How to Handle Upset Customers On the Phone

How to Handle Upset Customers On the Phone

13 Tips To Turn Angry Customers Into Raving Fans

If you work in customer service, you’re probably familiar with that phone call, the one we all dread, an upset customer who threatens to stop patronizing your business and leave a horrible review. If you handle the conversation poorly, you could lose a valued customer. And if they leave a bad review, you jeopardize your relationship with countless new customers. The pressure!

So, what do you do in this situation?

The answer: You provide exceptional customer service.

83% of customers feel more loyal to brands that respond and resolve their complaints

How you respond to an angry customer can change their perception of your business. According to Khoros, 83% of customers feel more loyal to brands that respond and resolve their complaints. So, take this as an opportunity to shine and possibly gain a lifelong customer.

Below are Blue Corona’s 13 tips to handling upset customers on the phone.

1. Remain Calm

Take a deep breath, think about something that makes you smile — that great dinner you had last night, a good conversation with an old friend. Smiling decreases stress and creates a positive feeling (Envolve). If you are upbeat and have a positive attitude, you will likely affect the mood of your customer.

2. Listen

Let the customer talk. Often, this is all the customer wants — to be heard. Unless they are downright insulting or vulgar, try not to interrupt and let them get it out. The more you listen and understand how the customer feels, the easier it will be to resolve the issue.

3. Take Ownership of the Call

Don’t put the customer on hold or try to pass them to another department. Doing so will only make the situation worse and promote a negative experience. According to Zendesk, more than 70% of customers expect companies to collaborate on their behalf, and 68% of customers are annoyed when their call is transferred between departments. So, stick with the customer and gather as much information as possible. In the event you must involve another department or co-worker, you will be armed with the information you need to get them up to speed quickly.

4. Respond With a Calm and Confident Tone

Foster a sense of security. Speak with confidence and authority and show the customer you are prepared to handle the issue. If you sound unsure or stammer through with filler words, such as “um” or “I think,” the customer will become more agitated and question your ability to handle the situation.

5. Stay Positive and Focused

Don’t let the customer dictate the mood of the conversation. Don’t complain about policy, make excuses, or blame someone else for the issue. Remain focused and work to resolve the issue at hand. Avoid saying “no” or “I can’t.” Instead, tell the customer what you CAN DO and not what you can’t do.

Don’t say: “I can’t put you in touch with the owner. She’s not here.”

Do say: “I would be more than happy to take down your information and have her give you a call back as soon as she returns.”

6. Use the Customer’s Name

Use the customer’s name throughout the conversation, this tells Mr. Smith he’s important and you value him and his business. Allow the “transaction” to transform into a personal interaction between the business and its value client.

7. Apologize and Offer Empathy

Offer a genuine apology and know why you are apologizing. Do you truly understand why your customer is upset? It’s probably not because the technician was late but more so because his lateness caused him to miss a lunch date with a friend or made him late for work. The apology should be personal to your customer’s experience.

Example: “I am so sorry the technician didn’t arrive on time. I understand what a tremendous disappointment it must have been to miss your lunch date.”

8. Thank Your Customer

YES, thank them! Let the customer know you encourage and appreciate feedback. You can’t grow and improve if you don’t know what’s wrong. Would you rather receive a complaint via a phone call or through a bad review posted online for all to see?

Example: “Thank you for calling to let us know about this. We value your feedback and appreciate the opportunity to make this right.”

9. Reassure Your Customer

Use positive language so your customer knows you take them seriously and will take action to resolve the issue.

Example: “I definitely take this seriously.”

Example: “I’m so glad you called and let us know.”

10. Act

Apologies only go so far. Now, how are you going to resolve the issue?

Example: “Mr. Smith, we are going to re-evaluate our process so that we can identify and solve for latency issues in the future.”

It’s okay if you can’t provide a resolution on the call, but be honest and inform the customer of your plan.

Example: “I would like to discuss this with my Team Lead, who is away from her desk right now. Would it be acceptable for me to give you a call back by 4 p.m. today?”

11. Set Clear Expectations

Don’t leave anything up to interpretation. Avoid saying “in a little bit” or “later today.”  Your definition of a little bit may be three hours — your customer’s definition may be 10 minutes — in which case, you’re probably going to receive a call from a VERY unhappy customer. Be as specific as possible when setting expectations.

Example: “I will give you a call back before 4 p.m. today.”

Example:  “I will give you a call back within two hours.”

12. Follow Through on Your Commitment

Once you set a clear expectation, follow through on your commitment, or you risk aggravating the situation even further. If you’ve committed to a 4 p.m. callback, call the customer back before 4 p.m. even if you don’t have an answer.

Example: “I have not forgotten about you, and resolving this issue is extremely important to me. I was unable to touch base with my Team Lead but have an appointment scheduled with her first thing tomorrow morning. I will give you a call back by 10 a.m. tomorrow morning and provide you with the results of our meeting.” 

13. Provide Your Contact Information

Verify the customer has your name and a way to get in touch with you should they need to follow up, an email, an extension, or a general office line. Provide them with a sense of closure so they walk away feeling like they are in good hands and not lost somewhere in a nameless, faceless complaint queue.

Close the Call

In the end, our goal is to have the customer feel validated, appreciated, and good about their experience. You want the customer to know their satisfaction and business are important to you. By the end of the call, if you are still unsure, ask.

Example: “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

If there is no additional action required and you were able to resolve the issue during the call, it may be worth asking:

Example: “Was I able to address all of your concerns?”


Let’s face it, we’ll never do away with upset customer calls. But knowing how to manage the conversation with confidence and tact can affect the outcome. With the right tools and a little practice, you can foster better customer relationships, create loyal customers, and build a great reputation. And, in turn, maybe reduce the number of upset customer calls. That sounds like a win-win situation.

Maggi Pier

Maggi Pier

Avid gardener, artist, writer, web designer, video creator, and Google my Business local marketing pro!