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How Would You Deal With an Angry Customer?

In customer-facing jobs, dealing with difficult customers comes with the territory. It’s an acquired skill and one that not all candidates are prepared to handle. If handled poorly, interactions with upset customers can cause a company to lose money and / or suffer reputational damage.

It makes sense, then, that interviewers for customer service jobs ask questions to see how prepared you are to respond to angry, frustrating and challenging guests. Learn more about what a hiring manager is looking to hear when asking how you’d deal with a difficult customer and read our sample answers to help formulate your response. 

Why do interviewers ask this question?

This is an example of a situational interview question, which asks candidates to imagine a hypothetical situation and talk through how they would respond. These types of questions help hiring managers to understand how you think and how you approach solving a problem. 

In asking how you’d deal with an angry customer, an interviewer wants to gauge your level of preparedness for this inevitable situation. They also want to assess your knowledge of techniques for diffusing tense situations. 

What do hiring managers look for in an answer?

Interviewers are looking for candidates who can demonstrate calmness and professionalism when confronted with someone in a heightened emotional state. They want to hear how you’d find a resolution while also de-escalating the situation. 

Hiring managers are also looking to see how you react to the question–do you bristle at the thought of a screaming customer, or do you seem confident about your ability to handle it? The ideal candidate for a customer service job is cool under pressure and skilled at navigating stressful interactions smoothly. 

How to answer the question “How do you deal with angry customers?”

Take a step-by-step approach

In answering situational interview questions, it helps to structure your answer like a series of steps in a process: “first I would… then I would…” Every difficult customer is going to be different, but your approach to them can be the same. Describing a standard procedure for conflict resolution can help your interviewer feel confident in your ability to consistently reach positive outcomes when dealing with difficult guests. 

Demonstrate your knowledge of the company

In preparing for your interview, you should have done some research to learn more about the company and its values. Strengthen your response by incorporating some of what you’ve learned into your answer, like “I know the company places a strong emphasis on accountability, so I would begin by apologizing for letting the customer down…”

Keep it positive

Use words that describe an empathetic, action-oriented response, like listen, understand, troubleshoot, reassure, and resolve.

Give an example

If you have an example of how you managed a challenging customer interaction in the past, this is a great opportunity to incorporate it. 

How not to answer

Fall back on cliches

Avoid using phrases like “the customer is always right.” Not only is this trite, but it doesn’t explain anything about your response. Plus, there’s no guarantee your interviewer shares this mindset; some companies have a zero-tolerance policy for customers who are speaking or behaving abusively. 

Interview answer example #1

“Most angry customers just want to feel heard, so I would begin by listening quietly while allowing them to vent their frustrations. I would repeat their problem back to them to confirm I’ve understood, then calmly walk them through the options to resolve the issue.”

Interview answer example #2

“I would acknowledge the customer’s concerns to make them feel validated. Then, I would use my conflict resolution skills to come up with solutions that are mutually beneficial. During my time as a customer service representative for Acme Corp, I found that upset customers presented some of the best opportunities to win lifelong customers based on how well we handled the problem.”

Whatever you do, avoid describing difficult customers in a negative way. Instead, win the interviewer’s approval by positioning angry customers as an opportunity to excel at your job with your outstanding customer service skills.