How to Handle Difficult or Angry Customers

Customer service agents who are empowered and have the knowledge to handle difficult or angry customers can turn a bad situation into an opportunity. 

Every challenge is wrapped inside of an opportunity. That may well describe the essence of customer service. Every contact involves a person who needs help: a tech support issue, a product problem, a question, a wonky app, or something else.

Resolving those issues quickly and effectively improves customer retention, opens the door to potential upsales, and generates loyalty. If only every interaction were that easy.

Some of these support calls are difficult to handle because the customer is angry about something. Those are the times that will test the mettle of customer care agents, requiring them to rely on their twin superpowers: the ability to remain even keeled in the face of stress and having a knack for building rapport in adverse conditions. These qualities typically surface during the following scenarios:

  • the customer had a lousy experience with the product
  • the customer is not getting answers or is being repeatedly transferred
  • the customer is demanding a discount the agent can’t give

Difficult customers are ingrained in customer care; at some point, every agent will encounter one. How they’re handled can define a business and what its patrons think of it.

Situations That Can Make Customers Angry and How to Manage Those

While customer service is a people-focused profession, not every situational challenge that arises is due to upset customers. At times, the situation creates or exacerbates any frustration that already exists. Things like long wait times, inefficient problem routing systems, and recurring product issues are frequent sources of heartburn. Let’s address them:

  • High demand volume: Customers expect personalization in every aspect of their journey, service included. Too many tickets for too few agents reflects a planning issue. Nothing makes a customer more angry than having to wait endlessly to connect with a support agent. Workforce Management works in conjunction with service to account for fluctuations in demand, whether peaks are driven seasonally or specific dayparts. Having adequate staffing goes a long way toward successfully managing volume, thus reducing the time on hold.
  • The corollary to providing service quickly is to provide it effectively. An overloaded queue means agents are pressured to work faster than optimal, opening the door to mistakes. When in doubt, first-call resolution may be the most critical metric for the service team. Few things are more irritating to customers than making repeated contact for the same issue.
  • Proper routing: There are times when the issue needs to be escalated or routed to someone else. An inefficient routing process can lead to delayed response and more time to close the issue. It shows the brand in poor light and makes it difficult to satisfy the customer.

This is resolved by implementing the right technology stack. We often talk about the need for multichannel communication and with good reason. Chat, for instance, allows agents to manage 2-3 calls concurrently. That is impossible with voice, but phone calls are ideal for digging into complex issues requiring an agent’s undivided attention. And channels such as text, email, and social media have built-in documentation of every interaction.

  • Product concerns: Product issues are an obvious source of unhappy customers. But these issues are beyond the control of the agents. The source of the issue could be a feature that does not work as advertised. Sometimes, the customer is angry due to a lack of information about how to use the product or feature.

Even when things are beyond an agent’s control, saying that to the customer is not how this works. Owning the interaction means owning all of it, from asking the right questions to having a complete picture of the issue to resolution to follow-up when a solution is not immediately available.

Service agents are the voice of the brand and, at times, advocates for the customer, too.

Agents are a tremendous intel-gathering force that can take customer input and share it with the product team for action. They are also able to maintain the relationship through empathy, calm, and whatever remedial actions they are allowed to take.

In short, treat the customer as you would like to be treated if the situation was reversed.

The Persona of an Angry Customer

There are the times when it’s all about the customer.

The most obvious scenario is when interacting with someone who is angry, perhaps yelling and even cursing. It’s not pleasant for anyone, and the first job of agents is not to make things worse.

Whatever a customer says cannot be taken personally; it’s never about the agent, per se, but about something that has festered and brewed until a boiling point was reached. So, how do you handle people during their worst moments:

  • Angry customerThe angry customer: in such a situation, there are a few options
    • Actively listen to the complaints being leveled
    • Apologize for the incident and offer to be the customer’s advocate in resolving it
    • In extreme cases, ask the customer to lower the temperature and speak reasonably, or take some time to cool off and call you back

It’s never correct to match and mirror the customer’s intensity. That person’s grievance may be well-founded; the service agent’s role is to empathize, defuse the tension, and make the situation right.

  • The dissatisfied customer: this person is slightly below anger but simmering. The upside is that people understand that things can happen, but they also expect issues to be resolved. This is where a service team can truly shine by not only fixing whatever the problem is, but also enhancing the brand’s reputation. What is this customer more likely to remember – the concern or how well it was handled?
  • The rule-bender: there are times when people ask agents to make exceptions, offer discounts, or engage in a similar problem-remediation effort. Exceptions are the easiest to address; agents should be empowered to make reasonable accommodations in some instances. Giving something is better than offering nothing. Providing discounts or rebates varies across businesses but have an option other than a flat “no.” This is actually an excellent opportunity to ask further questions about what the user wants to accomplish.

Each of these situations requires hearing what the voice of the customer is saying, exercising a little patience, utilizing negotiating ability, and maintaining a calm demeanor. As was stated at the outset, issues are often opportunities in disguise. If approached that way rather than as confrontations, the odds of a satisfactory resolution are far greater.

About GlowTouch

As a tech-forward company, GlowTouch is dedicated to providing exceptional customer experiences by leveraging the right people, channels, locations, processes, and technologies. Our personalized omnichannel contact center, back-office processing, and technology outsourcing solutions are tailored to meet the unique needs of clients worldwide. As a certified WBENC Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) and NMSDC Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), we take pride in our diverse workforce. Our commitment to operational excellence and high-touch engagement has earned us recognition from renowned organizations such as Everest Group, the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals (IAOP), and six-time inclusion on the Inc. 5000 list. Headquartered in Louisville, KY, we have a global presence with onshore contact centers in Louisville, Miami, FL, and San Antonio, TX, a nearshore center in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and offshore locations in Mangalore, Bangalore, Mysore, India, and Manila, Philippines. To learn more about how we can help you achieve your business goals, visit, or email Tammy Weinstein at

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