How To Make Angry Or Upset Customers Happy

People hear what they expect to hear.I Can't Hear You

Angry or upset customers are often closed to hearing anything other than what they expect. So, if they expect bad news or poor service that’s what they’ll experience. If you want to help, persuade or influence upset customers, one of the best ways is to patiently listen to their story.

If you won’t listen to them, it’s less likely they’ll listen to you.

Every story lets us share complex details like experiences, behaviour and reasoning. Stories also let us express feelings, values, beliefs and expectations.

When you understand a persons story, you begin to understand him or her. This doesn’t mean you have to agree – but when a customer feels someone is trying to understand them, their emotional guards begin to soften and their ability to listen to options and to compromise begin to evolve. By feeling listened to, customers are also more likely to listen to your story and agree your story is relevant to them / their situation. 

Customer Stories Are Filled With Valuable Information

The story of an angry or upset customer is filled with valuable information like their experiences, frustrations and expectations (this sentence is really important – you might want to re-read it). By mindfully listening to their story you receive clues you can use to find a solution and / or to customize your story to make it more relevant. Their story also suggests what words you can use to have the greatest impact.

It’s at this time that you can share your story. And because you’ve practiced mindful listening, this is also the moment you will be creating a better – longer lasting solution / resolution.

Keep Your Stories And Language Simple

It’s hard to communicate your message and influence others (especially when they are angry or upset), when people are confused or bored. The language you use is very important. Messages are more easily understood when you use simple, familiar language; although in highly specialized situations using jargon and acronyms (to a select audience only) can demonstrate your expertise.

Use language to evoke a mental image and / or an emotional reaction. For example, use ‘Leader’ vs. ‘Manager’. Choose simple words or phrases that hold meaning and that infer a strong emotional message and intention. For example:

  • Instead of ‘Cheap’ use ‘Inexpensive’
  • Instead of ‘Expansion’ use ‘Upgrade’ or ‘Enhancement’
  • Instead of ‘Adjust’ use ‘Customize’
  • Instead of ‘Self Service’ use ‘Unrestricted Access’

How To Share Stories

Whenever you can, share your stories face-to-face or over the phone.

If you are trying to share information using a written letter or case study, your message has to be very simple and direct, preferably focusing on one idea and one objective. This type of writing is not only very challenging, it often doesn’t meet your objectives because it’s difficult to anticipate the needs and feelings of your audience.

Email is an even poorer way of sharing a story with angry or upset customers. Email isn’t about sharing, it’s about telling. One of the most significant challenges with email other than its inability to express tone (same as letter writing), is that most of us have become impatient with long email messages and begin skimming and injecting our emotion (which is not good if your customer is angry or upset).

Recently conference calls, online video and interactive web conferencing have become popular. I suggest this is only slightly better than email because of the restriction to be fully interactive lack the richness of face-to-face engagement. In addition, most people admit to being decidedly distracted by choosing to multitask during a conference call or online video.


Whenever you can, try to have a face-to-face dialogue with angry or upset customers that starts with active, mindful listening.

Happy communicating.

Click here to join our priority list to receive our latest Business Communication blog posts.

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Click on the image to watch us on Canada AM.

Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

About Bruce Mayhew
Bruce Mayhew is a Leadership Coach, Keynote Speaker and Corporate Trainer who builds strong client and co-worker relationships that give clients a competitive advantage. Our training and development programs include: ■Generational Differences ■Effective Business Email Writing ■Email Etiquette ■Phone Etiquette ■Behaviour Event Interviewing (BEI) ■Mindfulness ■Using Linkedin to Build Client Relationships ■Objective Setting Made Easy

2 Responses to How To Make Angry Or Upset Customers Happy

  1. sharon lewis says:

    Happy New Year Bruce. Two questions come up for me as I read this post:
    What is the difference between mindful listening and listening with empathy?
    And, is the “play-back” method or “echo-effect” of dealing with difficult customers something that you think still has a place in today’s conversations?

    Thanks for your thoughts…..

    • Bruce Mayhew says:

      Hi Sharon, Happy New Year to you as well.
      Sorry for the delay in response – I was in Miami for business and decided to turn everything off a have a few days unplugged.
      Great questions.
      There isn’t lots of difference up front between Mindful Listening & Listening With Empathy. They both have the same fundamentals in what they are trying to do and how to do it. The difference I believe is that Mindful Listening (Mindfulness), gives us a few more tools to use to accomplish this before, during and after the conversation. For example – Feeling Triggered is a common experience; however if we are really trying to hear the other person/people we have to set those aside. Most of us don’t know how to properly recognize AND set aside negative (or positive), judgements/feelings… especially during an active environment like a conversation. I believe Mindfulness/Mindful Listening offers us those tools and helps us practice them before, during and after.
      Regarding “Play-back/Echo-effect”, I do think they are important parts of conversations – especially difficult conversations. The only thing I would suggest here is to be sure to start by saying, “What I hear you saying is…” vs. “What you are saying is…” The first is much more clearly my interpretation – the later can more easily be interpreted as a judgement. What I think we also need to be aware of during conversations – and our play-back are feelings. Feelings are important parts of difficult conversations… so saying “I sense you are feeling really frustrated by…” is a great way to mirror back and respect what the other person/persons are experiencing. It also helps them take stock of their feelings if they have let them get a little out of control.
      Hope this answers your great q’s.

I’ll enjoy reading your thoughts and your experiences.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: