Customer Care- How To Handle An Angry Customer


By Lefa Letsoalo

What are the challenges?

In my few years in the the call centre industry (13 years), specializing in Customer care, I have learnt a few tricks in terms how to handle angry or irate customers. With a bulk of my experience in the collections space, you can imagine the number of rude, irate and angry customers one has interacted with.

What I have realised is that majority in the corporate world really misunderstands the importance of having the right people working in the call centre.  There is a lot of verbal abuse call centre consultants go through on a daily basis, communicating with clients or debtors (which are clients nonetheless). Not just anyone and everyone can have the thick skin call centre agents have.

The number one thing that helps us is emotional intelligence (a rare commodity), which helps one know how to read situations and how to react in a matter of second or minutes. That knowledge can determine if an organisation will lose or retain a customer. I don’t really think organisations go out of their way to train their call centre staff on emotional intelligence.  As a Supervisor and Manager. I have attended a number of EQ workshops but not even once have I seen consultants/agents attend such workshops.

With that being said, not every organisation can afford to take hundreds of people on such workshops.  I figured that should share some of the inputs and skills I have acquired and shared with my staff on to trying and better equip them to deal with the anger of verbally abusive customers.

There are four types of Customers in the call centre environment;

  • The Off-loader
  • The Legitimate Grievance
  • The Abusive Customer
  • The Threat-Maker

The Different types of Customers

The Off-loader

More often than not these customers have no grounds for a legitimate complaint. In most cases they are just having a bad day. The closest thing to off-load their frustration is the call centre consultant who will make or take a call from them. The most important thing is for your agent/consultant to ascertain the legitimacy of the the complaint. By just  attentively listening and asking questions for clarity, this can be achieved. Listening is one of the most important skill one needs in a call centre environment.

Best phrases to use:

  • “I’m so sorry that you feel this way, Mr Lyon…”
  • “I can understand your frustration with…”
  •  “May I suggest that…?”
  • “What I’ll do right now is…”
  • “We really do appreciate this feedback, Mrs Brown…”

The Legitimate Grievance

This is the most important one as this is usually when your organisation is at fault.  What you say will determine the direction of the call. You must think of the ripple effect if this customer doesn’t get their query resolved or attended to and they decide to go to the media about your lack of service and bad customer service.

Listening to what the customer is saying by using the “echo effect” is very important as this helps with your own personal understanding of another person’s point-of-view.  The “echo effect” tells people that you’re on the same page as them. It shows that you’re listening to what they are saying, and not just thinking about how you are going to respond. The agent should try to resolve the complaint promptly, obviously keeping in mind the limitation of the mandates allocated to them or they must know the escalation process like the back of their hand if it needs be escalated to the line manager/supervisor. It is imperative that turn around times are communicated and adhered to at all times.

“So Mr Letsoalo, if I understand you correctly, you are unhappy with…”

Phrases to use

  • “So Mr Letsoalo, if I understand you correctly, you are unhappy with…”
  • “Thank you for bringing this matter to my attention. I will escalate this issue immediately…”
  • “I will call you back on ….. with regards to how far we are  with resolving your query..”
  • “Thank you so much for your patience/understanding, Mrs Zondi…”

The Abusive Customer

I think that this is the worst of customer interaction. I’ve had my fair share of these interactions. Some are still as vivid as the day they happened in my head. In as much it is said that the customer is always right, it makes no sense at all for any person (agent/consultant/supervisor or even Manager) to subject themselves to verbal abuse. The rule of thumb here is to inform the customer at least three times that if he/she carries on with the profanity, you will have to hang up and end the conversation.

EQ plays a huge role here as there is no excuse whatsoever for one to insult a customer.  As a manager or supervisor, you need to train your staff on how to keep calm under such circumstances. What has always seemed to work for me is to have a group call recording listening session with your consultants, listen to a call where the customer/client was irate and abusive to the agent/consultant and analyse the possible ways it could have been handled, preferred outcomes or how brilliantly the call was handled etc.  With EQ training, your staff can start learning other ways of trying to calm the situation down, while still trying to stop the customer from using obscene language.

“I’m going to do my very best to help you, Mr Bamm…but unfortunately we cannot tolerate the kind of language you are using right now…”

Phrases to use

  • “You seem very upset, Mrs Bokaba. Would you prefer I maybe call you after 30 mins….”
  • “I’m going to do my very best to help you, Mr Bamm…but unfortunately we cannot tolerate the kind of language you are using right now…”
  • “I can imagine how this made you feel Mrs Reynecke. Can I perhaps try to offer a solution?”

The Threat-Maker

Now these type of customers are more like empty barrels, they are easily confused with the above mentioned customers but they are not. These customers as the name says, they like to make threats to get the agent/consultant to agree with them on an usually  invalid complaint or query. Their aim is to try to get the agent to react and then use that as leverage to get what they want by maybe lodging a formal complaint or further manipulating the situation. What’s important is for your consultants not to react to the intimidation or threats thrown at them.

I’ve always told people reporting to me (consultants and supervisors alike) to only use facts(knowing your processes and policies in and out is the 1st step) and don’t thumb-suck info as this will probably open up loopholes or give customer further ammunition for additional objections/complaints or queries. It is vital to always understand that, regardless of what the customer says or do, one should always strive to keep a level head and use appropriate empathy and still maintain formality.

Phrases to use:

  • “I can imagine how this made you feel Mrs Bokaba. Can I perhaps try to offer a solution?”
  • “I am more than happy to help you with your concerns Mr Letsoalo…”
  • “Unfortunately our processes don’t allow me to do that Ms Nkosi.  However, I will be more than happy to….”
  • “I understand your frustrations with…….. Can i suggest an alternative to this issue”

What the Conclusion?

Ultimately regardless of which industry you are in,always remember that  Customer is always king. The better equipped your staff is, the better service your business will give customers and most importantly, the better your bottom line. As mentioned before, I firmly believe that if organisations invest in their people by upskilling them with (EQ training), more especially in the call centres, it would go a very long way in customer retention and increasing revenue.


Please share your thoughts regarding this piece and I would highly appreciate your feedback.


Adapted from  Lefa Letsoalo’s post in LinkedIn