Sep 08, 2020

How to Deal With Unhappy Customers

Even the most beloved brands have to contend with angry customers. These might be new customers who don’t understand the products and services or a loyal shopper who recently had a negative experience. How you react to these angry customers can determine the future of your relationship with them as well as the reputation of your brand. 

Customer care has become increasingly public over the years. More people are voicing complaints on social media and online review sites like Yelp or Google Reviews. Customers seeking justice will often resort to public channels for reconciliation or attention.

As a small business owner, your job is to minimize the chances of this happening and de-escalate any angry or upset customers. This task is easier said than done, but there are a few best practices you can follow. Here’s what you need to know about handling angry customers.    

Why People Are Meaner Online

Even if you manage a small boutique clothing store or cupcake shop, you may be surprised by the amount of anger you find online. Yes, people are significantly meaner when they can hide behind a screen. 

In an article for KQED, Lauren Farrar explained how the “online disinhibition effect” makes people meaner. “Being online lowers your inhibitions,” she writes. “This often results in people either behaving meaner or opening up more online than they normally would in face-to-face conversations.” 

When people are meaner online than they would be in person, they exhibit “toxic disinhibition.” You might even have experienced this yourself. Someone who sends a fiery email filled with threats and demands might approach you meekly in person looking for a solution. 

As humans, we disconnect from the idea that names on a screen are real people—or that brands are run by actual humans—which makes people set aside their humanity and act in ways they otherwise wouldn’t.  

The problem is that more customers are choosing online as their preferred platform for voicing customer complaints. According to a report by Sprout Social, 75% of people believe that social media gives consumers the power to create brand accountability, and 65% of people believe that social media amplifies issues. While people still prefer to complain in person, 47% of people turn to social media to express their unhappiness. 

Not only does your team need a plan to address customer complaints online, but it also needs training and resources to de-escalate heated situations and angry shoppers

How to De-Escalate Angry Customer Situations

If you are going to prevent customer issues from getting out of hand, you need a de-escalation strategy. There are a few key principles you can follow to build a process for your customer care team:

  1. Always respond to angry customers. “Sometimes customers are just looking for a little empathy,” research managers at Applied Marketing Science found. “In our study, simply receiving a response—any response at all—increased the customer’s willingness to pay later, even in cases where customers were aggrieved.” While responding with a resolution is always best, customers preferred brands to respond, even if they couldn’t help, instead of simply being ignored. 
  2. Take a proactive stance. Acting out in frustration is never the solution to someone else’s irrational anger. You’ll only make the situation worse. Instead, take a position of openness and listening to make your angry customer feel heard. Emphasize the importance of understanding their situation so you can find a solution. In all likelihood, this person just wants to feel understood.
  3. Provide multiple options to customers. If your customer is already unhappy, they’re looking for more reasons to get upset. If you provide a solution that they don’t like, then they’re more likely to push back or demand more. Instead, offer multiple solutions to choose from. For example, you can offer a refund, store credit, or a replacement item for the customer. Your customers will choose the option they find most appealing, which increases the likelihood of finding a resolution.

With these steps in mind, you can address problems early on and help customers to get the solutions they need without worsening the situation. 

Stop Escalating Customer Anger in Your Phone Systems

In some cases, you may be getting in your own way, creating worse customer experiences that lead to even more anger. The 2020 Customer Rage Survey by Customer Care Measurement & Consulting found that 65% of customers with problems experienced rage during the process to solve the issues, and 51% of people spoke to 3 or more contacts at the company about the issue. 

The consulting firm wanted to find out why people were so mad. They discovered that, while companies were providing optimal solutions, they made it significantly harder for customers to get them. The top issues customers had with contacting service centers include:

Due to these factors, a calm customer builds up their rage in the time it takes to make a phone call. By the time they speak to a real person, their rage limits are at an all-time high. 

By making your customer care team easy to reach and taking proactive steps to solve problems, you can prevent unhappy customers from becoming angry and outraged.

Turn Your Customer Care Team Into Problem-Solving Experts

As a company, you need to develop a multi-tiered approach to dealing with unhappy customers. You need to make sure your team members are accessible and empowered to help people solve problems. They also need to stay up-to-date on the latest de-escalation practices to prevent situations from getting out of hand. 

If this seems like a lot, don’t worry. You can take steps over time to empower your team. Invest in training to help your employees learn. Listen to their feedback on how you can help customers. By continuously taking steps to improve and grow, you can retain customers and keep your reputation intact.

About the author

Derek Miller
Derek Miller
Derek Miller is a writer specializing in entrepreneurship, small business, and digital marketing. His work has featured in sites like Entrepreneur, GoDaddy,, and StartupCamp. He’s currently the CMO of Smack Apparel, the content guru at, and a marketing consultant for small businesses.


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