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How to Handle an Irate Customer on the Phone

One of the most important duties of any business owner is to ensure that their customers are satisfied. Often times, this includes talking to a customers who, for whatever reason, are angry or upset.

Tactics for dealing with an upset customer over the phone are something that can be learned. Possessing these skills will help make you a very valuable employee.


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    Actively listen. Let the angry client talk through their problems and get it all out of their system. As they talk make indications that you are listening such as "uh huh", "really?", etc.. This step is important because the more time a customer spends airing their grievances, the more time they have to calm down.
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    Allow the client to express their opinions. Allow them to communicate their feelings however they choose to without passing judgement. Step in only if the client becomes directly abusive towards you.
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    Maintain your personal integrity at all times. If the customer is abusive, calmly interject something to the effect of "I appreciate your frustration with the situation however attacking me will not improve anything - I would like to help you."
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    Be sympathetic. Make sure the customer knows that you understand their frustration and acknowledge any mistakes that have been made. Recognize the customer's feelings about the mistakes - that is, how it must have felt to be the customer in this situation.
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    Be empathetic. When appropriate, show empathy. Empathy implies that you feel the same way as the customer and truly understand their feelings. It can create further issues to say "I understand your anger" if you do not truly understand, as the customer may shoot back "You have no idea!". Using a phrase like "I can imagine how upsetting that must have been" is a better way to phrase this.
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    Ask questions. After they complete their story, ask about the facts and details of the matter at hand.
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    Move into solution-mode - know when to ask open-ended questions, and when to stick with "yes" or "no" questions.
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    Apologize when appropriate. Apologies can often be interpreted as an admittance of guilt. There are three types of apologies that can be employed in these situations, choose the most appropriate:
    • Direct: "I apologize that we did not send your order on time."
    • Blameless: "I apologize for the fact you are frustrated - let's see if we cannot turn this around."
    • Fake: "It sounds like we owe you an apology."
      • Many customers interpret this to be an apology when in fact none is ever made.
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    Offer to try to fix the problem. Never promise to outright fix the issue, but always promise to try. If you make an attempt and fail, it will create further issues if you promised total resolution.
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    Gain agreement on your resolution. Make sure your client understands what has been done at the end of the call. Even if the issue is not totally resolved, gain agreement on the resolution that was reached.
    • Example 1 (total resolution): "So just to confirm, I have walked you though reinstalling your application and now everything works - correct?"
    • Example 2 (pending resolution): "So just to confirm, we have decided that your toaster is in need of a repair under warranty and I am sending you a box for you to ship it back to us - correct?"
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    Write a clear, concise log of the incident. Document (in detail) every major point of the call. It is not important to note every single word uttered, but keep a point-form log of anything that may assist others who deal with the customer in the future.



ISSUE: The customer is calling because he recently visited store #112 and claims that the representative at the cash register was rude and condescending.

- Allowed the customer to explain the situation fully:
-- The customer states that on 01/01/09 he went to store #112 to purchase a do-dad and when he went to pay had some issues with the PIN number for his debit card. The customer states that at this point the cashier became rude and made comments about the customer's age.
- I apologized for the customer's feelings, but did not make a direct apology.
- I offered to call the store and speak to a manager on the customer's behalf : the customer agreed to this.
- I also offered a $20 gift card to thank the customer for calling in today : the customer declined, and stated he just wanted to make us aware.

RESOLUTION: Calling Store #112, will confirm employees for 01/01/09 and register a formal complaint on behalf of the customer.

Your Name * Your Department * Your Phone Number

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  • After the complaint is handled, follow up and be sure the resolution is completed.
  • During the interaction with the customer's complaint, it is always important to monitor your own tone of voice and volume. Never raise your voice, as that can easily escalate into a shouting match. Having a consistent calm tone of voice will subconsciously encourage others to do the same.
  • Don't forget to thank the customer for taking the time to speak with you and work to a resolution.
    • The customer has done you a favor. They have identified a problem in your business and they have given you the chance to keep their business by fixing it.
  • Keep a complaint log. If you see the same thing popping up over and over, you can recommend a change in policy.


  • Some customers use complaints as a way of getting discounts or credits. Beware of the client who is constantly grinding you for any little thing they can think of. Accurate records should protect you from this occurring.
  • Problem customers can become expensive if they continually make harsh demands. Keep records of complaints and any compensation or refunds provided. A customer who is always offered a refund may be complaining only for monetary gain.

Article Info

Categories: Handling Difficult Phone Calls