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How to Deal With Difficult Customers on the Phone: 9 Tips & Strategies

Have you ever dealt with an angry customer on the phone and felt overwhelmed or unsure of how to handle the situation? We know how challenging it can be to navigate these…

Estimated Read Time:  13 minutes


A customer service representative offering realistic resolutions to a customer's problem

Have you ever dealt with an angry customer on the phone and felt overwhelmed or unsure of how to handle the situation? We know how challenging it can be to navigate these interactions effectively while maintaining a professional manner. That’s why we’ve put together this comprehensive guide on “how to deal with difficult customers on the phone” to help you turn those difficult customer calls into opportunities for growth and success. Get ready to discover the essential skills, strategies, and techniques that will empower you to transform any challenging customer interaction into a positive and productive experience.

Short Summary

  • Understand customer perspectives and remain calm to effectively handle difficult customers.

  • Master essential skills such as active listening, extending an apology, demonstrating empathy and providing a solution.

  • Identify areas for improvement through self reflection and share feedback with management for enhanced customer service & satisfaction.

Understanding Difficult Customers on the Phone

A customer service representative talking to an angry customer on the phone

Angry customers, or irate customer situations, can be a nightmare for call center agents, but it’s important to remember that their frustration, or customer’s anger, is often rooted in external situations and psychological stimuli. In most cases, upset customers are not angry at you personally, but rather at the company or the situation they find themselves in.

Acknowledging the customer’s feelings and worries of challenging customers is crucial to delivering great customer service. By taking the time to understand their perspective and remaining calm, you’ll be better equipped to handle irate customers effectively and turn their negative experience into a loyal customer relationship.

Identifying common triggers

Customer dissatisfaction can be caused by a variety of factors, such as product malfunctions, missed deadlines, or unsatisfactory service experiences. These common triggers often lead to angry customers contacting the support team to express their frustration. As a call center agent, it’s your responsibility to identify the root cause of the customer’s anger and address it promptly.

One of the most frequent customer complaints is that the product received is damaged or does not function as anticipated. In such cases, offering a replacement or refund may be an appropriate solution to alleviate the customer’s dissatisfaction. It’s essential to remain empathetic and understanding, even if the customer is using the product incorrectly or has unrealistic expectations. By offering guidance and support, you can help improve customer satisfaction and build a positive rapport.

Emotional vs. rational reactions

It’s important to distinguish between emotional and rational reactions when dealing with angry customers. Rational reactions are grounded in logic and facts, while emotional reactions are based on feelings and emotions. Exhibiting empathy when responding to emotional reactions is essential, as it demonstrates understanding and acknowledges that anyone could experience similar emotions in a similar situation.

In contrast, when dealing with rational reactions, it’s crucial to focus on the facts and provide logical explanations or solutions. By understanding the difference between these two types of reactions, you can better tailor your approach and communication to address the customer’s concerns effectively and improve their overall experience.

Essential Skills for Handling Difficult Customers

A customer service representative listening to a customer's concerns with empathy and compassion

Handling difficult customers on the phone requires a specific set of skills that can help agents navigate these interactions successfully. By mastering these essential skills, you’ll be better equipped to handle angry customers and turn their negative experiences into positive ones. Developing active listening capabilities, extending an apology first, demonstrating empathy, maintaining composure, avoiding taking anything personally, addressing the customer by name, sustaining a positive outlook, providing a solution, keeping the dialogue factual, and remaining loyal to the company are all effective approaches to turn a challenging customer into a loyal customer.

In the following sections, we’ll delve deeper into some of these essential skills and provide practical tips on how to apply them during challenging customer interactions.

Active listening

Active listening is a critical skill for managing difficult customers on the phone. It involves paying attention to the customer’s words and body language, interpreting their message, and responding by accurately reflecting their thoughts and feelings back to them. By practicing active listening, you can demonstrate to the customer that you genuinely understand their concerns and are committed to finding a solution.

However, simply saying “I understand” may not be enough to pacify an agitated customer. Instead, try to restate the customer’s main points in your own words and emphasize how their issue is preventing them from achieving their goals. This approach not only helps the customer feel heard, but also ensures that you both are on the same page when it comes to finding a resolution.

Empathy and compassion

Empathy and compassion are essential skills when dealing with difficult customers, as they can help diffuse tension and build rapport with the customer. By putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and expressing genuine concern for their situation, you can demonstrate that you care about their feelings and are willing to do all you can to resolve the issue.

It’s important to remember that even if the customer is responsible for their issue, you should still remain courteous and empathetic. Outline the cause of the problem and provide guidance on how to avoid it in the future, all while taking the customer’s feelings into account. This approach can help maintain a positive relationship with the customer and enhance their satisfaction.

Patience and professionalism

Remaining patient and professional during challenging interactions is crucial, even when faced with hostility or aggression. It’s essential to keep in mind that most customers are not angry at you personally, but rather at the company or the situation they find themselves in. By staying composed and focused on finding a solution, you can demonstrate your commitment to great customer service and make the customer feel heard.

When dealing with an angry customer, it’s crucial to maintain composure and not respond with anger, debate, or raising your voice. Instead, focus on the facts of the situation and calmly work towards a resolution that addresses the customer’s concerns and improves their satisfaction.

Step-by-Step Guide to Dealing with Difficult Customers on the Phone

angry, businesswoman, conflict

Now that we’ve discussed the essential skills for handling difficult customers, let’s dive into a practical step-by-step guide to help call center agents navigate these challenging interactions. By following these steps, you’ll be better equipped to manage difficult customer calls and turn negative experiences into positive outcomes.

Remember, each customer conversation is unique, and there may not be a one-size-fits-all solution to every issue. However, these steps can serve as a solid foundation for handling a wide range of challenging situations and ensuring that both you and the customer emerge from the interaction feeling satisfied and heard.

Staying calm and composed

When faced with an angry customer, it’s essential to remain calm and composed, even if their hostility is directed towards you. By staying calm, you can better assess the situation, the customer’s desired outcome, and the potential solutions available to address their concerns.

One effective technique for maintaining composure during a challenging interaction is to take a few deep breaths and focus on the facts of the situation, rather than getting caught up in the customer’s emotions. This approach can help you stay grounded and maintain a clear perspective on the issue at hand, ultimately enabling you to provide better service and find a resolution that satisfies the customer.

Acknowledging and apologizing

The first step in addressing a difficult customer is acknowledging their issue and offering a sincere apology. Even if the problem is not your fault or the result of the company’s actions, expressing regret for the customer’s negative experience can help diffuse tension and demonstrate your commitment to finding a solution.

When apologizing, it’s important to be specific and genuine. Instead of offering a generic “I’m sorry,” try to express understanding and empathy for the customer’s situation. For example, you might say, “I’m sorry that our product did not meet your expectations, and I understand how frustrating that must be. Let’s work together to find a solution that will make this right for you.”

Asking questions and gathering information

Once you’ve acknowledged the customer’s issue and offered an apology, it’s essential to ask targeted questions and gather information about their concerns. This step not only helps you better understand the customer’s needs, but also demonstrates that you are paying attention and committed to finding a resolution.

When asking questions, focus on gathering the necessary information to address the customer’s concerns effectively. For example, you might ask about the specific problem they are experiencing, any troubleshooting steps they’ve already tried, or their desired outcome from the interaction. By collecting this information, you can better tailor your approach and provide a solution that addresses the customer’s needs and improves their overall satisfaction.

Providing Effective Solutions to Difficult Customers

A customer service representative offering realistic resolutions to a customer's problem

Once you’ve collected the necessary information and gained a clear understanding of the customer’s concerns, it’s time to propose solutions that will address their issue and improve their satisfaction. Keep in mind that the most effective solutions will not only resolve the customer’s immediate problem but also help prevent similar issues from arising in the future.

In this section, we’ll explore strategies for offering effective solutions to difficult customers, including providing realistic resolutions, involving the customer in the solution process, and following up after the call to ensure their concerns have been fully addressed.

Offering realistic resolutions

When proposing solutions to difficult customers, it’s essential to offer realistic resolutions that can be delivered within the company’s capabilities and policies. By providing feasible solutions, you can manage customer expectations, prevent further frustration, and maintain customer loyalty.

For instance, if a customer is upset about a delayed delivery, it’s important to acknowledge the mistake and provide a reasonable estimate for when the issue can be resolved, rather than making unrealistic promises that may further disappoint the customer.

By offering realistic resolutions, you can demonstrate your commitment to great customer service and work towards building a positive relationship with the customer.

Involving the customer in the solution process

Inviting the customer to participate in finding a suitable resolution can help foster a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility. By involving the customer in the solution process, you can gain valuable insights into their needs and preferences, ultimately leading to a more successful outcome.

To involve the customer in the solution process, try asking open-ended questions that encourage them to share their thoughts and ideas. For example, you might ask, “What do you believe would be the best solution in this situation?” or “How can we work together to resolve this issue to your satisfaction?” By engaging the customer in the conversation, you can create a more collaborative atmosphere and increase their overall satisfaction with the interaction.

Following up after the call

After addressing the customer’s concerns and providing a solution, it’s important to follow up with them to ensure their issue has been fully resolved and satisfaction has been achieved. This follow-up can take the form of an email or phone call, depending on the customer’s preferences and the nature of the issue.

In the follow-up communication, express gratitude for the customer’s feedback, provide a brief summary of the initial issue and the resolution, and inquire if there is anything else that can be done to assist them. This follow-up not only demonstrates your commitment to great customer service, but also provides an opportunity to address any lingering questions or concerns the customer may have.

Learning from Difficult Customer Interactions

Difficult customer interactions can be valuable learning experiences for both call center agents and the company as a whole. By reflecting on challenging calls and identifying areas for improvement, agents can enhance their skills, knowledge, and overall performance.

In this section, we’ll discuss how agents can use difficult customer interactions as opportunities for personal growth and company improvement, including identifying areas for improvement and sharing feedback with management to address systemic issues and improve overall customer experiences.

Identifying areas for improvement

To learn from difficult customer interactions, it’s important for agents to reflect on their performance during challenging calls and identify areas where they can enhance their skills or knowledge. This self-reflection can help agents gain insights into customer needs and expectations, ultimately leading to improved customer service and satisfaction.

For example, an agent might realize that they struggle with active listening or need to improve their knowledge of the company’s products and services. By identifying these areas for improvement, the agent can focus on developing their skills and becoming more effective in handling difficult customer interactions.

Sharing feedback with management

In addition to personal growth, difficult customer interactions can also serve as opportunities for company improvement. By reporting recurring issues or trends to management, agents can help address systemic problems and ultimately improve the overall customer experience.

For example, if an agent notices that a particular product or service consistently receives negative feedback, they can bring this to the attention of management, who can then take steps to address the issue and prevent similar problems from arising in the future. By sharing this feedback, agents can play a vital role in driving company-wide improvements and ensuring a consistently high level of customer satisfaction.


In conclusion, handling difficult customers on the phone can be a challenging task, but with the right skills and strategies, call center agents can turn these interactions into positive experiences. By understanding the reasons behind customer frustration, developing essential skills such as active listening, empathy, and patience, and following a step-by-step guide to address customer concerns, agents can effectively manage difficult customer interactions and enhance overall satisfaction.

Remember, every challenging customer interaction is an opportunity for growth and improvement, both personally and for the company. By learning from these experiences and sharing feedback with management, agents can contribute to the ongoing enhancement of customer service and ultimately foster stronger, more loyal customer relationships.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do you say to a rude customer on the phone?

I apologize for the inconvenience and understand your frustration. Let me quickly talk to someone and make sure this doesn’t happen again.

I’ll be right back with you.

How do you deal with a customer who is on the phone and refuses to calm down?

Show empathy, be kind, sincere, respectful and understanding to show that the customer is being heard and recognized. Express sympathy for their situation and demonstrate empathy for their frustration.

What are some common triggers for angry customers?

Product malfunctions, missed deadlines, and unsatisfactory service experiences are common triggers for customer anger. Poor communication, unmet expectations, and inaccurate billing can also lead to frustration and anger.

How can I demonstrate empathy and compassion when dealing with difficult customers?

Express genuine concern for the customer’s situation, acknowledging their emotions and offering support. Show empathy and understanding to demonstrate compassion and build a positive relationship.

What is the importance of active listening when handling challenging customers?

Active listening is essential when dealing with challenging customers, as it helps to show that their needs are being heard and understood, leading to an effective resolution.

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