Anger Management

Keeping your cool when clients and customers lose theirs
Illustration by Tony Healey

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes.


Even the most customer service-oriented companies occasionally have to field angry calls and emails. There is simply no way to please everyone all of the time. At times, a person might simply be having a bad day and taking it out on you, your company or a member of your staff. When it happens—and it will happen—there is a right way and a wrong way to handle the situation. With the correct strategy, it’s possible to turn that angry client or customer into one who remains loyal to your company for a lifetime.

Calm, Cool and Collected
When the person on the other end of the line comes out of the gate swinging, it can be a challenge to keep your cool. Most of us immediately put up our defenses and prepare for retaliation. This is a natural response, so don’t be too hard on yourself for having that reaction.

At the same time, with practice, you can train yourself to act, rather than react. Begin deep breathing or take a deep breath as soon as you realize the person is angry and before you attempt to respond. (You may want to mute the call or hold your hand over the phone receiver while you are doing this so the other party can’t hear it.)

The same goes for when you are responding to an email. If the person has successfully gotten your shackles up, give yourself some time to process the content of the email and find your calm center before responding. Be sure not to wait too long, however, because that could exacerbate the situation. Responding by later that day or the next day is a good rule of thumb. For angry callers, the more calm, quiet (but not inaudible) and soothing your voice is, the more likely you are to diffuse the other person’s anger.

Listen Up
The most effective thing you can do in this type of situation is to listen. The person on the other end of the call or email wants to vent, so let them have at it. When they are done, use everything you ever learned about two-way communication skills and offer up a summary of what they’ve said to you. Begin with, “So what I’m hearing, Mrs. Wilson, is…” Be sure to let them know you sympathize with their situation. This works on the phone or in an email.

Apology Accepted
The customer is always right, even when they aren’t, so offer an apology. It can be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry you are unhappy with [insert product, service, situation here]. Let’s see what we can do to make it right, OK?” We’ve all been in a similar position, so tap into your empathy.

Problem Solving
Provide a solution or ask the customer or client what they’d like to see happen. In some cases, all they want is to be heard, so they may not have any solution in mind. Be prepared to find a realistic solution if they want something done, but can’t think of anything on the spot.

Practice Mindfulness
Once you’ve successfully calmed down your customer or client and resolved their issue (or have the solution in motion), treat yourself to a break. These types of interactions can get the blood pumping and the endorphins ramped up, so take a few minutes to regain your equilibrium.

Again, it might take a little practice to keep from having a knee-jerk reaction to someone yelling at you on the other end of the phone or receiving an all-caps email. Being aware of your own mind-body reaction and taking the above steps will go a long way in turning the conversation around and hitting the reset button on your relationship with the client or customer. Don’t be surprised if, at the end of the interaction, he or she is apologizing to you.