Receptionist Training: How To Handle An Angry Customer


Receptionist Training: How To Handle An Angry Customer

TRANSCRIPT: This is Steve Stauning with another ‘Steve Stauning Short & Sweet’ video training lesson. Today’s lesson: Eight short & sweet lessons on how to handle an angry customer.

Now, this video describes the short and sweet methods that you can use to handle any angry customer in a way that either defuses the situation or, at the very least, moves the customers’ focus away from you and onto the real issues at hand. Let’s get started.

Lesson #1 in defusing any angry customer in any situation is to never get involved in one in the first place.

See, too often organizations are misguided when it comes to providing great customer service. They wrongly believe that great customer service comes with making angry customers happy.

That’s not the case.

That’s called reactive customer service and reactive customer service, no matter how good or how thorough, can never be considered great customer service. Great customer service only comes from never making the customer angry in the first place. See, great customer service encompasses not only being proactive when a situation arises, but ensuring your systems, your rules and your processes are designed to AVOID making any customer unhappy with you.

Okay, that was lesson number one but todays ‘short and sweet’ video lesson isn’t about building systems to keep your customers from ever getting angry in the first place: it’s all about how you, as a frontline employee or an entry-level manager, can turn angry customers into happy campers or, at the very least, redirect their venom toward the real issues at hand.

Lesson #2, and this is very important: the customer is not always right but they are always the customer.

As such, they pay your salary, so remember ‘FMF’. I love to remember FMF whenever I’m talking to an angry customer. FMF is simply this: Feed My Family. See, that’s my goal and if I’m in your position that should be your goal: FMF, Feed My Family. All of your actions should support your desire to stay employed and to feed your family.

The customer is not always right but they are always the customer.

Of course, I’m assuming you have a goal to stay gainfully employed as you work to defuse customer service issues. If that’s not the case; if you don’t care if you lose this job or not, then there is no reason for you to watch the rest of this video series. Feel free to shut it off now, okay? Curse at the customer, hang up the phone, grab your coat, head on home and have a beer.

My goal is FMF. I want to feed my family so if you’re still watching, it means you want to stay employed, at least for now. So, let’s look at how the FMF concept works in real life by looking at a fairly typical situation – one that I’ve witnessed more than a dozen times.

A customer calls. Let’s say they are complaining about something: in this case, let’s say it’s a charge on their cell phone bill for something their seven year old actually did when he got ahold of dad’s phone, okay? The customer claims no one ordered the product or service but you have proof, right? You’re the cell phone company. You know that they added that. You know that the order came from their phone and because you have GPS you know the exact time and coordinates to prove the call was made when it was sitting in the customer’s house.

In other words, the customer is wrong.

Now, what is lesson two? The customer is not always right but he is always the customer. He’s not only wrong, he’s angry. And, that’s how he started the call. So, should you tell him he’s wrong? Will that serve your purpose? If your goal is to stay gainfully employed, it won’t. But, if your goal is to make him madder than he already is, go ahead, tell him he’s wrong. Give him all the facts; show him all the reasons he is wrong.

See, my goal is FMF. Feed My Family. If that’s your goal then you should work to defuse the situation without angering the customer further, despite the fact that this customer is wrong.

Remember, the customer is not always right but they are always the customer. So, what can we do in this situation? Well, that’s lesson three.

Lesson #3: your job is not to point out where they are wrong.

Your job is often to just let them vent and then assure them, if it’s a true statement, that their concerns have been heard and that someone will be getting back to them shortly.

In the case of the cell phone charges, or something similar, most organizations (maybe yours included) have policies in place that allow frontline employees to excuse these charges when it’s a first-time complaint for a given customer. If this is the case in your company, it does no good to say something like: “Well, Mr. Jones, we do know that the charges were made from your phone while it was at your home address, HOWEVER, we are willing to waive the charges this one time.”

What are you trying to prove? That you are right? That he is wrong? No, that’s not our goal. The goal is feed my family, right? Remember, we’re trying to defuse the situation in a way that doesn’t anger him further. Lesson number three is not to point out where the customer is wrong, it is to resolve the issue. This type of statement is only going to enrage the already angry customer. Our goal is FMF so let’s not worry about who is right and who is wrong in this situation. You do not need this guy asking to speak to your supervisor or writing something about your company on social media. Just solve the issue and move on.

This is how to resolve this problem: “Mr. Jones, I see the charge here and I am removing it as we speak. You will see a credit on your next bill. Is there anything else I can help you with today?” That’s it.

Lesson #4: to handle an angry customer; kill them with kindness.

The angrier they get, the kinder, the quieter and the gentler you become. This has been proven to defuse even the angriest of customers. So, assuming you cannot solve their issue because of some internal policy, it’s important to let them vent, though it’s equally important for you to become so sticky-sweet nice that it hurts your teeth. The madder they get, the nicer you get. The louder they get, the quieter you become. The more they talk, the less you talk.

Eventually, even the craziest of crazed customers will calm down and give you a chance to help them.

Lesson #5: no matter what they say or do, the only person who can make you feel small is you.

Don’t let the entitled idiots with poor manners change who you are by bringing you to their level. Rise above – you’re better than that.

Every successful leader I know held an entry-level position at some point in their life. What helped them succeed was often the desire to do more, to become more. However, they never looked at what they were currently doing as meaningless or trivial. They knew they would be something bigger later and, so, they took it in stride.

You serve a purpose at your company. One that is so important that you are placed in front of your company’s customers. Whether this means you are speaking with them on the phone or in person, you are most often the one who makes the very first impression for your company.

The angry customer has a problem and you want to solve it, right? However, the abusive customer; the one who enjoys making others feel small, has an even bigger problem. His problem is he is a jerk who can only feel important when he sees everyone else as unimportant. This is his issue, not yours. He is the one who needs professional help, not you.

No one can make you feel small unless you let them.

Realize this: Anyone who tries to belittle you, who threatens you with idiotic statements like, “Do you know who I am?” or, “I can have your job” or, “You’re just a damn secretary!” is highly insecure. Don’t let them drag you down beneath them.

Okay, Steve. So, how do I do this?

You acknowledge to yourself that only insecure people act this way. You acknowledge that this abusive customer has issues that require professional help and you feel sorry for them. You pity their insecurities and you hope for their sake and the sake of their loved ones that they get better. You just don’t let them pull you down to their level.

See, doesn’t it feel better already to know just how small they really are?

Lesson #6: Make it a game.

I love this one. I call this ‘Steve’s Angry Game’. You can call it that too, thank you. Very much.

Instead of trying to calm down an angry customer, which can backfire often, you should see how long they can stay mad. The way the game works is you award yourself one point for every 30 seconds they stay mad. Also, you will want to see if you can get them to curse more than any other guest has ever cursed at you. Give yourself one point for every curse word you hear and then compare your results to your fellow receptionists or customer service agents.

You can have a weekly prize for the agent who scored the most points on a single call – something small like all pitching in to buy his or her lunch on Friday.

Of course, the key to ‘Steve’s Angry Game’ is to be gentle and kind. Never turn into the idiot on the other end of the phone. If you do, you’re disqualified from the game.

Why make it a game? Because some people are going to vent and that leaves you with just a few choices:

  1. You can hang up on them which could get you fired.
  2. You can try to calm them down which often backfires. Let them vent. Let’s make it a game.
  3. You can choose not to listen to them which makes you ill-equipped to answer any real questions they may have, or:
  4. You can listen to them without getting angry by having a little fun and making it a game. This way you get to keep your sanity and you might just earn a free lunch.

As we learned in ‘Steve’s Angry Game’, we want to let them vent and that is our….

Lesson #7: Let ‘em vent. Just let them vent.

Why, why, why do you feel you have to make your point? Why do you feel the need to defend yourself or your company in the face of an often irrational customer? It’s idiotic and it’s guaranteed to make you the focus of their anger instead of the issue. What’s most aggravating about those who feel they need to defend themselves is that they tend to do so when the customer is done venting; when the customer is ready to walk away or ready to move on or ready to get off the phone.

Let me give you a real world example of this.

My wife and I were trying to get a table recently at a casual restaurant in Las Vegas, on the strip. Now it was 10:40 in the morning and since most of Vegas is open 24/7, we didn’t think anything amiss about the fact that we were trying to grab lunch before 11:00 A. M. So we walked up to the hostess at this casual restaurant and asked for a table for two. She smiled and said, “That’s going to be about 20 minutes”.

I kind of looked around, confused. My face contorted and my brow furrowed because I was puzzled. I could see into the restaurant and could see that half of the tables were empty. I said, “There’s quite a few tables open. Why can’t we just take one of those?”

She said, “We’re changing over from breakfast and won’t be serving lunch for about 20 minutes.”

“Oh, okay”, I said. “So, can we just take a table and have a couple of drinks while we wait?”

“No sir, we’re changing over from breakfast and we won’t be serving lunch for about 20 minutes.” See, I had actually heard that before but she reiterated and that’s okay.

Now, if you’ve ever been on the Las Vegas strip you realize this restaurant was within walking distance of about 100 similar restaurants so we sort of gave one, final, confused look before turning away to go somewhere else. I said,

“That’s weird, but okay. I guess we’ll just eat at one of your dozens of competitors.”

I was done. I was walking away, and that’s when it happened. That’s when this hostess just felt like she had to have the last word. She felt it was important that she be heard. She couldn’t just let us walk away. So she said, “It’s not my policy. It’s the restaurant’s policy”.

I couldn’t believe my ears. We were walking away. She would never have to see us again. I would have completely forgotten about the situation. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you about it but she just had to have the last word. She could have just spent the next 20 minutes turning away customers as she probably has to do every day between 10:30 and 11:00.

Now, while I still don’t understand the restaurant’s policy, I always understood that the hostess working at 10:40 A.M. was not the one setting the policy. I was never angry or unhappy with her. Heck, I wasn’t angry with anyone. I was unhappy with her company because some unnamed idiot manager who had no concept of how to properly run a restaurant, in the only city that truly never sleeps, felt compelled to turn people away every day for 30 minutes.

Now, because I’m a nice guy, I didn’t lay into her. I didn’t come unglued as so many others probably would. She got lucky she didn’t cause Mt. Stauning to explode, as I’m sure even I would have been unkind in my criticism at that point.

She should have just let me vent. See, that’s Lesson #7. Let ‘em vent. I get that there is a very basic human need to be understood. That said, let me refer you back to Lesson #2: The customer is not always right but they are always the customer.

There is no reason to try to prove you’re right. Let me vent, let me get the last word in, and, whatever you do, don’t be reactive or defensive of your company’s position. And that brings us to our final lesson…

Lesson #8: Don’t be defensive.

All of your language should be proactive towards solving the issue, not reactive in defense of your position or your company’s position.

Let’s look back at that Las Vegas restaurant example I gave you in Lesson #7. She could have merely let me have the last word and it would have been over. Instead, the hostess felt the need to defend herself, right? “It’s not my policy. It’s the company’s.”

Additionally, instead of the “Don’t blame me” statement she felt the need to spout at the end, she could have used a more proactive statement like, “I’m sorry we won’t be able to serve you today, though rest assured, you’re not the only customer who has brought up this issue and I’m going to make sure that my manager is aware that this policy is hurting our business.”

By saying something like that you can be both helpful and deflect the bad policy on someone else without sounding defensive. Being defensive is easy. You don’t have to try to be defensive; it comes naturally for us humans to be defensive. What’s hard is being proactive and using proactive language that helps resolve negative situations more quickly.

For example, instead of using reactive language like, “I’m doing everything I can to help you”, try something that sounds more proactive like, “We will do everything we can to ensure this situation is resolved to your satisfaction”.

Another quick example of defensive, reactionary speech is when you blame the customer with language like, “You failed to follow the directions provided”. In these situations it’s much better to say something like, “Let me take you through the steps necessary to… whatever.”

That’s it – eight short and sweet lessons on how best to handle the angry customer…

Now, if you’re watching this on and you have a specific customer service question you’d like me to address, please submit a comment below. If you are watching this on YouTube, and you’d like to contact me, go to and click on the tab that says ‘contact’.

Have a great day!