Interview Question: "How Would You Handle an Angry Customer?"

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When you're interviewing for a customer-facing role, the interviewer will typically ask about your ability to handle an angry, difficult, or rude customer. How you manage an unpleasant interaction with an angry caller will result in either a successful resolution to the problem or a lost customer. The outcome is ultimately up to you, and the interviewer wants to know how you'll successfully deal with the situation.

Fortunately, there are tried and true techniques to efficiently handle a customer’s complaint. Share them with the interviewer to demonstrate your ability to resolve stressful situations with finesse and grace. 

Here are some techniques and steps to draw on to help shape your answer to the question, “How would you handle an angry customer?”

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

Employers ask this question not only to see if you are knowledgeable about effective customer service and conflict resolution strategies, but also to gauge the level of your enthusiasm for what can often be a stressful occupation.

Remember, when answering this question, that your tone of voice and facial expression are as important as your response.

Let both convey that you enjoy being a problem-solver eager to provide positive solutions to your customers.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Listen to the Customer

You can typically tell if someone is angry within the first few seconds of the interaction. Before you attempt to diffuse the situation by talking them down, listen without judgment to their whole story and jot down important points as the caller explains. Remaining judgment-free will allow you to truly listen to the caller and find an agreeable solution more swiftly and efficiently. Remember that people typically just want to be heard, and this desire can manifest itself in ugly ways. So, don’t take anything they say personally.

Ideally, after a caller expresses their unhappiness, they will apologize for their outburst and allow you to move forward with resolving the issue. However, if their anger escalates to using violent or vulgar language, refer to your company's policy about how to proceed. If the guidelines indicate that you should end the call, do so immediately and be sure to accurately document what they said to you along with their specific complaint. 

Stay Calm and Present

Speak in an even tone, and do not participate in the oncoming ugliness as it will only intensify the situation. If you’re struggling to keep your composure, there is an easy, effective technique to “distance” yourself from the anger being projected onto you.

Take a deep breath, and as you do, feel compassion for yourself, smiling inwardly. Breathe deeply again and smile outwardly as you feel compassion for the distressed customer. Put yourself in their shoes and remember that their anger is ultimately at the problem they are encountering, not you.

Repeat Back What You've Heard

Reiterate the customer's primary points and concerns back to them and make sure you apologize for the issue. Not only will the breather allow the customer to calm down, but they will also feel both heard and understood. Moreover, repeating it back will ensure your accurate understanding of the complaint.

Avoid Putting the Caller on Hold

You may think it will give the caller time to relax, but putting them on hold will instead produce the opposite outcome as they will feel shunted aside and therefore angrier. Can you ever recall a time that you appreciated being put on hold? Nobody enjoys the waiting game. So, avoid it altogether if you can. If you must research the situation or consult with a supervisor, let the customer know, keeping them updated every step of the way.

Take Action

Of course, your ultimate goal is to end the call cordially, with the customer feeling a sense of satisfaction. So, if possible, offer them a refund or voucher as per your company's policy. Provide them with two to three potential resolutions to evoke their feeling of control over the outcome.

How to Answer the Question

When answering the question, “How would you handle an angry customer?” be sure to demonstrate empathy for dissatisfied callers. This will show the interviewer that you are service-oriented and dedicated to meeting your clients’ needs.

This question is a good example of a situational interview question, which poses a hypothetical situation in order to assess a candidate’s problem-solving skills. Try to provide concrete examples of how you’ve responded to angry clients in the past.

In your answer, include mention of specific customer service skills that you’d use to successfully defuse the situation. These might include competencies like active listening, civility, tact, and clear, honest communication.

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are some examples of how to explain how you’d deal with escalated customers. Note how each candidate focuses on analytical problem-solving in order to swiftly resolve their customer’s concerns.

Example Answer #1

I would get to the bottom of the customer’s complaint and assess the most efficient, direct, and swift way to make things right again.

Why It Works: This candidate demonstrates her willingness to partner with the customer in order to analyze and troubleshoot the issue. She clearly understands that the goal is to ensure the caller’s ultimate satisfaction.

Example Answer #2

For the sake of clarity and efficiency, I would first ask the customer to explain the problem to ensure I’m the right person to assist them. There are going to be times when you simply don’t have the knowledge or expertise to resolve a problem, and it’s better to recognize that early on than to waste both the customer’s and your valuable time. I would then repeat back the information they’ve shared so that they’d know I’ve understood their concern and am eager to help resolve it.

Why It Works: This response is great because the interviewee obviously understands how to build rapport with unhappy customers by actively listening to their complaints and then repeating their key points. It also shows that he understands the importance of assessing whether he can help the client or whether he’ll need to forward the call to someone who can better assist them.

Example Answer #3

I always approach a customer’s complaint assuming positive intent, as most complaints I've dealt with were totally justified. After they've thoroughly explained their problem, I reassure them that I intend to help them in any way possible.

Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate is able to respond to an angry client non-judgmentally, by putting himself in their shoes and by expressing empathy for their situation.   

What Not to Say

Don't cast customers in a negative light. Although it might be tempting to describe and complain about difficult customers you have dealt with in the past, try to avoid describing them negatively. Instead, remember the old adage that “the customer is always right” and focus on how you demonstrated your maturity and professionalism in taking the appropriate steps to solve their problem and retain their business.

Demonstrate your effectiveness. Of course, the best way to demonstrate your effectiveness in high-stress situations is by sharing a personal account. Have you ever employed the above techniques to resolve an angry customer’s problem? If yes, then share this story with your interviewer. They will undoubtedly be impressed by your high emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, and professionalism.

Be prepared for the other questions you'll be asked about customer service during a job interview. Take the time to review what you may be asked and how you'll respond.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • How do you handle stress? - Best Answers
  • What are the most difficult decisions to make? - Best Answers
  • Why should we hire you? - Best Answers
  • More interview questions: Top 10 Interview Questions and Best Answers

Key Takeaways

THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT: Even when they aren’t. Present yourself as someone who is eager to address client concerns through active listening, product or service education, analytical problem-solving, and conflict resolution.

OFFER ANECDOTES: Strengthen your response by using the STAR interview response technique to describe a specific situation where you successfully handled a query from an angry customer.

ALLUDE TO PROVEN ISSUE RESOLUTION STRATEGIES: These include active and nonjudgmental listening, remaining calm and present, and repeating back the information you’ve been provided by the customer.