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  • Writer's pictureVicki Viall

How to Survive Rude/Angry Customers

Without Being Arrested or Fired!

They are all around us. There is no place to go where we can be sure we won't encounter them. Angry, rude people. And, it's an entirely different ball game when we must deal with them at work.

Learning to navigate, and negotiate our way through this particular mine field can be excruciating. This is mandatory stress ball country. Just don't throw the stress ball at your computer. Sorry, inside joke, there.

If you have ever encountered them, you know exactly what I speak of.

While in banking, I had a customer pick up my desk phone and fling it at me. He was so drunk, though, that he couldn't have hit anything. It made it worse at that point when I laughed. He stopped laughing when I called the police and told the officer what happened and that I wanted to press charges for assault.

The customer stormed off before the police arrived. When the officer entered my office, I explained what had happened and offered that I thought the offender had taken off. He gave me his cell number to reach him directly if the guy came back, and said he wouldn't be far off.

It was only a few minutes later, the customer came back in. He was much calmer this time. Still drunk, but calmer. He even apologized.

With him calmer, I explained the problem with helping him and offered the same solution I did the first time: a temporary ATM card that would get him through his weekend long binge.

When he left, he was almost a different person.

Also while in banking, I had the "privilege" of being in three bank robberies. I can honestly say that I was far less frightened by them than some of the angry, rude customers I have encountered.

Just last week, on the same day, I had two different customers tell me if they could find me, they would hurt me. I failed to mention to them that their threat was captured on tape, but made sure my supervisor knew about it. And, make no mistake, their anger was truly with themselves for failing to pay their bills, but I was an easier target.

While our work space expects us to just suck it up and deal with this type of person, even to the point of firing us if we hang up on them, I found this sage advice on

"There are occasions where it is wrong to expect advisors to sit back and take the abuse. So we need to provide advisors with clear guidelines for dealing with the three types of rude customers, which are:

  1. Offensive/insulting customers

  2. Swearing customers

  3. Sarcastic customers

So, set clear guidelines to define the difference between angry customers and the three types of rude customers. Then, define the scenarios in which advisors can be expected and not expected to hang up." (Note 1)

While searching various sources for input for this blog, as well as for myself and teammates at work, I found a list that is basically the same from all sources. They all recommend:

1. Just remember to keep breathing. I try to just sit calmly and picture myself at the beach or in another, much happier place.

2. Everyone says don't take it personally. Keep telling yourself you are NOT at fault. This one is very hard to accept and act on. To me, anyway.

3. I think that most who have experienced this behavior directed at them will agree that it is not appropriate or acceptable. Still, try to focus on what is being said, not on how it is being said. Instead of responding in kind, calmly and quietly ask questions to help highlight the issue.

4. It DOES bear repeating: speak calmly and slowly. And, keep taking deep breaths to relax. Keep your hands unclenched. Relax your shoulders.

5. Empathize with the customer by saying something like, "I do understand how frustrating that is. I would feel the same way."

6. Try, really try, to put yourself in their position and their circumstances. For example, if they are calling about something that is an every day complaint, there is a valid basis for it, right? Grab on to that and go from there.

7. Apologize. You don't have to personally accept fault. Just say something like, "I am so sorry that has happened."

8. When you are able to get the customer engaged in somewhat of a conversation and you have presented the only options available, don't back down. Be firm, but be polite.

9. Don't be afraid to admit that you have no other options, there is nothing else you can do. If they ask for a supervisor, you have done all you can. Make notes, then get the customer to a supervisor.

10. Take a breather. When it's over, let it go. End of story. This is not an option in our workplace. However, I do take a handful of seconds to literally shake my arms as if to shake the experience off. It DOES help.

Personally, I think every, single call center supervisor and/or manager should sit down with every, single employee and have a conversation on what is and what is not acceptable and then, back the employees up if/when that happens. But, that's just how I handled things when I was in management.

Just so you will have all the sources I checked out, here is the complete list with links:

As always, I would dearly love to have feedback with useful practices you have learned over time.

Most of the time, I am grateful the majority of these encounters are on the phone. And, that would be for the customers safety, not mine. :)

Still, though these are situations no one should ever have to deal with, the reality is that we will and we do. Even if we are not making life easier for the customers, we WILL be making our own lives easier. That is reason enough to spend time with these tips and take time to jot some notes down to have handy when you need them.

Just remember to keep breathing. Keep your thoughts on happy places, people, and memories.

And, keep on spreading world class service and sales to our customers while making our businesses a bigger success.

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