How to deal with angry customers

Handling difficult customers can make or break your business. This guide will give you all the tools you need to handle the most aggressive complainants...

Almost every business, at some stage, has to deal with a client or customer flying off the handle. It’s never fun, and sometimes it can get downright nasty – even weird.

Chaz Brooks, owner of Chazbrooks Communications, recently told Startups about a time when he was working as manager of a frozen food store in Hastings, and “a customer came in and waved a frozen chicken at me, shouting “I bought this here and it’s ten pence cheaper in Sainsbury’s!

“He was ranting and demanding his money back – but thankfully, he’d left his dog outside and it ran off, so he had to leave. He never came back – nor did the frozen chicken.”

When people come in brandishing preserved poultry, it can be difficult to keep one’s composure. Thankfully, there are plenty of tips and hints you can harness to deal with angry customers – here are some of the best:

Understand the importance

Effective complaint resolution is impossible if you don’t value the person making the complaint – empathy and respect are fundamental. Mike Dalloz, owner of customer service coaching company Performance in People, told us:

“Before looking at how to deal with a customer, it’s important to step back and understand the relevance of great service. In a retail environment where customers are making purchases of low value, you have to think of their potential lifetime value; someone spending £15 in your restaurant may not seem much, but if they come in three times a week it mounts up.

“Customers typically tell eight people about a bad experience, while they only tell one person about a good one. But, if you deal with a complainant effectively, you can turn them into an advocate of you and your brand.”

Listen to the customer

As well as respecting the customer, you have to respect what they’re saying – by listening attentively.

Listening isn’t just a case of sitting there vacantly – you have to listen actively, showing you’re paying attention. Make sure your body language is right; always make eye contact, nod at the right times, and don’t cross your arms as this can indicate annoyance.

Sometimes all a customer wants to do is have a good moan. Once they’ve unloaded their frustration, they may be satisfied, and might even realise they’re in the wrong.

Paul Tanner, managing director of Alan Day Volkswagen, told us about a time when “a customer walked into the showroom, shouting and banging the showroom desk, complaining that he could not get through on the phone and asking what sort of company he was dealing with. When he had finished sounding off we spoke to him, and found that he was in the wrong showroom and had been dealing with Audi!”

Take notes

Sometimes, with a long complaint, it’s hard to remember everything the customer is saying – and the last thing you want to do is forget the details. Taking notes can be a great way of keeping in touch, and showing the customer you care.

Gemma Layton, account manager at, told us about an occasion “where the delivery company one of our clients used had delivered half a package to one of a customer. They had carried it up three flights of communal stairs and dropped half of it on the way, leaving it as and where it fell! Naturally the customer was livid.


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