Abuse from clients – a few simple rules

Dealing with abusive and threatening calls is not an impossible skill to learn Here are a few pointers.

I recently moved and had to move my phone lines to the new place – same number of lines and same provider as the person moving out. I was quoted one price then charged 500% more for no good reason. I had to sit on hold for an hour, go through three service reps, and each time I was polite and explained what and why there was a problem.


Finally I got the very phrase I thought had been ironed out of all service staff: “What part of what I have explained don’t you understand?”


I became so angry I actually swore and started threatening – that I would report the person to their manager. I should have recorded the call for customer complaint purposes. Can’t we do that – and give warning that we are doing that – all for training purposes?


In a few seconds I became the very kind of customer I use as an example in service management training.


So how do we train our people to deal with angry, abusive and threatening callers?


If they did all these things most customers wouldn’t get angry or would be calmed by the professional approach.


It’s simple really:

  • Listen.
    What does the person want and why are they angry?
  • Let them vent.
    Don’t cut them off, instead say “I’m listening”.
  • Summarise to ensure you have understood.
    Get all the facts and focus on the facts.
  • Stay calm.
    Don’t take it personally. Customers probably have good reason to be frustrated and when they are not being listened to – they get angrier.
  • Moderate your voice, keep it at a normal level.
    Don’t be patronising. The tone of your voice, and if face-to-face your body language, makes a VERY BIG DIFFERENCE to the outcome and your perceived willingness to help. Use a soft tone of voice.
  • Diffuse anger.
    Summarise their problem and add some nice empathy statements; for example, “I can hear you’re angry”, “I’m sorry you’re angry”.
  • Explain and set limits.
    Clarify company rules and procedures, and explain how things were/are done and what is possible or not possible.

If the person is repeatedly abusive or making personal threats, give three warnings BEFORE disconnecting the call – “would you please refrain…”; “I must warn you to stop…”; “I will terminate the call”; “I am going to have to terminate the call now”.



Focus on resolution and outcome: The person really wants to have a solution and this should be the focus. So use phrases that show you are trying to fix the problem – “I want to fix this”; “Let’s solve this now”.


Complete the contact professionally: Summarise and agree on action – what you will do, when and how. Follow up and take notes, make sure you brief others who may have some involvement with the same client. Debrief – make sure you talk with someone in your team about how you feel after an abusive, aggressive incident.


In my case – I asked for the call to be escalated – even though I was told I would have to wait for another 20 minutes at least and the person would do nothing more than what was done. Finally someone nicely and calmly did so well with me because she finally listened and was respectful.


By Eve Ash, psychologist and Managing Director, Seven Dimensions, and co-producer with Peter Quarry of the Ash.Quarry production – Dealing with Abusive & Threatening Calls (from the Take Away Training series) www.7dimensions.com.au

Click here for more Eve Ash blogs



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