Customer Service Worker Upset With Difficult Customer

Handling Difficult Customers: 12 Tips for Staying Calm and Defusing Tension 

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Dealing with an angry or difficult customer can be one of the most challenging parts of working in customer service. When tensions run high, it’s easy to get flustered and make the situation worse. However, by staying calm and employing some simple defusing techniques, you can turn even the most difficult interaction into a positive experience. Here are some of my top tips for handling tough customer situations: 

1. Take a Deep Breath 

When facing an upset customer, it’s natural for your stress levels to rise. You may feel your heart race and your muscles tense up. However, giving in to these fight-or-flight impulses will only make it harder to think clearly and respond effectively. Before doing anything else, take a few slow, deep breaths to relax your body and clear your mind. This will help you maintain self-control. 

2. Actively Listen 

One of the biggest mistakes made when dealing with an angry customer is failing to listen. When someone vents their frustrations, they often just want to feel heard and understood. So don’t interrupt or get defensive. Let them speak, and focus your energy on listening and empathy. Nod, maintain eye contact, and ask questions to clarify their concerns. Reflect on what you’re hearing to show you understand. Listening will help diffuse the situation faster than anything else. 

3. Put Yourself in Their Shoes  

Try seeing things from the customer’s perspective. For example, if they are upset about an order issue, they likely feel frustrated and inconvenienced. They want to know you care, and that you’re going to fix the problem. So apologize sincerely, and assure them you will do everything possible to make it right. Putting yourself in their shoes cultivates compassion and prevents you from taking their behavior personally. 

4. Own the Problem 

When an error has been made, take responsibility right away. Many customers just want to be acknowledged rather than blamed or made to prove their case. Statements like “I’m very sorry this happened,” or “You’re right, we made a mistake,” go a long way. Avoid finger-pointing, making excuses, or blaming policies. Focus on resolving the issue, not determining fault. 

5. Identify the Underlying Emotion 

Look beyond the customer’s words to identify unspoken emotions. Their anger stems from feeling disrespected, ignored, or distrustful. Or it could simply be fear related to the problem itself. Identifying these root emotions allows you to better empathize and address their real concerns. Phrases like “I can see why you might feel that way” demonstrate this understanding.   

6. Set Healthy Boundaries   

While the customer may act inappropriately at times, you control your behavior. Never sink to their level by raising your voice, getting defensive, or insulting them back. Calmly but firmly set boundaries around respect and clarify what you can and cannot do to help. If they cross major lines like threats, hang up, or get a supervisor. Protect your dignity while still being professional. 

7. Find a Common Goal 

In disputes, it’s easy to see the customer as an opponent you’re battling against. Shift this mindset by identifying your common goal. Ultimately, you both want the same thing – for them to be satisfied. Phrases like “I’m on your side here” affirm you’re working together towards a solution, not against each other. Focus on this shared objective. 

8. Bring In Help When Needed  

Difficult situations that escalate beyond your abilities require backup. Politely ask to place the customer on hold so you can get a supervisor or manager involved. Phrases like, “I want to make sure I’m doing everything I can for you” transition responsibility. With help, you may be able to provide additional options or resources to resolve their complaint.  

9. Stay Outwardly Calm 

However intense the other person gets, maintain a relaxed yet professional demeanor. Avoid matching their anger or frustration. Respond slowly, speak softly, and stick to the facts. Being the “eye of the storm” can have a tranquilizing effect. Staying calm also keeps your emotions in check and prevents the situation from deteriorating further. 

10. Avoid Taking it Personally 

Remember, their anger is a response to the situation, not a personal attack. Don’t defend yourself or engage in a back-and-forth over who is right. Be understanding that tensions run high when money, time, and expectations are involved. Assure them the problem will be fixed without assigning blame. Once resolved, they will likely be appreciative. 

11. Focus on the Positive   

Once you’ve solved the immediate issue, reinforce the customer’s value. State you appreciate their patience or feedback to improve service. End the call by thanking them for being a loyal customer. When the interaction concludes on a positive note, they will remember you tried your best. Avoid lingering negativity by highlighting the good. 

12. Reset After Difficult Encounters 

Managing tense interactions can be emotionally draining. After a tough call, take a break to decompress. Grab some water, take a short walk, or vent to an empathetic co-worker. Do what you need to shake off the residual negativity and reset mentally for the next call. Don’t bottle up emotions or let one bad encounter ruin your day. 


Staying calm under pressure is a skill that takes practice. But by implementing these tips, you’ll be better equipped to handle difficult customers professionally while keeping your stress levels under control. With time, you’ll gain confidence in turning volatile situations around. Mastering the art of service recovery is one of the most valuable skills in customer service roles today. 

Ready to take your customer service skills to the next level?

Book a free discovery call with Gary Wilbers today! Gain valuable insights and personalized strategies to enhance your interactions with difficult customers. With Gary’s expertise and guidance, you’ll learn how to navigate challenging situations with confidence and professionalism. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to elevate your customer service game. Schedule your free call now and unlock your full potential!

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