Article

How to respond to angry customers

Not sure what to say to calm down an angry customer? Here’s how agents can respond to upset customers and diffuse tension across channels.

By Patrick Grieve

Published March 19, 2021
Last updated November 24, 2021

Angry customers are among the most challenging aspects of working in customer service. It’s hard to imagine that “the customer is always right” when a customer is calling you names or cursing you out.

Luckily, there are ways to prevent tense conversations from getting out of hand. Support agents should follow time-tested tricks for de-escalating situations and, if necessary, turn to effective call scripts and email templates designed to diffuse customer anger.

Why do customers get angry?

Customers can get angry for a lot of reasons–many of which aren’t under your control. Certain customers may be under a lot of pressure in their personal or professional life, upset or exhausted by current events, or simply bad at coping with their own anger.

But sometimes, customers get irate because they’ve been on hold for too long, had their question bounced around from department to department, or are disappointed in your product or service. No matter the reason, it’s important to treat angry customers carefully.

Why should you never take customer anger personally?

So you should never take customer anger personally. Though it’s no fun bearing the brunt of irate callers, it’s important to remember that they’re mostly upset at the situation–not you. Keeping calm can go a long way in making the customer settle down, too. Try to empathize with their frustration.
“Anger is a primary emotion where a person often believes they have been wronged,” says Dr. Thomas DiBlasi PhD, licensed psychologist and assistant professor at St. Joseph’s College. “One of the best ways to defuse a customer's anger is not by arguing back, but making sure they feel heard. Make sure they know you’re on their side.”

5 tips for dealing with angry customers

In addition to practicing empathy, there are a few other tactics you may want to try when interacting with a rude customer.

  1. Let them vent (for a while)

    They’re angry. They want to tell you why. So let them. When a customer complains, you should listen–don’t interrupt. Instead, interject occasional active listening terms like “Okay” and “I see” to show you’re paying attention. This is your customer’s time to express how they’re feeling, so let them vent. At least, at first. If this is your second (or third) touchpoint, it may make the customer angrier to have to keep explaining themselves over and over again. Making sure you have the right context for the conversation will help you know how to respond.

  2. Repeat what they just told you

    When you restate what someone just said, it makes them feel heard. This is all part of active listening: you’re not listening to respond, you’re listening to understand. When you repeat what they said, use their name–it makes them feel like they’re being treated as a human being.

    Choose your words carefully here–you don’t want to make things worse by using loaded language. You just want to state the facts. For example: “Josie, what I’m hearing you say is your shirt arrived with a hole on the front, and you’re upset about it. Is that right?” By asking the customer to confirm what you’ve heard, you’re asking them to agree with you on something. That can go a long way in diffusing tension, and put you on the right track to resolving the issue.

  3. Empathize even if you don’t agree

    Don’t see your customer as an adversary–because they aren’t. By empathizing, you are stepping out of the line of fire to stand next to them. Think about how you’d feel in the customer’s shoes. Would you be angry if you’d been on hold for an hour? Probably. It’s not your fault, but you can help fix the situation by seeing why they feel that way, even if you don’t agree with it. You can use empathy statements like, “I’m so sorry. Being put on hold for an hour would make me mad, too.” Not only does this help you make a connection, it can help hot tempers cool off.

  4. Get the conversation to the right channel

    When a conversation gets heated, it may need to move to another channel. For example, an intense social media or text conversation may de-escalate if it’s moved to the phone. Likewise, a raging phone call might simmer down if it becomes a video call.

    At Zendesk, we often try to engage with upset customers over video. The medium makes it easier for agents to analyze the customer’s body language and visual cues. It also makes it harder for customers to be angry. Instead of shouting at some voice on the other end of the line, they’re looking at another human being.

  5. Communicate next steps (and follow through on them)

    If you can’t resolve an issue right away, it’s crucial you reassure a frustrated customer that you will get to the root cause and find a solution. Clearly explain the next steps you’ll take: Walk customers through a roadmap that lays out what you’ll do right away, what will happen after that, and when they can expect a resolution.

    For example, you might need to schedule a next-day appointment with a product manager to fully troubleshoot an issue. Set up the meeting, then tell the customer to expect a follow-up email 24 hours after the appointment to ensure everything went well.

    Every customer interaction is unique, but they often follow the same pattern. Similarly, while personalized support is key to great customer service, you can often use customizable templates as a starting point for conversations.

5 email templates for dealing with angry customers

Email is a great channel for responding to customer complaints. The medium doesn’t allow for interruptions or shouting, so it’s harder for angry conversations to escalate. You’re also not speaking spontaneously, which means you have more time to carefully consider your wording. That being said, you should never wait too long to respond to an email—if customers don’t get a response for hours or days, their irritation will only fester while they wait.

1. Initial reply email template

If you do need more time to answer a particular request, it’s best to send an initial reply email acknowledging that the customer’s message has been received. Make sure to apologize for the inconvenience and promise to have an answer within a certain timeframe. You might use the following email template to immediately respond to a support request:

Hi [Customer Name],

We have received your support request regarding [customer complaint] and are working to fix the issue. I’m deeply sorry for any inconvenience you’ve experienced, and we’re committed to resolving it as soon as possible. We appreciate your patience and hope to have a solution for you by [date and time].

In the meantime, have you had a chance to look at [resources related to issue]? They may help shed some more light on the situation.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

While some inquiries may take longer to sort out, common customer complaints can usually be addressed more quickly. Regardless, it’s important that the tone of your message remains apologetic, understanding, and sincere. Try basing your message on customer service email templates that correspond to the situation.

2. Delayed order email template

Customers have grown accustomed to fast shipping. It can be very frustrating when an order doesn’t arrive by the promised delivery date. This is especially true if it’s a time-sensitive item such as a gift for the holiday season.

If a customer reaches out to complain about a delayed order, be sure to track the package and send an email explaining its status.

Dear [Customer Name],

I’m so sorry that your order hasn’t arrived yet. I can understand how frustrating this must be for you.

I have tracked the item’s progress via [package carrier], and it’s currently listed as “[status].” If you’d like to monitor its progress, you can use this link: [tracking link]

If your order doesn’t arrive within [time frame], please contact me directly. I will do everything I can to locate your package.

I’d like to apologize again for the inconvenience, and I encourage you to contact me if you have any additional questions or concerns.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

3. Wrong item email template

Getting the wrong order in the mail is incredibly exasperating. Not only does it further delay the correct item, but it also creates more work for the customer. Make sure your email acknowledges both pain points.

Dear [Customer Name],

I’m so sorry that we mixed up your order. I know how disappointing it is to not get what you expected.

I’ve just checked on your original order, and it should arrive on [date] via [carrier] (tracking number [#]). If you’d like to track your package, you can use this link: [link].

I’ll follow up with you on [delivery date] to make sure you’ve received the correct items. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

I also have one favor to ask: Could you please return the incorrect items you received within the next [#] days? Inside the box you should find an adhesive, prepaid return label. If not, please click this link, print the form and attach it to the box, and drop off the box at any [carrier] location (click here to find the nearest one).

Once again, [Customer Name], I sincerely apologize for the mistake and the inconvenience it has caused. Thank you for your patience and assistance.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

4. Technical difficulties email template

Tech companies and service providers have to apologize for spotty service or back-end issues when they occur. It’s important to explain what went wrong and try to atone for the headache it’s caused.

Dear [Customer Name],

I sincerely apologize for the frustration these issues must have caused you. To help make it up to you, I’ve refunded your subscription fee for this month.

It appears that the problems you experienced were a result of [explanation]. We’ve identified the source of the issue, and we’re working hard to implement a fix as soon as possible. Everything should be resolved by [expected time]. Once access is restored, I’ll reach out and let you know.

Sorry again for the inconvenience this has caused. Please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you need any additional assistance.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

5. Late response email template

When there’s a high volume of emails, it’s possible for one to slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, getting ignored will only make an angry customer even more irate. If a customer complains that they haven’t gotten a response to their email, quickly address the original problem and then apologize for missing the initial email.

Dear [Customer Name],

I’m deeply sorry for the delay in getting back to you. I completely understand your frustration. Your email deserved a much timelier response.

As you requested, I’ve [resolved original issue]. If you experience any further problems, please contact me directly.

Due to the inconvenience we caused you, we’d like to offer you a [discount or deal]. Just follow this link to the [coupon code].

Once again, [Customer Name], I sincerely apologize for the delay. We will do everything in our power to improve our response time so we can provide you with the speedy customer service you deserve.

Sincerely,

[Agent Name]

Person holding their arm and flexing their bicep muscle to show strength

The phone is the most stressful channel for engaging with an angry customer. In addition to finding the right words, you’ll need to ensure your tone of voice remains calm if you hope to de-escalate the situation. This isn’t easy, so it’s helpful to have some scripts handy.

Reading from a call center script or template can be risky at times, as your response may sound canned or disingenuous. Also, in a live conversation, you may not have much time to consult a script before responding to the caller. The best technique is to learn a few lines that are effective at diffusing a heated conversation. Keep these phrases in mind so you’re able to adapt them to the next volatile situation.

When a customer is angry–whether justified or not–the most important thing is to communicate understanding and sympathy. Start with a sincere apology, immediately followed by an offer to resolve the issue.

9 phone scripts for angry customers

1. I’m so sorry that happened to you. Let me see if I find a way to make this right.

2. I’m so sorry to hear that. Can you tell me exactly what happened so I can help?

3. I’m so sorry about the mistake we made. Let’s see what I can do about correcting your order.

4. I completely understand the frustration you’re feeling. I’m sure I’d feel the same way. Can I ask you a few questions so we can get this resolved?

5. I’d like to sincerely apologize for that inconvenience. Thank you for bringing the issue to our attention. I will take action on this right away.

6. I’m truly sorry, and I’m going to do my very best to help you, [Customer Name], but I won’t be able to resolve this issue unless you’re able to answer my questions and discuss this calmly.

7. You seem very upset right now, [Customer Name]. Would you rather continue this conversation over email?

8. I’m sorry that you’re so upset, [Customer Name]. Would you like for me to call you back when you’re feeling a little calmer?

9. I’m sorry you feel so frustrated by this conversation. Would you like to speak with my supervisor instead?

If a caller becomes abusive, hanging up is an option—it should always be a last resort, though. It’s best to involve your supervisor before completely ending the call. Your manager might find a creative solution for placating the customer or be able to validate your decision to end the interaction.

Dealing with angry customers over chat can be stressful. Annoyed customers are often impatient, so you don’t want to take too long to come up with a response. However, proactive chat scripts can help make conversations less tense.

In some cases, it might be best to transfer the conversation to the phone. But it is possible to be personable, empathetic, and responsive over chat—especially if you know the best lines to use.

If a customer describes a negative experience, the first thing you should do is apologize. There are a few different lines you might use to let the customer know you are sorry for what happened and are ready to remedy it.

10 live chat templates for angry customers

1. [Customer Name], I’m so sorry that you’ve had to deal with this problem. Let me quickly check to see if I can fix it.

2. I’m sad to hear that you had a negative experience. Please tell me what happened, and I’ll do everything I can to make things right.

3. I understand how you’re feeling right now, and I’m very sorry about it. I’m sending your request to the right person immediately to make sure we correct this as soon as possible.

4. [Customer Name], I deeply apologize for this inconvenience. I made a mistake and showed you the wrong [information]. What I should have shown you is...

5. [Customer Name], I’m afraid we accidentally sent you the wrong invoice. I’m very sorry for the mix-up on our end. We’ll resend the correct invoice in a moment, along with a special discount code to help make up for this inconvenience.

6. I’m sorry, I’d really like to help you with this issue, but I’m afraid I’m unable to fulfill that request. Is there anything else I can do for you?

7. We apologize, but we’re not able to help you with that particular issue. I’m afraid your request goes beyond the scope of our support capabilities.

8. I’m really sorry, but I’m afraid our department can’t help you with your problem. Would it be alright if I transferred you to one of my colleagues who can handle your request?

9. I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience, but my department doesn’t have the type of information you need. Would you mind if I transferred you to the right department?

10. Unfortunately, I’m not equipped to handle your request. I’m truly sorry for the inconvenience, but I can transfer you to another agent who specializes in this type of issue if you’d you like.

Create a more seamless customer experience

One thing that’s guaranteed to make upset customers even angrier? Having to repeat themselves all over again after being transferred to a different service rep. You can prevent this by using customer support software that allows you to house customer conversations in a centralized workspace.

When everything is in a single place, entire conversations can effortlessly move from one social messaging app to another, and agents can easily switch between email, phone, chat, and more. Your agents also have quick access to customer data and conversation history, giving them all the context they need, so customers are never asked to repeat their problems—which can make a world of difference when they’re unhappy.

Meet customers where they are and provide personalized, empathetic responses to make sure they feel heard, no matter what channel they’re using. They’ll feel much happier in no time.

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