How to deal with unhappy, difficult, and irate customers

How to Deal with the Unhappy, Difficult, and Irate Customer [+Examples]

When dealing with an unhappy or irate customer on an angry phone call, email, or social media comment, the first thing that you MUST realize is...

I think you will agree with me when I say there are actually THREE things that are guaranteed in this life: Death, taxes, and the irate customer.

A key skill for surviving our world of entrepreneurship is being able to diffuse the irate caller/email-er/reviewer and keep your cool at the same time. This will go a long way towards overall customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and maintaining your own mental health. It’s not easy, but follow along and I will show you some basic steps on how to handle the angry client and feel better about your product while doing it.

Step 1: Realize that it is NOT personal.

Be professional, not personal.

When dealing with an unhappy or irate customer on an angry phone call, email, or social media comment, the first thing that you MUST realize is that it is not personal. Take a deep breath and realize that this is not about you, it is about them. They feel wronged, they are used to dealing with poor customer service from your competitors, and maybe they just haven’t had their coffee yet.

Today’s impersonal society conditions the consumer to feel like they do not matter and to expect insincere responses from customer service teams. At the same time it sets up the business owner to receive a customer’s anger and internalize the person’s feelings.

There are better ways. Realizing that this is not personal is the first step in a series of breakthrough techniques for handling difficult situations.

Step 2: Realize that you now have an IMMENSE business opportunity.

This is HUGE. Be prepared and handle this the right way.

This is where you will really have a chance to set yourself apart from all the competition and gain a loyal customer who will shout from the rooftops about how great your business is! Business owners and unhappy customers have been like vampires and werewolves since the beginning of time. Upset customers are expect to contact a call center and vent there frustration. They expect a difficult conversation with a low-level employee and they cherish the possibility of saying ‘let me speak to your manager’.

Remember that the ultimate goal is to have loyal customers that love your product and return to you again and again. The best way to accomplish this is to allow them to vent, empathize with the customer’s problems, and display a willing attitude while you fix it.

Step 3: Acknowledge your unhappy customer’s anger.

After you allow the customer vent. Tell them simply that you ‘get it’. Dissatisfied customers are usually not expecting this and it can help you start off on the right foot.

Let your customer know that you really HEAR what they are saying.

Everyone wants to be heard and to be told they are right. But I caution: pay close attention to what type of situation you are dealing with. Is your rude customer upset about the product? the service? the postal service? (don’t get me started on that one!)

Identify the root cause of the customer complaint and acknowledge it immediately before smoothly incorporating Step 4: Empathy.


You: I hear you and I get it. You are paying good money for a quality product, you don’t want it to arrive damaged.

BONUS POINTS: Really mean what you say and let it come through in your voice. Remember, customers can not read body language via phone conversations.

Step 4: Empathize with the angry caller with basic customer service skills.

Empathy is literally a super-power.

Here is where you take the customer’s side and use empathy. The old adage of ‘the customer is always right’… is wrong. But the best solution IS to take the high road. It is the quickest way to move the conversation into a positive note. They are ‘coming in hot’ but if you immediately take their side and reframe them in a positive light, you have already moved past one of the biggest challenges.

The important thing in this step is that you practice active listening and understanding. Ask for additional information if you need to, identify your important points, but DO NOT WASTE TIME before deploying empathy.


You: You should not have to deal with this, [customer’s name]. You are trying to [make your item/ run your business/ enjoy your purchase], you should be able to feel confident you are going to receive what you ordered and not a different item.

BONUS POINTS: Part of great customer service is catering to the customer. Use their name and use the pronoun ‘you’, but not excessively. You do not want to sound condescending or patronizing.

Step 5: Accept responsibility: The best thing you can do with difficult customers.

They are not calling to hear that it’s their fault. They want YOU to fix it.

Take ownership of the problem. This may be the first time that your upset angry customers have experienced this. This is one of the best practices even if it is not truly your problem (again, I cite the USPS as an example), the majority of your customer base believes it is not their problem either.


You: [customer name], you are the type of client that I like. I need to hear where our company’s weak links are and how to improve. We both know the postal service is not going to do anything to find your lost package and this certainly is not your fault, so let me accept 100 percent responsibility.

BONUS POINTS: Reiterate that you realize the whole situation is inconvenient for them. Let them know you appreciate positive feedback.

Step 6: Prepare them to be blown away with your assistance.

The ROI on a successful conflict resolution is immeasurable in the long run.

This is how word will spread about your amazing customer support. You have diffused the situation, you have remained calm, you have made the unhappy complaining customer feel like an important part of your day.

All that is left is the easy part… Fix it.

Give them a refund, a replacement, a coupon. Give them validation and a reason to not only come back but also to bring a friend.


You: OK [calm customers name], again, my name is Nicole and this is how I want to help you….

BONUS POINTS: Talk to them like they are your friend, like you really want to help, because you do.

A Quick Word From Nic:

(I’m thinking about naming this section “NicNuggets”… Let me know what you think.)

Taking complaint calls is part of the job. You will encounter many different types of customers… The good news is that you are now equipped to handle upset and irate customers by going the extra mile and giving your best efforts to turn stressful situations into beneficial ones by the end of the call.

Now, if you have enjoyed this article or learned anything that can help you, that is wonderful. In return, would someone please call the USPS and have them read this. Then let them know I’ll be calling 😉



PS. If you’re interested in one gal’s story from bolo-wearing waitress to business owner extraordinaire, read my story here. And if you are starting out with an Etsy shop, I tried to help you avoid taking some lumps in this article about Etsy pricing.

For inspiration, you can check out my two stores: KraftHaus Supply Co. and Thursday Moose. Be sure to ask any questions if you need help starting your empire!

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