37 | How to Handle Rude Customers

Rude customers are a breed of their own. Today I’m answering a question from Vanessa about how to handle rude customers while backing your team members up.

I just recently had a situation with one of my customers and a representative that was assisting the customer. The rep took the call and felt the customer was being rude and was upset and possibly yelling at the rep. As soon as I heard that, I told the rep to place the customer on hold and I would handle the call. The rep was able to transfer her to me and when I spoke with the customer she was okay – nothing I couldn’t handle and I was able to assist the customer. The rep expressed his frustration that he had never been talked to like that from a customer before. I told him that I needed to fix the issue in which I did. He felt as if I wasn’t backing him up because the customer was out of line.

Did I handle the situation correctly? What limits should I have on customers yelling at our representatives? I want them to know I get the frustration of the customer yelling at them but also our goal is to fix the issue. Any feedback would help.

Thanks for the question Vanessa. Obviously, I don’t know what the customer said to your representative or if and why they were yelling but your first step should always be to get that information.

Here’s what you’ve got to understand about your team – they must know that you are there to protect them. I don’t mean to protect them in stupidity or being a bad representative or an entitled employee. If a customer is treating your representative rudely, you need to show them that you’re willing to stand in the gap and battle against bad junk to protect them. Show your team that you care more about them.

That being said, I want you to solve every customer problem you possibly can unless the customer is being a jerk. Yes, maybe they’re frustrated and understandably so if the company messed up but there’s a line. That line starts when they’re literally yelling. What happens when they cross that line? You give them a warning, “Here’s my extension, when you decide not to yell at me, call me back.” If they keep yelling, hang up.

My team will always know that they have that right. Even more, when a customer is using profanity they have full power to fire them. Yes. Fire the customer. It doesn’t matter how much money they’ve spent with the company. If a customer is cussing out one of my team members, they’re gone.

Now, if there wasn’t yelling or profanity, I’m going to have a discussion with the representative. It’s possible they need to have tougher skin in a customer service role or maybe they’re on the wrong seat on the bus. If they’re acting with entitlement, they’re probably in the wrong seat. If they’re not ready to have tough skin and handle customers in a customer service role, they probably don’t need to be there.

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Question: How would you handle the situation?



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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

22 thoughts on “37 | How to Handle Rude Customers”

  1. Love it Chris. I have always given the warning” Sir/Mam I’m going to try to fix the issue but if you cuss at us we can’t help and the conversation will be over. Most times it shocked them back to common sense.

  2. Great stuff Chris! I have always tried to make sure my employees know that I am there for them in these tough situations. Sometimes it just takes a change of person to diffuse the situation. What is your suggestion for those of us in a non-phone situation? With retail, very often that rude customer is standing in front of you looking you in the eye. Makes it a little harder to make an exit from the conversation if things get escalated beyond a comfort zone.

    1. I’ve used the line, sir apparently I’m no longer able to assist you. Let me go find someone who can.

    2. I haven’t used the exact wording, but I’ve gone with something like, “I’m sorry that I am not able to meet your needs. I hope you can find a business more suited to you.” Unfortunately, I’ve had a couple occasions over the years that ended with a little less civility and a blunt “get out of my store now.” These situations involved threats and cursing from the customer prior to me dropping all effort at being nice.

  3. At no time should you or your employee take abuse. If the customer won’t treat you or your employees respectfully, then as Chris said, fire them. No amount of money is worth the stress of dealing with this type of customer. Good employees as EXTREMELY valuable assets and they need to know you are there for them and they usually will return the favor.
    Sometimes taing over the call is the quickest and best way to handle it, but the employee needs to be told why you did that. Let them hear how you handle it so they can get pointers the next time the issue arises.Afterwards, discuss it with the employee in question.
    Most customers are loud or yelling simply because they feel they are not being heard. Here is something you can try that I find works fairly well when I used to deal with irrate cutomers. My fellow employees would send the loud “crazies” (their words) to my extension because I seemed to be able to deal with them better than most.
    Years ago, my dad taught me a way to get the situation back in hand when a customer is yelling. With a firm voice (not yelling) say the customers name, if they persist in yelling, then say again quieter and repeat as needed up to five times. Typically by the third time, your customer has stopped yelling as natural reaction to you getting quieter. Once you have the customers attention, restate back to them what the issue seems to be. They need to hear that you understand the issue. If they agree, then proceed to fix it if possible.

  4. I worked as a switchboard operator for 5 years. When I trained people I explained that 80 percent of the time, things go smooth. About 10 percent you will feel over whelmed, 5 percent will be “omg what did I do with my my résumé ” and 5 percent terrified (we initiated codes like cardiac arrest and fire, with only one person on at a time. Life or death happens depending in how long you take to call the team together)
    If I or someone else had a really bad call (a mr potty mouth) or a really bad code, no one would give it a second thought to take the phones for a moment and let the operator walk it off for a few minutes.
    As a switchboard person, my advice – first have the person walk it off. Take a few minutes and get a drink of water or something. With hind sight of reading this, to make a follow up with your employee to talk about call control because not every customer is going to be a great person. And how not to let that one call influence the next one.
    I took about 5000 calls a month.

  5. Larry Youngren

    I have been on both sides of the customer service fence as a customer or spouse of a customer and the company representative as front line and manager (actually more people have been in this situation).
    As the company rep, we need to realize that customers come in a variety of sizes, personality styles, communication styles, demeanors, familiarity with the product or service and the list goes on. Also the customer (guest) may have day where Murphy have paid a visit and may have brought one or more of his relatives – desperate, stupid, frustrated, broke, etc. The customer may already have scripted in opening comments in their mind and must say those comments before they are able to really listen or interact. We need to realize the customer does not have our daily business vocabulary or have the same knowledge of our products and services. In some cases, the customer may have a better working knowledge of the company products and services than the company rep making the initial contact. Company reps really need to make a real effort to listen and hear what the customer is saying and trying to say.
    The company reps may need to conduct their own reality check several times through the day. It is possible that they brought baggage with them to work that impairs their ability to interact with customers. Maybe they just concluded with a customer that sucked all of the positive energy and outlook in which their batteries may need recharging. It is difficult to being actively engaged with each customer transaction and avoid going into auto pilot mode. The manager needs to recognize these warning signs to provide a brief break, words of encourage, reassign the rep to other duties, etc. This might be difficult dependent upon staffing, customer volume, etc.

    As a manager, I try to give the front liners the authority with deal nearly every situation but this is a learning curve which requires patience and constructive feedback. As a manager, I want to deal with the truly difficult calls where the solution may go against normal established company policy and guidelines in order to make the situation mutually beneficial to both parties. As a manager, I will defend my staff but to a point as the front line staff may have shut down and turned into their personal cause. As a manager, I try to treat nearly every situation as a teachable moment.
    As a customer or spouse of a customer, I get frustrated with company reps who have limited authority or are under pressure to keep each call within established timeframe norms. I have worked in health care and higher education where information is often subject to privacy and confidentiality standards. In situations where I am calling on behalf of my spouse, I will immediately ask for the supervisor to discuss the situation or have the supervisor return my call at their earliest convenience.
    On occasion I will request to speak to the manager when I encounter great customer service. I will try share this praise with the front liner or wish them a great day.
    Observations from an ordinary person

  6. 2 cents: I’ve gotten pretty used to dealing with irate / difficult out of line customers, but yeah, it’s never really easy. Most of the times I find that they just want to be listened to or bring their drama from home and dump it on you, so just trying to remain calm and listening to their side of the story can usually assuage their anger. I agree with using the comment, “Ma’am / Sir, I can help you if you calm down.. but please don’t belittle me or my team members.” I’ve found for the vast majority of irate customers (that aren’t intentionally trying to pull a fast one) this works, but for those that it doesn’t the firing customer concept works. Usually offering “something of worth for free” as a consolation prize helps to minimize any hurt feelings or misunderstandings imho. Great write up Chris!

  7. I learned a couple of years ago that a certain customer service call center had a turnover rate of 115%. It was truly a revolving door. I don’t think it’s anyone’s dream job to deal with conflict day in and day out. It does take a very specific personality type. It is in the job description, it should come as no surprise that people will unload their frustration on the rep. Abuse and profanity, however are unacceptable in any setting. Proper training can go a long way and mirroring the reps who are successful in handling these calls. I have instructed my team to hang up if a call gets in the “unacceptable” category and let the person know they will reschedule at a more convenient time.

  8. It’s a two-way street. The customer has his choice of people to do business with. So does the business. If the relationship needs to be severed, effort should be made to do it tactfully. This isn’t always possible (as in the given example). An abusive customer isn’t going to respond kindly to tact – he’ll stay irate, or get worse.

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