How to Get Any Angry Customer to Back Down


Imagine your next phone call is from an angry, irate customer, and you’ve only got a few seconds to gain control. Are you 100% confident you can handle it? If not, you’re not alone.

Most customer service professionals dread having to talk to difficult customers. And it’s no surprise. A simple encounter with a demanding, irate, or unreasonable customer can leave you feeling angry, frustrated, humiliated, or emotionally drained. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

I’m about to reveal a hidden way for you to literally convert sourpusses into sweethearts.

Simply put, you can use these insider secrets to instantly turn angry customers into raving fans for you and your company – without giving away the farm.

Here’s how to get any angry customer to back down:

You must acknowledge the fact the customer is angry.

A big mistake among customer service professionals is to ignore a customer’s expression of anger or tip-toe around it. There is something known as the communication chain. When people communicate, they expect the person they are communicating with to respond or react…this response is a link in the communication chain. A failure to respond to communication leaves the communication chain unlinked…broken.

For example, If I walk into my office and say… “Hello Sherry, how are you?” ….and she says absolutely nothing, she’s broken the communication chain. And that leaves me feeling awkward, perhaps embarrassed.

If a customer expresses anger and we fail to respond to it, the communication chain is broken and the customer feels like they are not getting through. The customer might become even angrier and more difficult, as they are resorting to whatever it takes to feel “heard” and understood.

You can keep your angry customers from getting angrier by confidently acknowledging their anger and responding to it. You can respond to anger with a statement like, “Clearly you’re upset and I want you to know that getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” This statement directly and professionally addresses anger – without- making the customer even angrier. Now that the anger has been acknowledged, you have completed the communication chain and the customer feels heard and respected.

Allow the customer to vent, but don’t lose control.

An Angry customer can be compared to an erupting volcano. When a volcano is erupting, there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t speed up the eruption, you can’t put a lid on it, and you can’t direct or redirect it…it must erupt.

When a customer is angry, they must experience and express their anger – and often this is done through venting. We should not interrupt an angry venting customer or tell them to “calm down.” This would be as futile as trying to tame a volcano. A volcano erupts and eventually subsides. Your angry customer will vent and eventually calm down.

Always let angry customers vent. In most cases, your customer will only need to vent for 15-35 seconds. Venting beyond 35 seconds can become ranting and cause you to lose control. After a few seconds of venting, you’ll want to jump back in and move the conversation forward constructively.

Apologize…whether the fault lies with the customer OR the company.
It’s amazing; the mere act of apologizing sincerely to a customer can result in an immediate calming effect and move the customer right out of a hardball mentality.

But a lot of companies advise their employees NOT to apologize to customers because they want to be careful not to assume responsibility for a problem that may actually be the fault of the customer.

You need to know that it’s possible to “safely” apologize to customers. Here’s an example of a “safe, but sincere” apology offered when the problem is clearly NOT the fault of the company:

“Mr. Smith, please accept my apology for any inconvenience this misunderstanding may have caused you.”

Notice, this apology does not blame the company OR the customer…it’s offered simply to create goodwill. Always apologize and be sure your tone sends the same message.

Try a little Verbal Aikido
In my live Handling Difficult Customers seminars, I demonstrate the martial art Aikido and offer it as a strategy for diffusing anger. I began teaching this unconventional approach to managing conflict after having my breath taken away as I watched Steven Segal effortlessly defeat his opponents without violence or aggression in half a dozen of his movies. Aikido is a nonviolent martial art that can be effectively applied to conflict situations with customers. Here are a couple Aikido principles that you’ve gotta try out with you next difficult customer:

(a) Never meet force with force. In Aikido there are no direct attacks and very little striking or kicking. When dealing with angry customers it is natural to respond to an attack with an attack. If the customer yells, we might be tempted to escalate our voice. When the attack gets personal, we may become defensive and less willing to work with the customer. While we may feel justified in launching our attack because we’ve been attacked, we must realize that a defensive (forceful) response only escalates the original problem. Let’s learn from the Aikido masters and not attack back defensively. Instead, we will respond carefully and strategically.

(b) Work to strategically calm down the attack. In physical Aikido this is done by both the use of relaxed body posture and open hands. Verbal attacks from irate customers need the same calming strategy. In Aikido, the master will step aside rather than confront the attack. This takes the power and speed out of the attack and allows the master to stay centered and calm. When you respond to your customer with “Clearly, we’ve upset you and getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.” anger begins to dissipate. You’ve addressed the anger directly and non defensively and you haven’t been pulled into the drama of the attack. Strategically choose your words and tone so that you come across with confidence, control and credibility. This “strategy” will calm down the most ballistic customer.

Pull out the tried and true “Broken Record” technique.
If your customer is ranting, raving, or rambling and you feel you have lost control of the conversation, you can quickly regain control using the Broken Record technique. Use this technique by simply repeating a sentence or phrase over and over again until your ranting customer hears you. It can be as simple as:

“Mr. Jones, what I can do is send you coupons for three bags of potatoes chips.”

“Mr. Jones, what I can do is send you coupons for three bags of potatoes chips.”

“Mr. Jones, what I can do is send you coupons for three bags of potatoes chips.”

This example would be effective for the customer who is demanding more, but three coupons is your limit. The reason this technique works is that typically, repeating yourself, verbatim, in a non-confrontational tone, will force the upset customer to stop talking – if for no reason – than to get you to stop repeating yourself. It’s very much psychological.

In Summary
Acknowledge your angry customer’s “pain”, let them vent a bit, don’t be afraid to apologize, and always have one or two verbal self defense techniques on stand-by. When you do, you will be thrilled with how effective you are at getting angry customers to back down. And once you’ve gotten a taste of how easy it truly is to get angry customers to back down, I believe you’ll be completely STOKED and actually look forward to the challenge of facing tough customers.