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  • Writer's pictureTal Nagar

8 Proven Principles for Dealing with Angry Customers

Angry customers don't have to be your nemesis! Master the art of de-escalation using 8 proven principles.

Dealing with angry customers can feel like navigating a minefield. One wrong word and boom! 

  1. Your company’s reputation just got worse.

  2. You’re left feeling burnt out and drained. 

I know, I felt it too. So, I decided to work on my de-escalation skills with an M.A. in Conflict Resolution.

In this blog post, I'll uncover 8 principles that have helped me turn those frowns upside down.


What do you WANT, Mr. Angry Customer?

Deep down, customers want their needs and wishes to be fulfilled  (Bacal, 2011). 

When that happens, they feel a sense of satisfaction and loyalty. But, when your product fails, frustration and anger start kicking in.

If we want to master the art of de-escalation, we must know one thing:

The needs and wishes of our customers aren't "just" about our product. They're basic psychological needs, such as:

  1. Mutual trust and respect.  

  2. Maintaining a good reputation at work.

  3. Feeling a sense of competence and high self-esteem.

  4. The loss of predictability caused by unmet expectations.

Getting to know them is the first step. Then, we need to identify the need at play in each interaction.

Only then, can you reduce frustration and assist your customer.

#1: They want to vent.

Angry woman on a call
Photo by Alex Green

We all want to be heard and acknowledged.

When we’re angry, venting our feelings takes the air out of the balloon. 

It allows us to see the situation more calmly and be more receptive to solutions.

As Customer Success Managers, we need to let our customers vent to solve the problem. Not only does it neutralize their feelings, but it also teaches us about them and their situation.

To do that, resist the urge to interrupt and pay attention to what is said and how.

#2: Don't take it personally.

In my first year as a Support Rep., angry customers felt like personal attacks. Defensiveness and hurt left me unable to help them.

This changed when my manager at the time told me: “Tal, it’s not about you. You don’t know what they’re going through.”

What I know now is that customers aren’t attacking us personally. They see us as a representative of the company.

As soon as you internalize this, the more helpful you’ll be and the more control you’ll have over your reactions.

#3: They want you to be empathic.

Empathy is one of the most important skills for these difficult situations.

Woman supporting a man
Photo by Alex Green

Step into someone else’s shoes and reflect on how we would have felt in their place.

This perspective helps us understand the customer’s feelings and reactions. In this nonjudgemental position, we can validate their feelings and reduce their intensity.

Here are my top 3 empathetic expressions:

  1. “I completely understand your frustration.”

  2. "What I hear you say is..."

  3. "I know this is important to you and I want to make sure I get it right."

#4: They want you to care.

This is so obvious, and yet, we tend to forget it.

The sense that someone else cares about us is a game-changer. It’s what builds relationships.

You see, customers want to feel that you care and see you making a genuine effort to help.

Send this message across and learn more about the customer by using active listening and curiosity.

So, on your next call,

  1. Be curious about what they tell you.

  2. Prioritize questions over assumptions.

  3. If you don't understand something - ask.

#5: They want you to be a partner.

Think about the last time you went through a difficult time in your life. Did anyone support you? Did they make you feel like you can get through it?

Holding hands
Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

Loneliness affects how we see ourselves and our abilities, making challenging situations seem worse.

This is where cooperative and positive language comes in. It shows our customers that we're here with them as partners.

Here are my favorite words and phrases:

  1. Using “We” and “I” instead of “you.”

  2. Highlighting the strengths of our customers instead of their weaknesses.

  3. Focusing on their goals and help accomplish them. 

  4. Avoiding the use of "but", "however", or "unfortunately."

#6: They want a solution.

This one is pretty straightforward and yet, quite tricky. 

Your customer wants their issue fixed as soon as possible and they have an ideal solution in mind. The problem is it might go against your company’s policies.

Here’s where your problem-solving skills come in:

  1. Learn as much as possible about the customer and their issue by using principles 1-5.

  2. Show them that you’re taking their issue seriously and making the effort to solve it.

  3. Have an open and creative dialogue with them about their ideal situation.

  4. Offer as many solutions as possible and empower them to choose.

#7: They want confidence and clarity.

Picture this: you're speaking with your bank about strange charges. The rep seems hesitant, they mumble a lot and mute themselves every few minutes.

Woman giving a thumb up
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

Instead of giving you assurance and certainty, they just made things worse. Pretty frustrating, right? 

Clear and confident communication shows we know what we’re doing and allows us to control and navigate the conversation. 

Follow the steps below to become a master of clarity and confidence:

  1. Know your company’s policies and products inside and out.

  2. Practice mindfulness to gain control over your feelings.

  3. Use simple and clear language.

  4. Communicate as much as you can and leave no room for assumptions.

#8: When possible, get on a call.

Truth be told, I always prefer calls over emails.

Emails create a physical and emotional distance between us and our customers.

We're more likely to misunderstand others and be negative towards them if we can't see/hear them (Naquin et al., 2005).

For this reason, we should push for Zoom calls whenever possible and let customers see us as individuals instead of another name on a screen.

Plus, it's also a great way to break the ice and start defusing early!

Final Thoughts

Look, angry customers are difficult to deal with - no doubt about it. But, they’re a part of our job.

I hope that in your next difficult conversation, you’ll feel better and less nervous now that you read my blog post.

I also hope that these 8 principles will help you become a better Customer Success Manager. I know they helped me.


Bacal, R. (2011). If It Wasn't For The Customers, I'd Really Like This Job. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Naquin, C., Kurtzberg, T. & Belkin, L. (2008). E-Mail Communication and Group Cooperation in Mixed Motive Contexts. Social Justice Research. 21. 470-489. 10.1007/s11211-008-0084-x.

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