How to Handle Irate Customers

How to Handle Angry or Upset Customers

This past holiday season I took a call from a customer who had ordered several personalized gift boxes from us the week before.  After my normal greeting of “Thank you for calling, how may I help you?” the first thing he said was “UPS shows my gifts delivered but they were not.  It’s a lie.” 

UPS does a pretty good job of getting packages delivered to the right location, but when you ship thousands and thousands of gifts over the busy holiday season, a few of them are going to end up in the wrong place.  

I apologized that he had not received his gifts and asked him for his name and order number.     He gave me both in an angry tone of voice and I pulled up his order so I could track his package.   UPS showed the gift delivered to the front porch the day before.  

I apologized again and told him that I would reach out to UPS to open a trace on his packages.  I told him I would get back to him as soon as I heard from them but no later than the next day.   

His next words were “UPS didn’t deliver the packages.  It’s a lie.  I am reporting you to my credit card company as fraud and getting a refund.”

The first 13 years of my career were in the contact center space so upset customers were nothing new to me.  However, it was surprising that his first response was claiming fraud and initiating a chargeback.   I again told him I would reach out to him no later than the next day and confirmed with him the best phone number.   He hung up without really saying anything else.   I opened up a case with UPS and went back to work, but the call stayed on my mind.

In almost any business, you are going to have irate customers on occasion.   If you work in retail, it is something you are probably very familiar with.    To know how to deal with upset customers, you must first understand what causes customers to become irate. 

Six Reasons Customers Become Irate

Irate customers can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Poor customer service: Customers can become irate if they feel that their concerns or needs are not being addressed in a timely or satisfactory manner.
  2. Product or service issues: If a customer experiences a problem with a product or service, they may become irate if they feel that the issue is not being addressed effectively.
  3. Billing or payment issues: Customers may become irate if they experience billing or payment issues, such as incorrect charges or difficulties with refunds.
  4. Miscommunication: Miscommunication or confusion can lead to frustration and anger, especially if it results in inconvenience or additional work for the customer.
  5. Unmet expectations: Customers may become irate if their expectations are not met, such as receiving a different product than what was advertised, or if a product or service does not meet their needs.
  6. Delays or disruptions: Delays or disruptions, such as long wait times, unavailability of products or services, or technical issues, can also lead to frustration and anger.

By understanding the factors that can lead to irate customers, you can work to proactively address these issues and prevent them from happening in the first place. Additionally, being prepared to handle irate customers and having a process in place for resolving customer issues can help you effectively deal with these situations and maintain positive relationships with your customers.

Seven Steps to Dealing with an Upset Customer

Dealing with an irate customer can be challenging, but it is an opportunity to demonstrate excellent customer service and potentially turn a negative situation into a positive one. Here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Stay calm and empathetic: Remain calm and listen to the customer's concerns without getting defensive. Empathize with their situation and express your understanding.
  2. Show that you are there to help: Let the customer know that you are there to help resolve the issue, and that you take their concerns seriously.
  3. Actively listen: Pay close attention to what the customer is saying and acknowledge their feelings. Repeat their concerns back to them to show that you understand.
  4. Apologize: If appropriate, apologize for any mistakes or inconvenience the customer has experienced. This can go a long way in diffusing the situation.
  5. Offer a solution: Provide a solution that addresses the customer's concerns, and if possible, offer additional options for resolving the issue.
  6. Follow up: After resolving the issue, follow up with the customer to make sure they are satisfied with the outcome.
  7. Document the interaction: Document the interaction for future reference and to use for quality assurance and training purposes.

By following these steps, you can effectively deal with an irate customer, and turn a negative situation into a positive one. Additionally, taking a proactive approach to resolving customer issues can help improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Back to my angry customer.  An hour or so after he initially called, he called back.  I was the one who answered the phone and when he told me who he was, I was ready for another earful, but to my surprise, he apologized.   He told me that when his fiancé had returned home she told him she had taken the packages off the porch and put them in a closet.   

I could tell it was hard for him to make that second call.   However, I give him credit because many people would have still made the fraud claim and kept the packages for free to save face.  

Not all customer complaints are so easily resolved, but if you follow the steps above in most cases you will not only resolve their concerns but could even leave them with a positive view of your company that could lead to future business.  

February 03, 2023 — Matt Graham

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