Customer Service Training for Dealing with Angry Customers

It’s the peak of your holiday rush season, and things are getting gnarly.

Calls from customers are flooding your call center, dying to get their hands on the new iPhone bundle, or find a Playstation 5 for their son, or struggling to get their hands on a Tickle Me Elmo. Things are looking bleak. They can’t find their elusive present, they are running out of time, they are pissed, and they’re coming for your agents!

Does this sound like your nightmare? Do you feel like “the Ghost of Angry Customers Past” has appeared in your freezing, dimly lit bedchambers to torment you? Dealing with angry customers is a huge part of being in the customer service world, and also a big part of most customer service training programs. So don’t worry—there’s hope! In this short blog post, we’re going to look at what happens when a customer is angry, some tips for helping them in the moment, and then we’ll finish with a few customer service training ideas for brushing up the skills needed.

A fact of life

Angry customers are a fact of life. If someone has an unsatisfactory customer service experience, it can lead to a cascading effect. They can write a bad review, post an angry story to Facebook, or complain on Twitter, and all of a sudden ONE angry person has a massive reach. Before you know it, that single bad experience spreads like wildfire and has an outsize impact on your brand. 

How do we help these folks?

The first step in any customer service training course for dealing with a frustrated customer should always be to show them empathy. If we don’t acknowledge and recognize the pain or frustration behind a customer’s anger, it becomes extremely difficult to work on finding a solution. So first, recognize their frustration: 

“That seems really frustrating.”

“Wow, that sounds terrible.” 

“I’m sure that has been really difficult.” 

Tone matters here! Be genuine—you have to be sincere when doing this because if you aren’t, things are going to get worse for you in a hurry. 

Next, it’s time to help them solve the problem. Before you can solve it, however, you need to define it. So take a few extra moments to dig into the root of their issue. You may have some ideas of what’s wrong already, but confirm your suppositions. You can also take this time to position you and the customer on the same team! You are working together to solve this problem. It’s a nice way to help the customer realize that the issue they’re facing isn’t the customer service agent’s fault. Once you have identified the issue, repeat it back to the customer to confirm it, so that they know you’re understanding it as well. 

After that, it’s time to solve the problem. Once you’re done, however long that takes, remember to “clean your plate.” Ask them if there is anything else you can help with.

But how do we cultivate these skills, and how can we fold them into an existing customer service training template?

Enabling your agents for greatness

When it comes to customer service training, let’s explore some ways we can help our teams begin to flex these muscles. 

For building empathy, here are two great mental exercises that could be great customer service training topics:

Reframe the anger

Try to imagine a reason that could explain why a customer is treating you badly. Maybe they have tried three different stores to find this item and just can’t get one. Maybe they are under a lot of pressure from family to deliver a perfect holiday experience and need to make it right. This even carries over to your personal life. Maybe that driver that passed you aggressively isn’t a jerk, and they’re just on their way to the hospital to see an injured relative. Even if in the grand sense of things they are just a jerk, that act of recognition can go a long way towards helping you in how you react to other’s actions. 

Remember we’re all human

Anger and frustration are often results of a person’s needs not being met. Try to imagine some of the needs an angry customer could have that are driving them to behave in a negative way. They might need to feel love from their spouse by getting them the perfect gift. Maybe they need the financial security that comes from knowing an important payment has been made. 

When it comes to different types of customer service training, the exercises above fall strongly into what you might call “soft skills.” There are other, more process-oriented skills that you can build with customer service training exercises, like asking questions to identify and diagnose an issue and working with a customer to find the right answers to their issue. In any method of customer service training for employees, one crucial concept is to show your team what good looks like. 

Show your team what good looks like

Many of the best customer service training programs strive to find examples of peers demonstrating key skills and core values “in the wild.” Being able to point to a call recording of someone doing something will always be more impactful than a made up example. Once you know what good looks like, begin to introduce these concepts in a foundational manner, such as an article or list of steps or in a lesson. From there, you want to give your teams a chance to flex these skills in a safe environment, with immediate feedback—perhaps with an in-person role play or question that provides rapid feedback. Once you’ve cleared this step, you can move towards deeper, more complex scenarios that might require assessment or grading. As you consider adding some of these exercises to your customer service training manual, remember this: Feedback is the greatest gift a trainer can give.


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