Angry or difficult customers are an unavoidable reality when working in retail. However, each uncomfortable encounter presents a unique opportunity to win the respect of your customers and gain their business loyalty. How you handle confrontations can have a powerful effect on your business. According to one study, consumers tell nearly three times more people about negative customer service experiences than they do positive ones. This trend will follow you online. An aggrieved customer is 21% more likely to post a review than their satisfied counterparts. It’s tempting to show a rude or belligerent customer the door. Before losing your composure, try some simple de-escalation techniques that can protect your hard-earned five-star rating. Read on to learn how you can keep your cool when tempers run hot.

Repeat the problem back

Most people work hard for their money, and it can feel like a personal injustice if they believe they’ve been cheated or deceived. A customer with unmet expectations wants to be understood and taken seriously. It’s not enough to say, “I understand.” By repeating the problem back to them, you prove that you are engaged and empathetic. For example, you could say, “Let me make sure I understand all of the details. You purchased a camera at this store. When you got it home, you noticed it was missing the charger. Is that right?”

Let them vent

When someone is in the middle of an angry outburst, it’s natural to want to jump in to provide an explanation or solution. These interruptions are likely to further inflame the peeved patron in front of you. Give the disgruntled shopper the time and space to vent. They’ll be exhausted by the end of it and more receptive to discussion. Practice active listening techniques. Maintain eye contact without staring, keep arms uncrossed, and relax your hands. Nod your head in acknowledgment as they speak.

Respond, don’t react

When a customer confrontation escalates to arguing and yelling, you’re likely going to feel attacked, and your body will respond accordingly. When that adrenaline kicks in, your heart rate increases, your muscles clench, and the next thing you know, you’re yelling and waving your hands around too. At this point, civil conflict resolution becomes almost impossible. Practice keeping calm and collected in a stressful dispute, and you’re much more likely to reach a satisfactory conclusion faster.

Use their name

Abraham Lincoln once famously said, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” This sentiment remains true today. People are less likely to engage in trivial conflict with someone they consider a friend or an acquaintance. Asking the crabby consumer their name at the beginning of the interaction, and then using it frequently is an easy way to turn a foe into a friend. You could say, “Let me check the backroom one more time for your package, Scott. I appreciate your patience.”

Prevention is the best medicine

The best way to minimize negative customer interactions is to learn the common pain points in your business and work to prevent them. Some mishaps will always be out of your control, but you can always keep your store clean and well-stocked. Signs and labels should be easy to read and posted in logical places in the store. It helps to have accurate store hours, policies, and FAQs published online.


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