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Defuse an Angry Customer

Use these six steps to cut through the drama so you can address your customer's actual problem.

If you work with customers long enough, you'll eventually encounter one who's furious about something or other and can't resist yelling or otherwise acting abusive.

Your challenge is to address the problem with minimum wear and tear--for you, your staff, and the customer. Here's how.

1. Don't take it personally.

Regardless of what customers may believe, the real reason they're is yelling at you is always about something else that's going on in their lives.  It's just your bad luck that you're in the line of fire when the customer is having a horrible day, week, or year.

2. Do not react to the anger.

When confronted by anger, most people react one of two ways: 1) becoming angry themselves or 2) attempting to placate to make peace. Both approaches are mistakes in this case. If you become angry, it only feeds the customer's anger. And if you placate, you'll simply be training the customer to continue to act like a jackass.

3. Expect and demand civility.

State clearly and firmly that you're willing to help resolve the problem, but you won't be yelled at or treated disrespectfully. Don't mince words. Make it clear that your help is dependent upon the customer's ability to behave in a civilized manner. In most cases, the customer will actually breathe a sigh of relief.

4. If the customer won't comply, end the conversation.

Do this politely but firmly. State that you'll be glad to help once the customer is willing to treat you with the respect that you deserve.

Yes, you may lose that customer. However, you've also lost the constant headache that customer will become if you don't set reasonable boundaries.

5. Apologize for the problem.

After you've demanded and received civil behavior--and only then--apologize for the inconvenience that the problem has caused the customer. Then explain that you are just as committed as the customer to resolving the problem fairly and equitably.

6. Work on the problem.

Now that you've established rapport and the fact that you won't be abused, you can go ahead and work on the customer's issue. If the problem can't be resolved immediately, set up a way to report your progress.

You need to follow up religiously, because that will prove you're worthy of keeping the customer's business.

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Last updated: Jul 20, 2012


Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed more than a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

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