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September 22, 2016

How to handle angry customers

By Yinka Kolawole, with agency report

No matter how good your product is, no matter how dedicated you are to providing good customer service, at some point, one of your customers is going to get angry about something. Actually, throughout the life of your business, several customers will probably have complaints. It happens to every business in every sector, and no one is immune. The question is, how do you handle small business issues like this? Go about it the wrong way, and you may lose a customer forever. Handle it well, and the relationship may be salvaged. Anita Campbell, founder of Small Business Trends website and CEO of BizSugar, an online community of small business owners, here gives some tips on how to handle angry customers.

Don’t interrupt

When a customer calls or comes into your business with a complaint, they have a need to be heard. Ask the customer what happened, and then be quiet. This can be difficult because your instinct is going to be to defend your business, and let the customer know if something they’re saying is inaccurate. Resist the temptation to cut them off to begin fixing the problem until you have their full side of what the problem is. Interrupting them is only going to anger them further, and make them feel as though you’re not listening to them, which translates to not valuing them as a customer. Be patient, let them explain why they’re upset, and wait for them to finish before you respond.


Once the customer has explained why they’re upset, the first words out of your mouth should be, “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t matter whether your business is in the wrong or not, the best way to immediately defuse the situation is to apologise. You don’t necessarily have to apologise for whatever the customer is accusing you of, though. When the complaint conversation begins and the customer is irate, it may not even be clear what the problem is, or what exactly happened, so you can’t know yet whether there’s anything to apologise for. But a simple, “I’m sorry you’re having trouble,” or “I’m sorry you’re unhappy,” can go a long way to calming the customer down so you can have a more productive discussion and get to the real root of the problem.

Ask what customer wants

If it turns out your business did somehow fail this customer, you need to fix the situation. Sometimes that can be easily done by issuing a refund. But if the problem is more complex than that, before you begin trying to come up with ways to please the customer, ask them what it will take to make things right. They may already have something in mind.

But if they don’t, asking them what they want accomplishes two things – it makes them stop talking to think for a moment, which can calm things down further, and it makes them part of the solution, which can be the first step to rebuilding trust and keeping them as a customer. They may also surprise you, and ask for less than you would have offered without hearing their ideas first.

The feedback generated by customers, whether happy or mad, can go a long way in marketing your company.  Being able to influence this word-of-mouth advertising is absolutely essential in creating a credible brand.

Don’t be bullied

You know the old adage, “The customer is always right.” The sad truth is, less-than-honest people do exist, and they sometimes try to take advantage of businesses by complaining in order to get something for nothing. If your business really didn’t do anything wrong, try to offer the minimum solution to resolve the situation. But if you have a customer on your hands who is just unreasonable, and it becomes obvious they’re simply trying to bully you into giving them something unwarranted or undeserved, don’t back down.

It’s better to lose one dishonest customer than to compromise your principles – and your business – not to mention, set a precedent that opens the door for more unfounded complaints. Could that person get loud, and maybe start telling others how horrible your business is? Yes, that’s a risk. Just know that by offering consistent, honest service, and going the extra mile to help your customers, you’ll build a good reputation that will be more difficult for one disgruntled customer to tarnish.

Remember to train your employees on how to handle angry customers, too. Nothing escalates a situation more quickly than an employee arguing with a customer because they’re trying to be loyal to the company, or because they simply haven’t been properly trained on how to handle a delicate situation. Always give employees the option to pass problems up the chain, too. They need to know you have their back so they can have yours.

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