Dealing with aggressive customer behaviour


Dealing with aggressive customer behaviour

Dealing with aggressive customer behaviour can be difficult and stressful.   As a business owner or manager with customer facing staff, it is a good idea to train/educate them in not only selling and customer service techniques, but also on how to cope in difficult situations.  Dealing with aggressive, rude or angry customers can be very confronting and upsetting, especially for younger, inexperienced staff.

Here are some simple techniques for anyone in a position that deals directly with aggressive customers.

In this guide we answer some of the most frequently asked questions we hear from our clients:

How do I recognise an aggressive customer

Aggressive customers tend to be unreasonable and/or unpredictable. They may make impossible demands, refuse to acknowledge timeframes or accept your process. They may be argumentative, use personal insults or inappropriate comments to get their point across or shout or make threatening gestures. In extreme circumstances they may even be violent.

Not every customer who uses a loud voice or is persistent is aggressive. Many customers are assertive but will still be reasonable if you engage them in a dialogue.

How should I respond to an aggressive customer?

  1. Stay calm

It can be difficult to stay calm when a person’s behaviour is confronting. Remember that you don’t know what else may be going on in this person’s life.  Try not to take their aggression personally. Keeping your voice low and smiling (even though this might be hard) can relieve the tension. Avoid using sarcasm. If necessary excuse yourself and leave the room and take several deep breaths. Think about your own body language and whether you are coming across as defensive or hostile – be conscious of not pacing, tapping, crossing your arms or rolling your eyes.

  1. Listen

Pay attention to what the customer is saying and try to understand their concerns. Ask appropriate questions but avoid interrupting and allow them to say all they need to say. Sometimes simply allowing someone the opportunity to vent can alleviate their frustration. When they have explained the situation to you, confirm or summarise their concerns to make sure you have understood.

  1. Be empathetic

Demonstrate to the customer that you care about their situation, using appropriate language:

I understand that you are frustrated/ I can see how difficult this has been/Thank you for bringing this to my attention/I appreciate how you feel/That’s tough, let’s see how we can get this sorted

  1. Offer solutions

The customer wants to feel that something is being done to resolve their concerns even if it is only a partial solution.  It may be that there are limited options that you can offer – if so, don’t overpromise. Be willing to involve management. It demonstrates that you are serious about helping them resolve the issue.

Once you have committed to a solution follow it through. If that requires following up within the following days use a reminder system and do it!

 What if the customer is wrong?

If the customer is misinformed and presenting the situation inaccurately, bring them back to the facts and rely on any supporting documentation. Rather than tell them they are wrong you can refer to there being a misunderstanding or miscommunication.

What should I do if I can’t calm the customer or they become violent?

If you are unable to resolve the situation and the customer’s behaviour is escalating, you should explain to them that you are unable to assist them while they are behaving in this way, and ask them to leave. Start to walk towards the door.  If they become violent you should call security or the police.

If you are speaking to them on the telephone tell them that you are unable to continue speaking to them if they persist in using that tone and ask them if you can speak to them at another time when they are more calm. If they continue state that you are going to hang up before doing so.

Remember that self-care is important. If you are feeling anxious or nervous after dealing with an aggressive customer take a break before serving the next person. If you observe a workmate in this situation offer support.


HR Central offers customised HR training. Contact us on 1300 717 721

Sarah Tidey

Sarah Tidey is a former lawyer who specialises in HR and workplace dispute resolution.

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