11 Customer Defusing Phrases for Dealing with Angry Customers

11 Customer Defusing Phrases
11 Customer Defusing Phrases

It’s no secret that encountering angry, hysterical, upset, and confused customers is an occupational hazard of working at a call center. Experienced agents often develop a diplomatic approach that honors the customer’s perspective while simultaneously protecting themselves from verbal abuse. Though, as the title of this article suggests, there are some magic words and tactful expressions, it’s also important to acknowledge that equally important are a call center agent’s overall attitude, respectfulness, and sincerity.

Call on Genuine Care:

When you’re on the phone with a distressed customer, begin by giving them the benefit of the doubt and being genuinely curious about their predicament. This will help establish a working partnership and a sense of being “on the same team.” Try out phrases that show the customer you’re listening, like, “If I understand you correctly….” or “You’re saying….”. It can also be as simple as repeating or reflecting back what they have said to you. This “reflective listening” will not only affirm that they are being heard but will also give them a chance to get some perspective on their own complaint.

Listen with Empathy and Discernment:

As you listen, also look for markers to get a sense of what the emotional impetus is. For example, the customer may be calling to troubleshoot a broken camera, but the frustration may be the bad timing of it breaking down during a momentous occasion. By identifying and empathizing with the pain of losing special memories before speaking to the technical issue, you will establish a human connection. You can put it in your own words, or say, “Wow, I’m really sorry” or “Oh, that’s the worst!” Once you’ve empathized, don’t dwell on the disappointment or loss. Instead, shift to a positive, helpful tone and follow up with phrases like, “Now let’s see what we can do to turn things around” or “O.k. let’s get you in better shape!

Take Ownership:

One of the worst mistakes a call center agent can make is to meet an upset customer with a statement that “passes the buck.” It may be tempting to blame another department or the customer, themselves, or assert that it’s not your fault; however, whatever the facts are, a prompt resolution will be aided more by full ownership than deferred responsibility. Let the customer know that you’re there for them and will treat “their problem” as your own. To convey this sentiment, say, “I’m more than happy to help you,” or “I assure you I’ll try my best,” or the honest “If I can’t take care of this for you, I’ll find out who can.

Affirm, affirm, and affirm:

When a customer begins to calm down or shows signs of being more available to help, affirm this turn. You can say, “I so appreciate your patience,” or “I know there’s something else you might rather be doing, so thanks so much for bearing with me.

Maintain Good Boundaries:

It’s not always easy to be polite and positive when you’re faced with someone’s annoyance. In fact, it can often trigger your own annoyance, if only in a passive aggressive way. Remind yourself that though you may not be able to control your customer’s mood or chagrin, you can discipline yourself to practice equanimity and kindness. Remember, too, that it isn’t just what you say, but how you say it. Speak softly, use the customer’s name, and don’t make assumptions.

Finally, all the tact and grace in the world sometimes can’t help with someone who just wants to vent. As the old expression goes, you can’t help those who don’t want to help themselves. Most call centers teach their employees through call center recording software that agents warn an abusive customer three times before ending the call. These warnings, as well as the cessation of the call, don’t have to be mean spirited or ruin your day. It is also possible that as time passes, the caller may feel apologetic or remorseful. It may be an out of character outburst on a particularly stressful day. Or, they may be volatile and volcanic in all areas of their life and in serious need of therapy. Whatever the case, you can mind your responsibilities and commitments without taking on an excess of someone else’s distemper, and sometimes your centeredness and courtesy may even convert someone calling from hot head to grateful (and loyal) client.

This Article was contributed by Emily Hunter. Emily Hunter crafts content on behalf of the call center software experts at Kova Corp. In her spare time, she cheers for Spirit of Atlanta, Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment, creates her own sodas, and crushes tower defense games. Follow her on Twitter at @Emily2Zen


  1. This is an excellent reminder for staff in so many ways.

    Listening to what you are being told is such an underrated skill and we were given 2 ears and only one mouth, so that we could use the former more often and to better effect.

    Remaining calm is also a great tool. If the caller is venting, some times it is just a matter of letting them go on until they have said all they wanted to say. By letting them do this, you can then get an opportunity to identify and confirm what is actually upsetting them. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you or your business but rather something which happened earlier and this caused them to be upset with the first problem which they faced next, rightly or wrongly.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Wayne. I totally agree with you that it is very important for any customer service representative to remain calm and to listen to customers. This will help them to understand a problem better and quickly find a solution.

  2. I could not agree more. Nice article. It’s noteworthy to also remember that by the time a customer gets to the angry stage, what they are saying most likely is not the root cause of their frustration. Good listening skills can “peel the onion” back and really get to what is making them angry. To your point, it’s all about listening, understanding, empathy, and taking ownership to resolve the problem.

    1. You are right, John. Thank you for your comment. Good listening skills and calm attitude can help to resolve any issue no matter how angry the customer is

  3. Enjoyed the article. So true that a lot of times the reason the customer may be upset has nothing to do with you and you are merely a trigger or venting point. Taking a deep breath and listening , affirming, and resolving helps.

    1. Thank you for reading the article, Mark. You are right, quite often customers are worried and are upset and this has nothing to do with company’s customer service quality.

  4. Sometimes the support rep uses the wrong words when dealing with an upset, angry or even just a confused customer. When that happens, things can go from bad to worse. This article, however, has a great list of techniques to help defuse the angry customer’s temper and turn his or her Moment of Misery™ into a Moment of Magic®.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Shep. I totally agree with you that sometimes the wrong words may drive upset customers crazy while the right phrases will help to provide memorable customer service.

  5. Great article! A subtle reminder that our customers are people who need a solution. If we don’t listen with empathy or concern, someone else will. “Ease of doing business” generally rates high on importance in most satisfaction surveys. Thanks again for the tips!

  6. Good article! It reinforces the point that you must see the person, not just the issues. A customer’s emotions become heightened when a service failure has occurred. It is critical to recognise the emotions your customer is experiencing after a service failure so that you can address the situation.

    1. Thank you for reading the article, Theo. I totally agree with you that the human factor should be taken into account first of all.

  7. Two thumbs up! works every time. This article helped me a lot in terms of handling customers. Worthy to be shared with my colleagues.

Comments are closed.