Dealing with an Angry Customer

Does this guy look familiar? I sure hope not.

When dealing with angry customers, you have to keep your cool. It’s hard to though, when they are upset and personally attacking you or your business. Sometimes all you want to do is ask them to leave or “stick it where the sun don’t shine.”

Don’t do it.

Put yourself in their shoes. After all, they are mad at you. What did you do to make them so mad?

First, do NOT be defensive. They are trying to communicate why they are angry. Defending your policy, employee, or product will not make things any better. By doing so, you are suggesting that they are wrong to be angry.

Second, don’t make excuses. This will always makes them more angry. People want to be heard. By making excuses, you are not listening. If you don’t listen, how can they be heard?

We’ve all heard it before – the customer is always right. No, they are wrong (and rude) much of the time. But it really doesn’t matter who is wrong or right. The saying about the customer always being right simply means the customer is extremely important to the success of your business and you should do everything in your ability to make them happy. And if you don’t, they will tell an average of 12 of their friends about the poor customer service they received at your establishment. And then they will email, post, and tweet to 200 of their friends (and their friends, and their friends) about the poor service they received on social media. Poor reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Google last for a lifetime, so it’s best not to let the issue escalate.

The ideal time to diffuse a bad situation is when it is happening. Dealing with an unhappy customer is your opportunity to really learn about what your customer wants or what your business needs to make them, and others, happy enough to tell their friends what a great person you are and how they will keep coming back to you business.

I learned the LAIR technique at my first job out of college and it really does work. That, and as my mother-in-law taught me, “Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut.”

LAIR – Listen. Acknowledge. Identify. Reverse.

These four areas will enable you to resolve conflicts when you put them all together.


It’s amazing to think about, but most folks do not actively listen to what’s being said to them–they are concentrating on their next sentence or something entirely different to what’s being presented directly to them. Actively listen to what the other party is saying, and you’ll be amazed at what has been revealed to you–often without them being aware they’re doing it.


This works quite well in diffusing and disarming a potentially tricky situation, and moves everyone towards finding a mutual solution. Note that by acknowledging something, you are not validating it. You are simply recognizing the situation as it exists. Nodding gently as they speak gets the point across subliminally they you “get it”, which may calm them down even quicker.


After actively listening and acknowledging the situation, use the facts you have uncovered and restate the opportunity or concern to make certain that both sides are on the same page. This prevents misunderstanding caused by flawed perception by either side. A simple, “What I hear you saying is…” can work wonders to make sure you understand their complaint.

Reverse (Respond)

Reflect the area of concern back at the other side in order to facilitate mutual agreement, then if all is in order, take the appropriate action. A simple, “I’m so sorry” or “Thank you so much for letting me know” can be all it takes to resolve the situation. And of course the discount coupon or freebie will usually do the trick.

Using the LAIR technique is an effective work tool that is always ready to use (Note: it works in your personal life, too).

Remember, customers just need to vent sometimes–which is great feedback for your business.


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