How To Handle a Rude Customer Now: Proven Ways

You’ll encounter many rude customer situations, no matter what field you work in or how nice you think you are. It’s how you handle those encounters that make the difference. Here’s some information about angry clients and some do’s and don’ts to help you survive an incident with grace.

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What Does Rude Customer Mean?

Any behavior that isn’t pleasant and respectable is rude. A customer is any person who receives products or services from you or your workplace. The terms patient, patron, and client are variations of the word “customer,” and rude customer behavior includes:

  • Frowning and crossing arms
  • Eye rolling and teeth sucking
  • Other nasty mannerisms
  • Yelling or cussing
  • Throwing things
  • Name-calling
  • Insulting and berating
  • Using slave master tones
  • Using “Driving Miss Daisy” tones
  • Heckling
  • Threatening
  • Ridiculing

Here’s what to do and what not to do when you come across a rude customer:

Stay Calm & Don’t Take It Personally

Unless the client is hosting a demon from hell (which may be the case), she doesn’t know you from a can of paint. Therefore, she can’t be mad at you. Nine times out of 10, an unhappy customer is upset for one of these reasons:

keep calm when dealing with a rude customer
  • The product or service doesn’t work
  • The bill is too high
  • He or she feels slighted by the company (dishonesty, non-transparency, shady sales tactics)
  • An unpleasant experience
  • Personal issues (relationship, work, finances)
  • Female issues (hormones)
  • Grumpy spiritual entities (demons from hell)

You can help with the top four issues, but you need to get past the customer’s frustration first. Thus, you’ll have to avoid angering the person further and maintain a calm presence throughout the interaction.

Ask What’s Wrong and Listen

listen to a rude customer

The worst thing you can do is patronize the person or be condescending during this crucial time. The next worst thing you can do is cut the customer off in the middle of a sentence. Those actions can cause a client to lose trust in your establishment and stop fooling with you when coupled with the original issue.

It might not seem like a big deal because it’s just one little person, but the problem can multiply and affect your business. You never know who a person knows or how the individual might share his or her experiences.

Ask how you can help and be patient enough to listen to the person explain the issue. Some people are natural storytellers who like to give backstory and details. Unless you’re on a timed call center CSR call, you can spare a few minutes to allow the customer to complete her sentence.

Confirm the Complaint and Solution

Repeat the complaint back to the rude customer as you understand it to ensure that you’re both on the same page. You’ll use the abbreviated version, of course. For example, “Sir, I understand that your bill is $30 more than you expected, and you want to know why. Is that correct?” or “Ma’am, I understand you’d like a refund for XYZ. Is that right?”

Honor the Customer’s Request

Let the rude customer have what he wants if it’s possible and doable. Seek guidance from a manager if the client’s request is above your pay grade. Alternatively, you can turn the situation over to an empathetic supervisor if you feel the interaction has gone beyond your realm of expertise.

Apologize for Alleged Misconduct

red neon signboard saying sorry we are open

Now isn’t the time to figure out who’s right or wrong. It’s time to acknowledge the customer’s pain, validate it, and show that person you are the caring entity you claim to be. All businesses claim to be compassionate, but interactions like these put that compassion to the test. You’re not apologizing for doing something wrong. You’re saying you’re sorry that the client had a poor experience.

Align With the Customer (Sincerely)

multiethnic colleagues discussing contract on paper

It may be helpful to align with the rude customer by acknowledging that you’ve been through a similar situation. Customers do appreciate being understood. However, please don’t “align” with the customer using a lie. It will go over as patronizing. It’s better to say that you can see why they’re frustrated than to lie and say you’ve been in the same boat if you haven’t.

Don’t Argue With a Rude Customer

Arguing with a customer never goes over well. You may feel like vindicating yourself, but it won’t help. It will irritate the person further or, worse yet, give a manipulative client fuel to annoy you further. Take the L for the moment and pray for holy vengeance later.

Don’t ASSume Things About a Patron

don't assume things about a rude customer

You might think your rude customer needs an exorcism, but don’t ever say that or direct that person to a priest or church based on what you assume is wrong with them. Avoid doing that with mental health and financial assumptions as well.

For example, don’t assume someone wants to scam you, doesn’t want to pay, or can’t pay for service because they question you about a bill or estimate. It’s the customer’s right to know what they’re paying for and how you came up with the price. Thus, even a well-off person will question an estimate or bill that looks inaccurate or highly inflated.

You get the picture. Don’t guess about anything you don’t know for sure. It’s better to address the issue the customer puts on the table and leave it at that. Offer help relevant to what the customer says he or she needs and not what you think about them.

Throwing, Hitting, Spitting, Etc. — Call Police

man love people woman

We talked about handling mild rudeness and general customer complaints and unhappiness. However, some displays of “rudeness” can go beyond a solvable business transaction. Hitting, spitting, and throwing objects are instances of assault, for example. You can best resolve them by having someone call the authorities to assist the rude customer with a complimentary police escort service.

Debasing Tones, Yelling, Cussing, Name-Calling, Etc. — Call the Dang Manager

rude customer the manager who handles things
The Dang Manager

All of the behaviors mentioned above are subjective, except for outright yelling and cussing. That means the establishment you work for decides how it allows its customers to treat its workers.

If you work for yourself, you can choose not to do business with people who disrespect you or tell them you don’t offer the emotional abuse add-on feature.

Your options may be limited if you work for someone else, however. It depends on the company’s take on whether a rude customer is always right. Some businesses stand by their workers, and some could care less about their employees. Some recognize the less visible types of abuse, and some don’t.

The best course of action is to step aside and take the issue to a manager if you get heated or hurt by the other person’s words. Your manager can then “manage” that rude customer interaction. Let that qualified professional deal with the behavior precisely the way the company wants him to handle it.

Show Your Appreciation for the Customer

Always thank the customer for his or her business after you resolve the issue. It lets the person know that you appreciate their patronage and acknowledge that all customers are important to your company.

Perhaps the violently rude customer will come back and purchase additional products after completing probation. Maybe the mouthy client will develop some manners and be nicer next time. The unhappy client you listened to might refer your business to friends and family members. You never know how many lives you can touch by being kind, so it’s wise to always try your best.

Timiarah Spriggs has been writing for several decades and has spent equal time being a customer and a CSR and freelancer who deals with customers. She writes from a mixed perspective on these matters and has insight from both sides.

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8 thoughts on “How To Handle a Rude Customer Now: Proven Ways

  1. This post brought back so many memories from when I used to be a waitress and had to deal with rude customers all the time! I definitely agree that most of the time patrons weren’t necessarily upset with me, but with something that was going on outside of my direct service. My skin got tougher over the years, but so many points in this post would have been extremely valuable when I was just starting out…especially the part about not taking it personally! So good.

    1. I waitressed for many years as well and used to be pretty handy with a football tray, haha. Amazingly, I never had many issues with my customers over the years. I enjoy serving people of all temperaments. Sadly, I can’t say the same for all the teams and leaders I’ve come across in my lifetime. Still working on that.

  2. As a customer liaison, I agree with Timiarah Spriggs to always thank the customer no matter how the situation was. All customers are important to the organization. Thanks Timiarah for this post I have learned a lot and I will share this with my friends.

  3. Timiarah Spriggs, thank you for a well-written piece. Irrespective of the situation, even if it is not our fault, we as business owners must never make our customers feel that it is their mistake.

  4. Ultimately, people just want to be heard. I can’t think of a single time when listening and being empathetic didn’t resolve a situation.

    1. Right, it works in most cases. Not so much for the people who feel privileged to visit other people’s “houses” and abuse them. That’s a different spirit with another set of rules.

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