How to Handle Upset Customers

How to Handle Upset Customers

Estimated Reading Time: 4 Minutes

violence in customer service

Having an uneasy customer is not a pleasant situation for anyone. When dealing with a client that is not having their needs met, often times situations become heated.The customer may be very vocal about how they feel their needs are not being met, and the staff member involved may feel uncomfortable and just wants the situation to be over with.

Whatever the situation may be, when a customer gets angry… stress levels raise for everyone involved. So what is the proper protocol for dealing with an upset customer within a customer service setting? Knowing how to properly handle a situation before it arises can ensure that staff remain professional without harming  the image of the company, as well as ensure that the customer leaves knowing that staff met with their needs the best they could under company policy.


Keep Treading Water:

Working within the customer service industry, especially within the field of hospitality, it is our job to always be ‘on’. This can sometimes be difficult with the range of possible situations that commonly occur in this field of work.

What we have to remember is that above all we are customer based and strive for relationship based encounters, developing impressions and standing out.

It’s been said before, when faced with a raged customer, stay calm and relaxed. Of course this is easier said than done but remember  whatever it is they are upset about, it is not about you personally. When faced with an angry customer it is important to first remember that they are doing everything they can to express themselves. What it comes down to is that a customer may be acting angry or rude as a mechanism to share their feelings and  everything people say and do within these situations comes from a desire to meet/ support their needs.

Bottom line: Stop and remember that other people’s anger is about them.

The Iceberg Metaphor:


An iceberg can serve as a helpful metaphor to understand the many parts of a customer’s mind that may influence them to behave a certain way. What is above the water is a smaller portion of the iceberg than what is beneath the water. Metaphorically, what is above the water is a person’s visible behaviour – this is everything that person says or does. Beneath the water, which is not visible is a person’s beliefs, attitudes, values, and perceptions. The Portion beneath the water is a lot larger than what is above-  meaning that behaviour is a reflection of people’s  beliefs, attitudes, values, and perceptions that are unseen. This helps to better understand why someone may act the way they do, and knowing only a tip of the iceberg makes it difficult to understand a customer. Knowing where anger stems from is helpful when faced within these situations, it is easy to quickly forget, so remember not to take it personally and this may help a situation before it arrises.

How to Appropriately React:

It is difficult to predetermine what may happen when a customer gets upset, however by knowing how to properly address uncomfortable situations, you can better prepare yourself for the worst of situations. Whatever you do, do not match anger with defensiveness or criticism… this may only trigger a worse response in the customer, potentially for them to become offensive and hostile.

When faced with an upset  customer, it is important to be curious and ask them questions to determine what it is they are upset about, and determine the root of the problem by looking at many sides to it. By using the information that goes unseen in the above iceberg metaphor you can determine “what is it that I am missing here?”, “what is it that the customer may value that I am not seeing?”. Understanding the problem from the customer’s’ point of view is a difficult task, however staff who are capable of doing this rank highly in customer’s books, even if the customer does not leave 100% satisfied, if they are able to see that an employee was able to help them the best they could they are more likely to return than those who did not help them to any sort of conclusion.

Choose How You Want to Be:

Stress isn’t the only option when it comes to being faced with anger. By knowing that everything people do and say reflects their own needs and values, can better help you to understand how to not take it personally. This allows you to take a more relaxed approach and get down to the root of the problem, while servicing them the best you can.

Exercise: Find Your Triggers

Everyone has triggers that makes them tick in uncomfortable situations, they are often traits that annoy us when we are faced with because we do not know how to mindfully cooperate with someone that triggers a response we do not like. Determine what your triggers are by writing down your top five qualities. These five qualities will also be your trigger points, meaning in an uncomfortable situation with a customer, these are the traits that may cause you stress when dealing with a difficult customer.


5 Best Qualities:                              5 Triggers: 

  1. Friendly                                  1. Un-friendly
  2. Attentive                                2. Inattentive 
  3. Positive Language             3. Negative language 
  4. Patient                                    4. Impatient
  5. Communication Skills      5. Poor Communication Skills

Knowing what your personal triggers are within a customer service setting, you can better equip yourself to handle situations that may arise. By knowing this information ahead of time, how to handle your own stress in stressful situations and how to look beyond the situation of stress you are in, you can ensure your company continues positive interactions with customers, even if they are uncomfortable ones. When in doubt, Braymark is always here for customer service audits to ensure that your company is doing its’ best, through secret shoppers, you can learn exactly which aspects of your service need to be addressed in order to provide guests with the best service. 

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