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How to Deal With Verbally Abusive Customers

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Dealing with rude and verbally abusive customers is one of the more unpleasant aspects of working with the public. Although it can be hard to stay calm when a customer insults you, it’s important to handle the situation diplomatically and professionally.

Explain the Ground Rules

Unhappy customers tend to lash out when faced with poor service or other problems, but if the attack becomes personal, it’s time to put a stop to the behavior. If you respond angrily, you’ll only escalate the situation and might even face disciplinary action from your supervisors, so maintain a calm and even voice and demeanor. If your customer insults or demeans you, inform him that although you want to help him, you can’t continue the conversation if he continues to insult you or uses inappropriate language. Explain that if you must end the conversation, you will be glad to resume it when the customer can talk about the problem without resorting to verbal abuse.

Listen to the Complaint

Ask the customer to explain the problem in detail. If possible, don’t interrupt while he speaks, even if he says something inaccurate. If your customer feels that other company employees haven’t listened to him, your willingness to learn about the problem from his point of view might make him feel less angry. The Mind Tools website recommends that you truly listen to your customer and resist the urge to plan your response while he speaks. If he becomes abusive again, gently remind him of the ground rules.

Restate the Problem

Tell the customer that you want to be sure you understand the problem. Summarize his complaints, but don’t make any judgments about them or insinuate that he’s wrong to feel angry. Speak in a low, calm voice and tell him that you understand why this problem is so upsetting. Although you might not completely agree with him, showing empathy can establish rapport. If the customer feels that you truly understand the situation and empathize with him, he may become calmer. Ask him if your summary is accurate before proceeding.

Offer a Solution

Once you have confirmed the customer's primary complaint, tell him what you can do to resolve the problem, and ask if the solution is acceptable. If the customer is still angry, ask him to take an hour or two to consider your solution and decide if it will work for him. Don’t offer a solution unless you’re sure you can deliver it. If you tell the customer that you’ll overnight his shipment, and it’s doesn’t arrive the next day, you’ll only make him angrier. Follow up with any other departments that are part of the resolution to ensure that the problem is resolved quickly.


Working at a humane society allowed Jill Leviticus to combine her business management experience with her love of animals. Leviticus has a journalism degree from Lock Haven University, has written for Nonprofit Management Report, Volunteer Management Report and Healthy Pet, and has worked in the healthcare field.

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