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Small Business

How to Deal with Angry Customers and Resolve a Conflict

min read

You’ve heard that the “customer is always right,” and if you can keep your customers happy, this advice is true. 

Listening to your customers is a crucial part of running a small business, especially in the contracting industry. But what should you do if you encounter a customer who’s yelling, upset, and even using foul language? In contracting, it can happen, and learning how to deal with angry customers is an essential part of growing your business’s success. 

You need to use skill and tact to determine whether you have an unhappy customer, a rude, bullying customer, or a customer who’s just having a bad day and will return to normal the next. Your customer’s situation will determine your strategy in dealing with difficult customers. Strategy is the key to success in handling customer complaints and dealing with irate customers and getting good results.

How Can I Tell the Difference Between a Rude and an Unhappy Customer?

A 2017 study conducted by a team of international researchers showed that the best response to an angry customer was a polite, professional, and firm response.

In the case of an unhappy customer, use your business policies and good sense to fix the problem that has caused their anger and unhappiness. You will have earned a loyal customer. The unhappy customer is frustrated for a reason. They can be very angry, but they can also be calmed. Most of all, they want to hear a solution to their problem. 

One hallmark of a rude customer is that nothing calms them: not a solution or any kind of agreement. Sometimes, the more you agree with a rude customer, the angrier they’ll become. If you say “I’m sorry,” they may even agree and add some additional verbal abuse.

Simply saying “I’m sorry” if you don’t really mean it and aren’t offering a solution isn’t effective when handling difficult customers. Acknowledge the customer’s concerns. If they’re objecting to a surface finish or the way you installed a door, say, “I hear you. We can handle that.” Or, if it isn’t something you understand and can handle right away, try saying, “I hear you. Let me see if I can understand exactly what is the matter.” Forbes offers effective communication alternatives to repeating “I’m sorry” with no resolution.

“I hear you” could be three of the most powerful words in customer communication, especially with challenging customers.

An unhappy customer can be justifiably unhappy or they can be unhappy because of a misunderstanding about your services, payment, or many common problems. They can be unhappy because they’re having a bad day, which has nothing to do with you. Unhappy customers are great business opportunities because business studies show that they become happy and loyal customers once their concerns are met politely and professionally.

Dealing with Angry Customers

What Should I Do In Case Of a Truly Rude Customer Who Cannot Be Satisfied?

These people are out there and they can be big problems for businesses small and large. 

Challenging, rude customers aren’t likely to be much fun around their own families either. Here, it’s also best to have a game plan: the same one you can use to determine whether the customer is unhappy or rude and abusive.

Recommended Step-by-step Actions For Dealing With Angry Customers Face to Face

1) Stay calm: Don’t escalate your own emotions when they approach you with anger or verbal abuse. This is much easier said than done, so it’s wise to practice ahead of time, even if it’s just in your head.

2) Listen: You’re likely to hear repeated phrases after just a few sentences if it’s one of the actual rude, abusive people who go through life that way. Sometimes we see them called “difficult people.” You might have a different term in mind — it’s okay to think that. Just don’t say it out loud while they can hear you.

3) Respond: Answer their concerns factually and professionally. If an apology is in order, make it factual, plain and simple. Offer a solution politely and quickly. 

  • An unhappy customer will calm down and accept the solution. 
  • A rude, abusive customer will continue to raise objections or even ignore all you’ve said.

4) Avoid: Try your best to refrain from submissive behavior. If you’re a people pleaser, this will be a challenge. Recent research studies show that customers have the best impression of representatives when they are polite and firm with an angry, unreasonable customer. This is your business. You don’t have to let anybody walk all over you. 

If you’re naturally a dominant person who responds right away to a challenge, go through steps one through three before you decline a request—be reasonable. Keep a level head and voice as you do so.

Some rude, obnoxious customers miraculously don’t behave rudely when interacting with certain business owners. Those business owners probably followed these steps or similar ones to tame these beastly customers. You may not have this result in every case following these customer management steps, but you will increase your chances of a successful outcome.

What Should I Ultimately Do About An Irrational, Rude, Abusive Customer?

You have a right to refuse service to rude customers. However, these days, there’s no way to know if or when someone may erupt in something more dangerous than words.

Being polite, professional, and assertive is important for your safety and that of your employees. The overwhelming majority of rude customers will quickly move on to another target for their anger if you remain calm and assertive. Also, it’s important to have policies in place for common problems you know may occur. 

Communicating ahead of time about your work process, payment terms, and ways to solve concerns about your work is key to successful contracting. Having business insurance is also important, whether it’s covering your work in case of unforeseen damages or being able to provide a certificate of insurance for the project.

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