How To Defuse Angry Customers

All customer service or success positions have them. This is a tried-and-true method for diffusing them.

You’re behind on calls, work is backing up and you see a customer with steam coming out their ears. What now? We all run into angry customers working in customer success, so it’s imperative we learn how to defuse them. 

Defusing an angry customer is a learned skill. Your job is to take that emotional person and calm them down, all while saving your company’s reputation. All businesses have customers, so all employees must treat customers well. 

In my experience working as a customer success specialist, I found 3 skills to be vital. 

  • Active Listening – Everyone can listen passively, but taking an active role with helps to find the root of issues faster
  • Detail Retention – Can you repeat back what you heard? Did you understand the main point?
  • Validation through Resolution – Validating experiences calms down the emotional side of individuals, enabling you to find a resolution 

Active Listening

The only catch, Active Listening isn’t easy. Whether listening comes naturally or you’re a “type A” person, you can learn the soft skills it takes to hear the customer.

Useful tips to keep in mind while Active Listening:

  • Tune out distractions. The person in front of you is your present and only concern. Customers usually like to be prioritized, especially the angry ones.
  • Listen first, talk later. Giving the customer the opportunity to vent out their frustrations will already ease most angry individuals. Who doesn’t want to feel heard? 
  • Concentrate on what the customer is saying. Don’t plan your reply while the customer is speaking. If you’re stuck in your own head, you will miss out on important details the customer is communicating.
  • Note their tone. You can learn a lot about what the customer cares about by their tone. Listen to their words and how they present them to you. What does their body language say? Did they raise their tone and cross their arms during part of the explanation? That’s telling what really needs to be addressed.
  • Be mindful of your tone. Always keep an even and friendly tone, never raise your voice or emotions to their level.
  • Don’t interrupt. Let them finish speaking. Pause when they finish to give them the opportunity to continue. Silence is your ally. Use it wisely.

Now that you have taken those steps, ask why the customer is angry. Did our product or service not work? Was someone from our company rude? Do they not feel valued or heard? After listening to them, do you feel you have a handle on what went down? Whether or not you feel confident, you need to make them confident you heard them and can resolve the issue.

Detail Retention

Once a customer has finished venting, repeat back to them what they said. As an example, here is a productive response. 

Customer: My account got double charged this month and last month, I barely use your service, to begin with. This is outrageous! I want my money back.”

Customer Success Specialist: “What I’m hearing is, you would like me to refund the extra charge and investigate why this happened, to stop the issue from occurring in the future.”

If you understand what was communicated and the customer agrees, move forward to resolving the issue. If they still don’t feel heard, ask more questions. Customers like being understood correctly, even if their initial tangent made little sense. Taking the time to ensure you understand what has happened will have a positive impact.

Validation and Resolution

Validate what went wrong and the customer’s feelings. Being compassionate and showing you’re a genuine person goes a long way. We have all been in annoying situations before, and hearing our anger or annoyance is justified is affirming. 

“Just like children, emotions heal when they’re heard and validated.”

We are all big kids with big emotions, and you don’t want your company associated with negative ones. Leaving a customer with a plan to resolve their issue and a smile gives them a positive customer experience.

Last, you need to follow through. The last thing you want is the same customer coming back livid because you didn’t solve their problem. When faced with an angry customer, you have two problems on your hands. Addressing their anger and addressing the root cause of their anger.


I used these skills in that exact order every day. Active Listening took patience to learn, and I’m still practicing it. These skills will benefit you no matter what role you work in, as we all encounter angry people. I’ve defused customers, co-workers, family members, and friends with these skills. 

Want to learn more? Here are some sources I found informative!

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