Dealing With Angry Clients

Hey all,

We all know the feeling of dread (eg. pucker) when a linecard goes down because someone uploaded and then rebooted into a corrupt IOS on a core router and the phones start ringing off the hook… le sigh…

Here. It. Comes.


In having to deal with this and a multitude of other issue which caused client’s “concern”, I have found that the following thoughts and ideas can shape your perspective on how to address a client’s concerns in a manner that is beneficial to both you and them and will ultimately address the overriding issue at hand, which is the primary goal. (Is some of it positive psychological manipulation? yup… Knowing and understanding human behavior is the best way to deal with any issues, even in such a temporarily client/vendor relationship as addressing a new issue)

Unfortunately, because we live in a “fast food society”, people are more apt to expect immediate results when they call, chat, send an email or however they communicate with you. Hence, when a certain expectation of service is not met, the result can be a upset (screaming) client.
(more about learning how to effectively and calmly reset client’s expectations will come in a later post)

Here are a few tips I have found which can definitely help in those situations.

Why is my mac’s email client not working!!!

Immediately Shift Your Mind-set Into A “Stay Calm” Mode :
When dealing with a difficult customer it’s easy to lose your cool, or become defensive –especially if they are angry and upset and you are under a great deal of stress yourself. If you do lose control, you will make the person even angrier and cause yourself even more stress. This is called dissociation. Dissociation is defined as “the disconnection or separation of something from something else or the state of being disconnected”. Medical professionals use it all the time, so do cops, firemen or any other professionals that deal with high stress situations. This provides them the ability to be effective and rely on previous training to save your life. The inability to master this skill will inevitably cause issues for you in the long run.

Do Not Internalize Criticism:
First, You are not the problem! Let’s get that out of the way right now… In order to be effective, set aside any personal feelings you may have because of the situation, which probably isn’t your fault anyway. Secondly, do not assume that the client has made a mistake or that he or she is giving you unfair criticism. If there in a new issue going on (assuming there is), research it, own it and be honest; because if there is, and you are unaware, they may be the first ones reporting it. They are paying for a service and when that service does not work, they get angry, just as you would. (remember that time with the cashier or the fast food worker that got your order wrong or a hundred other little things in everyday life that pissed YOU off in the past???)

Why did you put ketchup on my fries??? I said no ketchup, God!!!

Be A Good Listener:
An angry customer needs to vent. Period. Let them! Yes, that’s right, I said it…
Unfortunately, they may initially take their anger out on you (because at that point, you are the face of the company) and blame you for what happened, even if it’s not your fault. Allowing them the time and voice to express themselves to let them have their say before you respond further will go miles further in the relationship to come and will let them know you are willing to listen, which will quell this behavior in the future (usually). Silence is an awesome tool in these situations. If they pause during a rant, simply wait for 10 seconds and if they say nothing, simply say “please continue…”. They may do this multiple times. Use this tool to your benefit because, they will run out of gas at some point, usually when they feel they have adequately expressed their concern. This is the point when the actual active communication starts. This will position you in an immeasurably better place to communicate and calm the situation. Try (as much as you can) to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and express empathy.

Can you hear me now???

Regardless Of The Situation Or Problem, Never Judge Or “Question” A Customer’s Behavior:
A client may not be right, but they are never wrong. Ever heard that phrase? Remember it; there is a reason it exists. If a client is angry, refrain from making statements such as, “Didn’t you maintain the server as needed?” or “Why did you let your developer try to fix something so complex?” Your job is to communicate with honesty and sincerity, solve their problem as fast as possible and, thank them for their patience and understanding while the issue is being resolved.

Start The Conversation With A Neutral Statement:
Using phrases such as, “Let’s go over what happened” or “Please tell me why you’re upset” will subtly creates a partnership between you and your client, and lets them know that you’re ready to listen. Also, this will provide a way to replicate the issue on your end which is the first step in troubleshooting any issue.

“Please God, let me die now…”

Make A Conscious Effort To Actively Work On Your listening Skills On Every Single Call:
Listening is an action. Let them know you are taking notes while they are talking and then read those notes back to them. If they ask why, simply state that you are doing this to make sure you have everything documented correctly and all of the information available in order to make an informed decision. Once they finish, repeat the info back to them and then ask them to correct any mistakes. They will LOVE this! Trust me. This lets them know you are actively paying attention to what they have said. Let them finish talking/venting before you offer a follow up response. Resist the temptation to try to solve the situation right away, or to jump to conclusions about what happened. Instead, let your client tell you his complete story. Also, don’t allow anything to interrupt this conversation. Give your client all of your attention.

Be Patient And Calm:
We all can get frustrated when services or products are not working, and some people can even get aggressive. But remember: don’t fight fire with fire. Someone in that conversation will have to turn down the heat, and that’s going to be you.

This is your fault… You broke my site! Fix it, NOW!

If A Client Becomes Verbally Abusive:
Assuming you are working in a call center settings or even in an office setting, if a conversation turns ugly and personal, Let Your Supervisor as well as the client know that you are terminating the call. There is no excuse for any supervisor/manager to allow for personal abuse when communicating with a client. Period. If it does go unaddressed, time to find a better boss/job. But in the meantime, the most professional way to handle it would be to state, “Mr. Smith, I apologize for anything that I may have said or done to disrespect you in any way. I would honestly like to move on to letting me assist you… would that be ok?” Try to see what their problem is beyond their negative reaction. They might recognize your effort. Once you are sure that you understand your client’s concerns, be empathic. Be as sincere as you can about wanting to help them. If this does not work, simply disconnecting the call with an explanation will be appreciated later and resets the expectation the client has; eg. “Unfortunately Mr. Smith, it seems we are not effectively communicating to address the issue at hand and I will now need to end the call. Thank you for your time.” and hang up. They will call back. Sometimes this escalates the situation but if there is a standard in place across the board and everyone adheres to this rule, it will sink in that personal abuse will not be tolerated.

“You stupid, MF’in, Son-Of-A CS’in, B…!!!”

Present Them With A Solution If Possible:
There are two ways to do this. If you feel that you know what will make your client happy, tell her how you’d like to correct the situation. You could say something like, “I know you need the email to be working as quickly as possible to to let your clients know it is up. I will get started on this right away to make sure that it is taken care of as quickly as possible. My name is Steve and if you have further thoughts or questions, just give us a call back and ask for me specifically.”

Own The Issue
Clients call when they have a problem and have exhausted all attempts to solve the issue themselves. Providing the client a sense of “I’ve got this!” will provide the security and ownership they are looking for. Many a call has been turned around by simply utilizing certain vocal tones and inflections which assure the client that you understand the situation and know how to provide an answer, even if it requires some research.

“Why is my site blank??? All I did was remove this database table!!!”

Request a Solution:
If you’re not sure you know what your client wants from you or is asking for, or if they resist your initial solution, then give them the power to propose things. Ask them to identify what will make them happy. For instance, you could say, “If my solution doesn’t work for you, I’d be open to try a solution that you think will work and If I find that your solution is better, I’ll get it done, and if it’s not possible, we can work on another solution together.” Empowering people will always engender respect and allow to for better communications now and in the future.

Take Immediate action:
Once you’ve both agreed on a solution, take the needed action immediately. Explain every step that you’re going to take to fix the problem beforehand and provide understandable “written” information to them to help know what’s happening (which will provide a future reference in case they run into the same issue again). If they have contacted you by phone, make sure that they have your name and your contact details. This gives them a feeling of control as well as a single point of contact so they can get hold of you again if needs be.

“Why is my recipe blog offline??? The cooking channel is evaluating me for my own show!!!”

Finish Your Conversation In A Positive Way:
After all problems are solved, or at least overcome, check again if your client has any other problems, questions, suggestion or concerns. They will keep this “happy ending” experience in mind when calling back in to speak with you and they WILL pass along this experience when they talk about you with someone else! A positive experience will go miles in bringing in new clients; “word of mouth” referrals will come in if this is your companies standard behavior.

Follow Up:
Once the situation has been resolved, follow up with your client over the next few days to make sure that they are happy with the resolution. Whenever you can, go above and beyond their expectations.

“This issue better not happen again or else i’m leaving!!!”

Final Thoughts:
Lastly, When it comes to dealing with difficult customers, remember this: You can say and do everything right and still not be able to correct or diffuse the situation. Don’t carry it over to your next customer or let it define your day.

These have helped me over the years quite a few times and hopefully they will help you too…! 🙂


I am a g33k, Linux blogger, developer, student and Tech Writer for My passion for all things tech drives my hunt for all the coolz. I often need a vacation after I get back from vacation....

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