Communicating More Effectively with Angry Customers


Dr. J Thomas Smith, Contributing Writer | If you own a business, you know that customers are your lifeline.  If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.  All customers are not the same.  Every now and then you may have that customer who is not happy, even though you did nothing wrong.  This is just the world we live in.  However, no matter the situation, it is important to stay professional.

Below are lessons learned over the years that have helped me to stay cool and communicate more effectively when a customer gets angry or “goes off.”

  1. Be assertive – not aggressive or passive. One simple definition of assertion is “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and don’t be mean when you say it.” If you will allow this rule to guide your conversations with all of your customers, you will remain confident, cool, in control, and professional.
  1. Speak more slowly. Be patient. You will think more clearly, maintain control of the situation, and you will be more confident when you remain patient.  As the customer’s voice escalates, your voice should de-escalate. Slow down your rate of speech. Speak slowly and methodically when your emotional triggers are launched, and you’ll maintain poise during difficult conversations.
  1. Wait a few seconds before responding. Responding immediately to difficult or tactical customers may result in you saying something that you will regret later. Before you respond, take a deep breath, wait at least 2 seconds, and think about the best response and the best approach.
  1. Take a time-out. When you sense that your buttons have been pushed, take a break. Put the customer on a brief hold. You might tell the customer you need to review a file, or whatever plausible excuse sounds good at the moment. The objective is to get away from the customer for a few seconds so you can re-group.
  1. Use positive self-talk. Instead of saying to yourself, “I don’t get paid enough to put up with this *$%X@,” say something more positive like, “This person really needs my help.” If you think more positively, you will act more positively and professionally. Negative thoughts lead to negative words, and that will cause the conversation to spiral into a very negative situation.
  1. Show your power before you use it. As a customer service professional, you likely have the power to end a phone call. You could say to your customer, “If you don’t stop screaming at me, I will end this call.” However, you have more power if you say, “I want to help you, but when you yell and cut me off, you make it difficult for me to work with you.” That statement calmly demonstrates your “power,” and you can bet your message will definitely be understood. The angry statement exhausts your clout and usually won’t have a calming effect on an irate customer.

Try these techniques and you will remain calm when customers are angry!

Dr. J Thomas Smith is host of “Sunday Morning Live” on KMJQ/Majic 102.1 (9-11 am CST).   He is an attorney, author, keynote speaker, and mental health consultant. Your comments are welcome at or Follow on Twitter @drjtsmith102 and at


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