all experienced a purchase where we’re not happy with what we’ve bought – be it due to an error on the company’s part or dissatisfaction with the quality of the product or service overall.

Naturally, this can result in a great deal of frustration, with calls to customer service needing to be made in order to get a refund, replacement, or some other solution to rectify the situation. And inevitably, not all of these calls will be calm and collected.

In fact, in some cases a phone caller becomes irate and demands far more than you can offer them as a service, leaving you exhausted after dealing with just one call. But you’re not the only one.

Dedicated customer service agents spend a lot of their time dealing with difficult customers, which is why most of their training focuses on learning how to deal with rude customers on the phone.

So, to help you out the next time you’re handling irate customers over the phone, here are our top tips for staying calm and resolving the situation promptly.

How to recognize an angry customer

First things first, it’s worth clarifying the signs that could indicate an angry customer. Not all callers can come across as angry right off the bat, and it’s only when a phone caller becomes irate and demands you rectify their issue immediately that their temper comes out.

So, while not all callers will be extremely angry, it’s safe to assume that every person who calls is at least slightly irritated about taking time out of their day. Rarely will you get a call from someone thanking your company for its great service — though wouldn’t that be a nice twist?

Instead, you’ll be dealing with frustrated customers of varying degrees. Some will be slightly annoyed and just looking for a refund, apology, or another simple solution, and others will be absolutely livid with specific demands for how your company should rectify the situation.

The trick is figuring out as early on in the call as possible the level of the customer’s frustration. Some signs of an irate customer you should watch out for include:

  1. A raised voice – angry customers will often make themselves known by raising their voice, be it by yelling or by simply speaking at a slightly louder volume than normal.
  2. Talking quickly – stressed or frustrated individuals might talk at a faster rate than someone who is calm. If a caller is ever talking too quickly for you to understand what they’re saying, ask in a calm voice if they could speak slower so you can fully understand their situation and offer the best possible solution.
  3. Profane language – a definite sign that a caller is angry is the use of profane language. If this happens, you need to make it clear that foul language on customer service calls will not be tolerated. If the swearing continues after a few warnings, the agent should have the option to either end the call or pass it up the chain to a manager or another person in a position of command.
  4. Continual interruptions – customers who are very annoyed may be too frustrated to listen to a customer service agent work through a script or explain to the caller how they plan to solve the problem. They may interrupt by continuing to vent about the situation and how it impacted them, or by asking questions like how much longer the call will take. Be sure to let the person continue to talk as much as possible but be prepared to jump in after a few instances to keep the call moving.
  5. Passive-aggressiveness – lastly, some callers may start off the conversation with a sarcastic, annoyed tone that may be difficult to pick up at first but will become more noticeable as the call continues. The best way to deal with sarcastic callers is to be as direct as possible and use a calm tone of voice. If the sarcasm continues, gently remind the customer that they’re only prolonging the call by making unnecessary remarks.

What is the golden rule of customer service?

When handling customer service, we know full well that it can be tricky to stay calm when a phone caller becomes irate and demands a lot of you. However, no matter the situation, it’s vital that you obey the golden rule of customer service at all times – displaying empathy.

Multiple studies have shown that the number one way to satisfy an angry customer on the other end of the phone is to empathize with them and their situation.

Just like them, you’ve probably experienced what it feels like for a company to let you down and likely know the frustration they’re experiencing. And what makes it even more frustrating is when a customer service agent is either unhelpful, difficult to reach, or unempathetic toward their situation.

For this reason, practicing empathy is the most important thing to remember when dealing with angry customer service callers.

How to show empathy over the phone

The first way to show callers you empathize with them is to show you care about understanding their complaint in its entirety. Ask questions to clarify you fully understand why the caller is upset and repeat their main complaints back to them so they know you’re listening actively and intently.

Be sure you’ve heard their entire story before offering solutions, as the appropriate course of action may change depending on certain situational factors. The last thing you want to do is offer an angry customer a solution that doesn’t address their entire complaint.

Multiple disappointments and frustrations in a row are a quick way to cause your company to lose a customer for good.

Once you’ve heard your caller’s full story, the next step to practicing empathy is to apologize to the customer for the inconvenience — even if the issue is not actually the company’s fault.

By saying something along the lines of, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this right now,” you’re acknowledging the fact that this person did not want to spend their day on the phone resolving these problems.

How to calm someone down over the phone

When looking at how to deal with difficult customers on the phone, it’s just as important to know how to calm a caller down as it is to identify how annoyed they currently are with their situation.

We recommend following these six steps to satisfy an angry customer on the phone.

1. Listen closely to their complaints

The worst thing you can do as a customer service agent is either confuse or fail to hear what the caller is saying and force them to repeat themselves by explaining their complaint again.

Angry callers want to know the person on the other end of the line is actually listening to them, not just zoning out as they explain the issue they’re having.

2. Stay calm and collected

As a customer service agent, it’s your job to stay calm so you can keep the caller calm. Use positive language as much as possible, and don’t hesitate to ask especially irate or disrespectful customers to either collect themselves or call back after they have done so.

You could even explain that their negative language and comments are only prolonging the process of you solving their problem, encouraging them to relax.

3. Apologize for the inconvenience

Whether your company is at fault or not, apologizing to an irate caller for the inconvenience they’re experiencing may help to calm them down.

When people have to call a company to resolve an actual issue — not just complain vaguely — they want to know the business realizes they didn’t want to be spending their time on the phone with customer service, and this phone call was not optional or by choice.

The frustrated customer on the phone has an actual problem that they now have to spend part of their day resolving, and it may cause them to have to rearrange their schedule or cancel important plans or meetings.

And remember, simply saying, “I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this today” does not mean you’re taking the blame — it’s just a way to empathize with the caller and legitimize their feelings of frustration.

4. Repeat their main points

To show an angry customer you were actively listening as they explained the situation, be sure to repeat their main complaints, and point back to them once they’ve explained why they’re calling.

Be sure to summarize what they’ve said into itemized issues as well if they each require a separate solution or action on your part.

5. Explain what solutions you can offer

The next step is to explain in as much detail as possible the solutions you can provide. Tell the customer the steps you will take to rectify the situation, as well as the outcome they will receive at the end of the call.

If there are multiple options for solutions to one problem, be sure to explain each choice to the caller and let them decide, offering assistance in their decision as and when they need it.

Remember to get a verbal agreement from the caller before taking any action to ensure they will be satisfied with the solutions you provide.

6. Ask if you can help with anything else

After you’ve resolved the caller’s main pain points and confirmed they are completely satisfied with the outcome of each item, ask them if there is anything else you can do for them. If you haven’t already discussed it, you can also ask if they would like to provide any specific feedback that you can send up the chain of command.

Following up with the caller one last time to make sure they’re happy shows you care about their overall opinion of the company and don’t want to just move on to the next caller as soon as possible.

7. Avoid putting them on hold

No matter what happens during a call, you should look to avoid putting a customer on hold at all costs. Not only is being put on hold frustrating, but it can imply to the customer that you simply don’t care to address their problem immediately.

Top tip: Use caution when apologizing to angry callers

While it can be helpful to apologize to angry callers for the inconvenience they’re experiencing, you should look to use caution when doing so, especially with particularly irate customers.

Giving an apology when it’s not necessary or deserved can lessen the impact of a company’s true apologies. It can also cause both the company and the customer service agent to come across as insecure and having a lack of confidence.

Apologies should always be practical and specific so they carry more weight and actually mean something to the customer when they hear them. Similarly, customer service representatives should never tell a caller they understand how they’re feeling.

Instead, tell the caller that you understand their issue and you’re going to help them resolve it as quickly as possible. Tell them you’re grateful they reached out about this problem and thank them for remaining patient and calm as you work on providing them with a solution.

You should also assure them you’re currently taking action to rectify the situation. These are the things callers want to hear. They don’t want you to relate to them or compete with their frustration by saying you’ve also felt this way before. All they really want is to reach a solution to get off the phone and back to their lives as quickly as possible.

Phrases to use when dealing with an irate customer

When a customer is particularly frustrated, the language you use will determine whether they become more or less angry as the call continues. Ideally, you want to calm them rather than prolong the call for them.

Here are four examples of key phrases you can use when dealing with an angry customer on the phone to keep the conversation under control:

1. “We really do appreciate this feedback”

Some customers will have completely legitimate complaints or comments that your company can resolve and take note of. These callers want to be recognized and thanked for the time they took to make the call — especially if they are not requesting any sort of reimbursement or reward for their feedback.

2. “Thank you for your patience and understanding”

If your company has made an error that’s causing a customer to have to call you, the caller will want to know you appreciate their willingness to wait patiently as you resolve the issue.

It’s very easy for people to get frustrated when dealing with a company’s mistakes, so be sure to express that you’re grateful when callers treat you with respect — especially when they are actually nice to talk to!

3. “I understand your concern, but I cannot tolerate the kind of language you are using right now”

This is an example of how you may handle a caller who is using foul language and being abusive. After the first warning, you may move on to suggesting you continue the conversation via email or chat or asking the customer to call back once they are calmer.

If they still don’t stop, inform the caller that if they continue to use foul language, you will be forced to end the call.

4. “I am actioning this for you right away”

Letting a customer know you’re already working on resolving their issue will help them stay patient as you work on the solution.

Be as specific as possible when you tell callers what you’re doing right now to fix the problem — they want to know you’re actively working on the issue at hand, rather than trying to teach yourself the solution as they wait on the other end of the line. Give the caller as much of a play-by-play as you can.

Key vocabulary to use when handling angry customers

In addition to the four phrases we listed above, remember to use the following keywords when considering how to calm someone down over the phone as well:

  • Yes – be as positive as possible during your conversations with angry customers. By saying “yes” and repeating what they have said, it will legitimize their complaints and let them know you understand and are listening.
  • I – using the first person “I” instead of “we” when you talk about what you’re going to do to fix the problem, helps to humanize you when talking about what you’re specifically going to do to fix their problem, rather than a general reference to your company. For example, say, “I’m going to reset your account password,” not, “We’re going to reset your account password.”
  • Affirmations – words like “definitely,” “absolutely” and “certainly” help to assure the customer they will be 100% satisfied at the end of the call.
  • Feedback – if a caller tends to rant or ramble but is still respectful, thank them for their feedback so they don’t feel like their words went unheard and won’t make an impact. Assure them you will pass along their comments to decision-makers at the company. They want to know they didn’t waste their time and breath by expressing their frustrations.

Going to extra mile to please angry customers

Finally, when looking at how to deal with difficult customers over the phone, there are several actions you can take to show you and the company values them as a client.

Angry customers often expect more than a solution — they want to see the company they’re dealing with go the extra mile to continue to earn their business. They want to see that the company values their business and will do anything possible to make sure they come back again despite this particular experience.

Some examples of going the extra mile to satisfy angry customers include:

  • Briefly reviewing what was discussed to ensure all issues were addressed
  • Offering them a free gift or a discount on their next purchase as thanks for their time
  • Suggesting tips to avoid similar future issues without placing blame on them
  • Anticipating future questions or needs
  • Complimenting them or telling a joke to lighten the mood
  • Sending a follow-up email or gift after the call

And no matter how you choose to go the extra mile, be sure to leave a lasting impression by asking the customer if there’s anything else you can help them with at the end of every call.

This tells the caller you’re willing to address any and all of their concerns in one phone call to save them time and stress. It also sends them one last reminder that your company genuinely cares about its customers and their happiness.

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Contact our team today to learn more about our answering services and start your seven-day free trial! And don’t forget that we also have plenty of similar blogs to this one, such as how to start conversations with customers, how bad customer service can impact your business, and how to handle online customer complaints.