Strategies for Handling Irate Callers

By Nancy Friedman Telephone Doctor

As with many columns around the country in newspapers and other newsletters, some favorites are repeated during June, July and August. This article, in particular, is a most often requested one to reprint, so while it is a repeat from a few years ago, it is worthy of repeating. Enjoy!

If your job entails taking calls from unhappy, irate callers, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Many of us are vulnerable to outbursts from customers who are already going through an emotional, stressful time.

Handling these calls takes time and training, but it can be accomplished effectively. Here are some service recovery techniques for turning unhappy callers into satisfied customers.


Realize that angry customers are not unhappy with you, just the situation. Don’t take a caller’s hostility personally. You are the lightning rod, not the target.

You can do a great deal to diffuse a caller’s anger before you even pick up the phone. How? By smiling before you answer that call. A smile can really be "heard" over the phone. It’s difficult to be rude to someone who’s warm and friendly.

Here is the Telephone Doctor® ASAP technique for handling irate customers:

Acknowledge the person’s feelings and apologize for the inconvenience the customer has encountered. Make an effort to be sincere. In today’s impersonal society, it’s incredibly rare to hear the words "I’m sorry that happened. Let me get the ball rolling to fix it." You’ll probably spend about 80 percent of your time massaging the caller’s feelings and 20 percent actually solving the problem.

Sympathize and empathize with the caller. Phrases like, "I can understand why you’re upset," help soothe ruffled feathers. Pretend it is you calling. Then get busy solving the problem.

Accept 100 percent responsibility for the call. This is probably the toughest part. Chances are you had nothing to do with the problem. However, it is your job to accept responsibility and initiate work on a solution.

Prepare to help. Begin by reintroducing yourself — callers don’t usually remember your name. State that you will be able to help. Use the caller’s name, if possible, which helps diffuse the anger. A willing attitude is essential because if the caller senses insincerity or indifference, he will stay angry. It’s exasperating to file a complaint with someone who obviously doesn’t care.

Never make an excuse to a complaining caller. No one wants to hear, "The computer is down," or "I’m the only one here." That is your problem, not the caller’s. When you give an excuse, the caller hears, "I’m not going to help you now."

Sometimes you are not able to solve the problem on the spot. Many times you need more information from another department. Perhaps the call needs to be handled by another person. Although these are legitimate courses of action, they usually upset your caller again.

If you need more information, explain that to your caller. Ask him if he is able to hold while you obtain it, or if he would prefer a call back. Avoid untrue phrases like, "Hold on a sec." Nothing takes a second.

If you need to transfer a caller, let him know the name of the person he’ll be speaking with. Give a reason why you are bringing in a third party. "Joe, Mrs. Smith in our claims department is the real expert in resolving your type of problem. Let me transfer you directly to her."

Unfortunately, there are callers who are firmly convinced that abusive language is their only recourse. Try the Telephone Doctor® "swear stopper" technique. Say to the caller in a firm, but pleasant voice, "Excuse me, I can handle your problem, that’s no problem, but I’m not able to handle your abusive language."

By using this wording, you are taking control of the conversation. Then immediately start asking questions that will help solve the problem. This helps you stay in control of the conversation.

Try using these techniques and see how quickly you start handling complaint calls more effectively. Then see how good you feel about yourself — you’ll be doing your job better than ever before!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *