How to deal with abusive customers

Yashu Mittal

Copping complaints from customers is all part of being in business. But if they start turning feral, dishing out physical or verbal abuse, it’s time to take charge and tame the beast.

Most people who have worked in a job that involves dealing with the public either face to face or over the phone will have experienced an exchange with an abusive customer at some point or another. If you’re ever faced with such a scenario, maintain your professionalism and try to work toward a resolution.

Being physically abused by a customer might be the stuff of headlines, but verbal abuse can be common in industries where expectations and emotions run high.

Fear, frustration or stress can all tip customers over the edge. Add drugs or alcohol into the mix and you had better look out.

Sticking your tongue out is not the answer

Sticking your tongue out is not the answer.

Here are the 10 ways to handle abusive customers:


Always maintain a polite and professional manner during any exchange with a customer. If you are sworn at or exposed to personal attacks on your character, resist the urge to retaliate with abuse or use phrases like “potty mouth” or “didn’t your parents teach you any manners.”


Ask the abusive customer to calm down in a respectful manner and explain that you’re there to help. Tell them it’s going to be more difficult to resolve the issue while tempers are flared and that you’re more likely to be able to address any concerns if any discussion is conducted in a civilized fashion.


Tell your abusive customer that you can understand their frustration and that you would be upset if you were in their position – if they have a valid complaint. If you feel that their complaint is spurious, empathy will not be necessary.


Be honest about what you can do. If you’re unsure about how to deal with the complaint, don’t try to bluff your way through the situation. This will only serve to enrage your customer further and could end up getting you into trouble further down the line, either with your boss or legally. Explain that you’re unsure of how to deal with the situation and find out from your superiors, colleagues or a lawyer where you stand.

Refer to Policies

If a customer is complaining about an issue that’s covered in any contract you have with them, respectfully refer the customer to the clause that supports your position. Then, politely explain that it was their responsibility to review the terms and conditions of your relationship before entering into any agreement.


If it becomes clear that you are unable to deal with an abusive customer effectively, don’t be afraid of passing the problem on to your manager or a colleague who is more experienced at negotiating with angry clients.

Issue a Warning

If your customer repeatedly uses foul language and/or threatens you, advise them that you do not have to, nor will you, tolerate being spoken to in such a manner. Explain again that you are there to help, but warn them that you will terminate the call if you’re on the phone or call security or the police if you’re discussing the situation in person.

Silent Treatment

Don’t try to talk over or interrupt your abusive customer when they are in mid-flow. This is only likely to make the customer angrier. Let them finish what they are saying. If this involves a long, drawn-out rant, so be it. Remain silent for a few seconds after they have run out of things to say and then state your position. If the customer interrupts, tell them that you have listened carefully and would be grateful if they could extend you the same courtesy.

State Your Position

If the discussion is going nowhere, state your position firmly but politely and advise your customer to make a complaint to any trade body or ombudsman who regulates your industry if she won’t accept your decision.

Terminate the Conversation

If all else fails and you’re unable to get through to your abusive customer, end the discussion. If you’re on the phone, explain politely that you feel you can go no further with the conversation and that you’re going to hang up. If you’re dealing with the customer face to face, ask them to leave your premises.

Response to “How to deal with abusive customers”

Stay current

Sign up for our newsletter, and we'll send you news and tutorials on business, growth, web design, coding and more!