How To Handle Irate or Angry Customers, Would You Want This?

In a recent post on Bury These Phrases for the Best Teamwork, I buried the phrase “I am sorry you feel that way …”. It is a masquerade of an apology that scars team relationships.

One visitor to my blog, asked me if it was acceptable, however, to say that to an irate, angry, or upset customer? She went on to say that in several training workshops on how to handle irate or angry customers, they teach this and actually require the CSRs to say it. “So that you do not need to verbalize an apology, use I am sorry you feel that way to diffuse the emotion and move on to solving the issue at hand.”

Handling Irate or Angry Customers By:Josh.Liba

This is an abomination. Irate customers are adults who have lost trust and that is where the emotion begins. They want to be heard. The worst thing you can do is dance around and try to avoid responsibility.

I have been teaching how to handle irate customers for 20+ years and cringe at the thought of anyone teaching dedicated CSRs or technical support reps to say I am sorry you feel that way.

It is as bad as calm down and relax. In essence you are telling the customer that their emotion is unacceptable and that you are not responsible.

Let the irate, angry or upset customers vent their frustrations verbally. When they come up for air, there are several statements you can use one of which is a true apology for their experience. Yet if your company truly wants to avoid an apology (why I do not know), at least validate the irate customer’s emotion with something like “Clearly we have upset you. Let’s fix this now…” or “I hear your frustration and I am here to fix it.”

If you want customer loyalty, use “Clearly we have upset you and we are sorry. I am here to resolve the issues.” Stay away from “I understand”. Irate and angry customers are speaking from emotion. Most interpret “I understand” to mean “I understand your pain” which you don’t — and they yell that back at you.

What do you think? When you are the irate or angry customer, would you want someone to say to you “I am sorry you feel that way …”?

By the way, if you want more information on how to stay positive and objective with an irate or angry customer, here are two posts with key images: The Best Mindset and Training to Deal with Irate Customers and 5 Things to Think with Thorny Customers.

©2010 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, delivers top notch workshops on customer service and teamwork people-skills for transformational results. See the workshop outlines on this site.

18 Responses to “How To Handle Irate or Angry Customers, Would You Want This?”

  1. Kapil says:

    Kate, Great Post! Could not agree more. As a customer I have heard this many times, “I/We Understand your concern or problem” or “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused to you” (In my case the problem kept occurring after being solved each time, so its irritating to hear scripts). When a customer is angry the most appropriate step is to listen up carefully and not interrupt, this will let out all the frustration the customer has. The best would be if the CSR interacts with the customer not in a script of a process way.

  2. Juan says:

    Hi Kate,
    Your solution is exactly what I want to hear when I am upset about a bad customer service experience, I do not want to hear : I am sorry you feel that way….. because that person is not really sorry, he/she does not really mean it and honestly most of us (and my customers) are looking for a solution, somebody that could fix my problem.
    Acknowledging and then fixing the problem resolves everybody’s conncern.
    We clearly upset you, if you allow me I will fix it or let’s fix it …

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Agreed Juan. Customers (especially the irate ones) do not want to hear a script. If they are upset, they want to be heard and then a solution. Many thankms for sharing your thoughts and insights. I would love your opinion on this related post: Keeping Your Kool With Thorny Customers.

      Happy Memorial Day weekend to you and all my blog readers!

  3. Yun-Mei Lin says:

    Hi, Kate – you bring up even more thought-provoking points. The first one is yet another phrase we need to bury: “Calm down.” Exactly – in the business world, “calm down” equates to “shut up.” When a customer is told to calm down, they are essentially being told that they are over-reacting, being hysterical and that whatever the situation is, it’s not as bad as they are making it out to be. That is condescending and dismissive.

    The other reason that the CSR or tech should go ahead and say “I’m sorry” if the situation warrants it, is that the R in CSR is Representative. The CSR is the Representative of the company. Even if they did not personally make the mistake or cause the customer’s problems, somewhere along the line, the company did not satisfy or please this customer. As an employee, I take ownership of my position, of my company and I am the face of the company. I also want to be proud of the company and if something is wrong, I want to be instrumental in fixing the issue – even if all I can do is to find the right person who can help.

  4. I definitely wouldn’t like to be told “I’m sorry you feel that way…” It’s like shifting the blame from the cause of the problem to my response. In other words, the problem is the way I feel about the situation! It also sounds patronizing. Awful, isn’t it?

  5. Hi Kate,
    Great post! Customers hate scripted replies that are obviously not genuine. I have to admit that I’ve suggested the “I understand………” response to some of my seminar participants, but only as a totally genuine comment. I want customer service people who genuinely understand why I’m annoyed or frustrated. However, you’ve made me think.
    Best regards

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thanks Alan. Grateful for your time and your contribution to this discussion. Years back customer service training programs taught “I understand” as a response yet time and tests of it proved it to be a well-thought yet hidden disaster. The guideline I always teach is: Short empathetic phrase that shows the customer you heard them. In some parts of this country, one of the best phrases to use is “I hear you.” Yet it doesn’t play well in the Southeast. “I appreciate what you are saying” is workable in every part of USA as far as my research shows to date.

      Warmest wishes and have a great weekend,

  6. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  7. Great, I never knew this, thanks.

  8. Skip Bieber says:

    Hi kate,
    I agree, as a customer/consumer nothing will set me off faster that a CSR apologizing for something. So when I have an upset customer on the telephone, I take the “Clearly we have upset you. Let’s fix this now…” approach. Over 90% of upset customers I dealt with had already attempted to deal with others before being transfered/referred to me to resolve, and I treated each person as I would want to be treated no matter how rude they were towards me. Unfortunately, my approach was 180 degrees opposite of the official company procedures.

    and I agree about scripts! reading from scripts is as bad as empty apologies! Which is also all most as bad as a CSR being monotonous or otherwise “sleep speaking”

    keep up the excellent blogs!!


    • Kate Nasser says:

      Well we seem to be of one mind on this — and so are most customers! So I will keep the blogs coming to help all CSRs and management realize that robotic insincere conversation is useless. I love your phrase “sleep speaking”. If you tweet that phrase I will RT it for you!

  9. Marleen says:


    Great post. The picture is very scary.

    I agree with allowing angry customers to vent. While they are venting, listen very carefully to try to determine the best way to assist them. I also try to remind myself that they are not angry with me personally and all they want to do is get their problem resolved. I do my best to help them and most times I turn their frowns upside down. 🙂

  10. Alan Hill says:

    I navigated here from you link on on the ‘undo’ button.
    I agree with the other Alan – this line can be delivered but only with sincerity. If I’m not sorry I don’t say so.
    I use the much simpler “I apologize”, followed by, “What would you like me to do for you to make this right?”

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Sincerity is key Alan – I agree that a heartfelt “I apologize” goes a long way especially when you add a change action as you noted. You might like my latest post on this blog .

      Many thanks for your time, comment, and contribution to our learning.
      Warmest wishes,

  11. Audrey Williams says:

    I feel that if you accept the responsibility, then this may ease thier anger. It is dependent upon what u say and how u say it. CSR needs to be good communicator. Need to say things that will soothe, comfort and show care and feeling for the Customer’s problem. CSRs have to attract and retain customer, build trust and loyalty as well.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Audrey,
      I like your full vision on the CSR’s role: attract, retain, build trust, and loyalty. It is not a low level job of answering the telephone. It is truly a vehicle for future sales.

      Thanks for your contribution.

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