A Cool Head in a Sea of Angry Customers

We’ve all had to deal with angry customers. Disappointed clients, infuriated readers, resentful consumers—whatever your line of work, there’s somebody who’s not happy with what they bought from you.

If you’re a communicator working for a consumer brand, no matter how good your product is, no matter how accurately it’s been promoted, no matter how responsible a corporate citizen your brand is, somebody somewhere is angry at your company. If you’re at an agency, you’ve got a client right now who feels that what’s been paid for hasn’t been delivered.

The same holds for personal relations—somebody you’re related to or a friend you’ve known for years is holding a grudge because of something you said or did or didn’t do.

The question is, how do you handle the anger? Figuring out how to hear, absorb and respond to someone else’s anger is part of the job of being a professional in any line of work. And if you’re a PR practitioner, being able to deal with a customer’s anger in e-mails, on social networks, on the phone and in person can make your career.

I’m not a psychologist and can’t pretend to offer tips on how to handle an absolutely red-hot customer on Facebook, beyond trying to take the conversation offline. One way or another, though, you have to meet that person’s anger head-on. Most people avoid confrontation—that’s a basic fact. But if you can specialize in dealing directly with your company’s angriest customers or your agency’s most furious clients, you’ve got a calling card that’ll make you unique, valued and respected. Cool heads prevail—always.

—Steve Goldstein 

Follow Steve Goldstein: @SGoldsteinAI

  • Sarah Funderburk

    Great post Steve. As a young PR practitioner, I would probably try to avoid confrontation, but I definitely see your point and it’s probably best to handle it quickly and directly. Thanks!

  • claudia

    I couldn’t agree more. And it’s something Dale Carnegie already predicted many years ago.
    Confrontation is indeed hard but it’s definitely the bravest thing, and customers surely appreciate that.

  • Sandy Leung

    Thank you for telling us the brutal reality which might happen in my future career life. It inspires me to start thinking of the possible solutions to such situation as I am going to graduate this summer and search for a job. I guess sometimes people just want someone be there and listen to them. All we can do is responding calmly and respectfully.

  • http://ginademiranda.blogspot.com/ gina de miranda

    Dear Steve,

    One of the first jobs that I ever had was handling “hot sites” for a high tech company. My job was to fly in, figure out why their computer system had blown up and neutralize the anger. I got awards for “customer service” for my actions. Here are some tips:

    1. Get them on the phone. Forget email. The human voice goes much further in extinguishing anger than any letter.

    2. Acknowledge their anger. Don’t try to pretend that it doesn’t exist. Say something like: “You sound upset. What can I do to help?”

    3. LISTEN to everything that they have to say before speaking.

    4. Take notes and be prepared to RECAP the issues as you understand them.

    5. Get their buy-in by asking “Did I understand your problem/problems correctly?” After they have given input on your notes, repeat that input to them.

    6. Ask them to suggest solutions and then prioritize those solutions so that you can identify what would really help as opposed to what is “nice to have.”

    7. Get an email address and send them a letter recapping what they told you. This is not an admission of anything, it is simply to say: “THIS IS WHAT YOU TOLD ME. DID I STATE YOUR CONCERNS CORRECTLY?”

    8. When you have received their response, be sure that you tell them that you will be getting back to them within XX number of hours and DO IT…even if it is only to say that you don’t have an answer yet.

    9. Identify those that can fix the problems that you have identified and send them emails asking to meet. Give them a timeline for getting back to the customer and stay on them until you get a response.

    10. Tell the customer what the fix is (if there is one), what it will take to effect that remedy (i.e. mail in equipment or product; go to the store with return…whatever) and how it will be handled.


    The most important thing is to let them know that you will be taking responsibility.

  • http://www.landesassociates.com Les Landes

    Here’s a an acronym for handling customer complaints I came across several years ago – can’t recall the source, but it’s simple, memorable and effective.

    It’s call “Take the HEAT,” and here are the four steps, one for each letter:
    1. Hear the customers out
    2. Empathize with his/her situation and feelings
    3. Apologize if appropriate
    4. Take responsibility for corrective action

  • sgoldstein

    Gina and Les, thank you for sharing these great and practical tips.

  • Gwen

    While I agree that you should take the conversation offline or to more private channels when dealing with an angry online customer, but not right away! If it’s an angry wall post, for example, reply and say that you are sorry that the customer is not pleased and that you will make the wrongs right. It is after this that you should take the conversation offline, because otherwise all your customers might assume that you do not address legitimate issues and do not listen to your customers. Even if your customers came from hell like these people http://venturesmallbusiness.blogspot.com/2012/10/how-to-deal-with-customers-from-hell.html you still need to please them.

  • http://artesanatocomgarrafapet.com Artesanato

    The best strategy to handle an angry client is to take the conversation offline. You have make it clear that a person is taking control of the situation, which is something hard to do when you try to solve an issue online.