How Would You Handle an Angry Call from a Customer?

Row of customer service representatives at work

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When you're interviewing for a customer service role, the interviewer will want to know about your ability to handle a difficult or angry customer. How you handle an unpleasant interaction with an angry caller will result in either a successful resolution to the problem or a lost customer. The outcome is ultimately up to you. And fortunately, there are tried and true techniques to efficiently handle a customer’s phone complaint. Share them with the interviewer to demonstrate your ability to resolve stressful situations with finesse and grace.  

Here are some techniques and steps to draw on to help shape your answer to the question, “How would you handle an angry call from a customer?”

Listen to the Customer

You can typically tell if someone is angry within the first few seconds of the interaction. Before you attempt to diffuse the situation by talking them down, listen without judgment to their whole story and jot down important points as the caller explains. Remaining judgment-free will allow you to truly listen to the caller and find an agreeable solution more swiftly and efficiently. Remember that, people just want to be heard, and this desire can manifest itself in ugly ways. So, don’t take anything they say personally.

Ideally, after a caller expresses their unhappiness, they will apologize for their outburst and allow you to move forward with resolving the issue. However, if their anger escalates to using violent or vulgar language, refer to your company's policy about how to proceed. If the guidelines indicate that you should end the call, do so immediately and be sure to accurately document what they said to you along with their specific complaint. 

Stay Calm and Present

Speak in an even tone, and do not participate in the oncoming ugliness as it will only intensify the situation. If you’re struggling to keep your composure, there is an easy, effective technique to “distance” yourself from the anger being projected onto you.

Take a deep breath, and as you do, feel compassion for yourself, smiling inwardly. Breathe deeply again and smile outwardly as you feel compassion for the fearful customer. Put yourself in their shoes and remember that their anger is ultimately at the problem they are encountering, not you.

Repeat Back What You've Heard

Reiterate the customer's primary points and concerns back to them and make sure you apologize for the issue. Not only will the breather allow the customer to calm down, but they will also feel both heard and understood. Moreover, repeating it back will ensure your accurate understanding of the complaint.

Avoid Putting The Caller on Hold

You may think it will give the caller time to relax, but putting them on hold will indeed produce the opposite outcome as they will feel shunted aside and therefore angrier. Can you ever recall a time that you appreciated being put you on hold? Nobody enjoys the waiting game. So, avoid it altogether if you can. If you must research the situation or consult with a supervisor, let the customer know, keeping them updated every step of the way.

Take Action

Of course, your ultimate goal is to end the call cordially with the customer feeling a sense of satisfaction. So, offer them a refund or voucher as per your company's policy. Provide them with two to three potential resolutions to evoke their feeling of control over the outcome.

Sample Answers

  • "I would get to the bottom of the customer’s complaint and assess the most efficient, direct and swift way to make things right again."
  • "For the sake of clarity and efficiency, I would first ask the customer to explain the problem to ensure I’m the right person to assist them. There are going to be times when you simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to resolve a problem, and it’s better to recognize that early on than to waste both the customer’s and your valuable time."
  • "I always approach a customer’s complaint assuming positive intent, as most complaints I've dealt with were totally justified. After they've thoroughly explained their problem, I reassure them that I intend to help them in any way possible."

Demonstrative Your Effectiveness

Of course, the best way to demonstrate your effectiveness in high-stress situations is by sharing a personal account. Have you ever employed the above techniques to resolve an angry customer’s problem? If yes, then share this story with your interviewer. They will undoubtedly be impressed by your high emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, and professionalism.

Be prepared for the other questions you'll be asked about customer service during a job interview. Take the time to review what you may be asked and how you'll respond.