Dealing with Rude Customers: Guide & Proven Strategies
Talk to any customer support rep, and they’ll tell you that sometimes customers act rude. Recent research shows an uptick in challenging customer interactions, too. What’s behind this? Causes include higher customer expectations, rapidly evolving tech, and modern stress.
Currently, 76% of customer service reps experience rude behavior at least once a month. Customer ranting can be overwhelming. But the good news is every interaction, especially the challenging ones, provides insights and opportunities for growth.
In this article, we’ll share proven strategies and tools to help you deal with rude customers.
- Customers act rude because of mismatched expectations, previous negative experiences, or personal frustrations.
- Rude customers can negatively impact employee wellbeing, staff retention, brand reputation, and financial performance.
- Customer support reps need clear guidelines for handling difficult customers.
Why do customers act rudely
Sometimes, customers act rudely because of misaligned expectations or previous negative experiences with the company. Other times it’s because they had a stressful day or are dealing with personal frustrations. Customers then misdirect these negative emotions to customer service reps.
Expectations around response times continue to rise––30% of customers will wait a maximum of 2 minutes for an agent on chat. And around 3 in 5 people have hung up on an agent at least once out of frustration. Shockingly, one in three customers admits to screaming or swearing at support staff.
When a customer feels unheard or undervalued, they may believe that being aggressive is their only avenue to a resolution. Understanding these motives helps reps put themselves in the customers’ shoes and handle tense situations with empathy.
What's the impact of customer rudeness on businesses?
It's Monday morning. Jake, a customer success manager at a popular SaaS startup, logs into his support dashboard. The first ticket of the day? A scathing message from an angry customer who can’t navigate the platform's new update. While it's just the start of the week, these interactions aren’t rare in his job.
These instances of customer rudeness can ripple through the business in unexpected ways.
SaaS platforms, with their frequent updates and iterations, are a target for user frustrations. Jake, and many others like him, bear the weight of these frequent changes. While reps know how to handle critical feedback, consistent rudeness can pile up. Over time, this creates higher stress levels. A stressed employee might mean slower resolution times and less-than-optimal customer interactions.
Regular exposure to rude or aggressive customers increases stress and burnout among employees. This results in lower job satisfaction, poor morale, and higher turnover rates.
After months of handling a barrage of rude messages from customers, many reps decide to move on. High staff turnover isn’t just about recruitment costs. It means losing experienced professionals who understand your product.
Nowadays, word travels fast. A customer who had a bad day might post on social media about their experience or leave a review on platforms like G2 or Capterra.
More than half of consumers (53%) have publicly shamed a company following an instance of poor customer service, while 34% of consumers have done this multiple times. In industries where businesses rely on peer reviews and testimonials, one negative interaction can snowball and affect potential user trust.
Unresolved negative interactions can result in lost sales, refunds, or compensations. In the long term, there's a risk of lower customer loyalty, leading to a loss in recurring revenue.
7 Strategies to deal with rude customers
Want to deliver consistently excellent customer service even in the most challenging of circumstances?
Here are seven effective strategies for dealing with rude customers.
1. Take responsibility
It's a simple principle—when there's a mistake, own it. Often, customers are more understanding when they realize they're dealing with a company that values transparency. By taking responsibility, businesses not only humanize themselves, but also pave the way for resolution.
Let’s say you work at a project management tool and it experiences a major outage. A frustrated customer reaches out to your support team. Instead of jargon-filled excuses, you could say:
"Firstly, we sincerely apologize for the disruption. We understand the inconvenience this has caused your team. We're currently addressing the issue and are implementing measures to prevent this in the future. We should be up and running within four hours."
An honest response that apologizes and sets realistic expectations will reassure the customer that you’re doing your best.
2. Keep the conversation polite and professional
Always speak and act professionally, regardless of the customer's attitude. Often, it's not just what you say but how you say it.
- Stay calm: Remember not to take a rude client’s remarks personally. Respond politely regardless of the customer's tone.
- Use positive language: Instead of saying, "We can't do that," try, "What we can do is... .
- Follow up: After resolving the issue, follow up with a polite message, reinforcing the company's commitment to their satisfaction.
For example, when a user angrily points out a bug in the system, your support team could just fix the bug and move on. But to be extra polite, you could respond with:
Thank you for pointing that out, Mark. We appreciate your vigilance. The issue has been resolved. Please let us know if there's anything else we can assist you with.
3. Set boundaries
It’s important to set some boundaries––even if the customer is wrong, arguing makes matters worse.
Draven McConville, CEO and founder at Klipboard explains how he found a solution for an angry customer by setting boundaries.
I stayed calm and professional and listened to his concerns. Once I understood the problem, I offered a solution. However, he wasn’t satisfied and continued to be rude. So I eventually set a boundary with him, he says.
I told him that I wanted to help, but I would not tolerate his abusive behavior. I asked him if he could be more respectful. He agreed, and we resolved the issue.
4. Be empathetic and practice active listening
Always give the customer your full attention. By actively listening, you show that you value their concerns, which can help de-escalate their frustration.
Developing emotional intelligence will help you handle unhappy customers. For example, expressing understanding or saying, "I see why you'd feel that way," can go a long way. This doesn't mean you're admitting fault but rather validating their feelings.
5. Offer solutions, not excuses
After understanding the concern, offer practical solutions. If you can't resolve it immediately, assure them of a follow-up.
Let’s say a key feature of your software crashes. A longtime user is furious. They reach out for support, expecting a slew of excuses. Instead, they’re met with, "We're genuinely sorry for the inconvenience. While we fix this, here's a workaround..."
Offering a solution, instead of dwelling on the problem, can turn a potential disaster into an opportunity to showcase reliability.
6. Know when to escalate or defer
If you don’t know what the right solution is, it’s best to pass the baton to someone who does. For example, let’s say you encounter a user whose technical questions are beyond your expertise. Rather than giving inaccurate advice, you could escalate the ticket to the senior tech team, ensuring that the user gets precise, expert guidance.
7. Know when to end the conversation
If a customer is being excessively rude, and no solution seems feasible, it may be time to end the conversation or even fire the customer. Depending on the support platform used, this could mean politely ending the chat or involving a supervisor.
In some cases, a fresh perspective or the authority that comes with a supervisor might help pacify the situation. In rare cases, if a customer's behavior becomes abusive or severely impacts the team's well-being, it’s time to consider ending the relationship.
What should you do after experiencing a rude customer?
Unpleasant customer interactions can shake even the most experienced rep’s confidence. Follow these steps, and you’ll be able to use the bad experience to your advantage in no time.
Reflect on the interaction
After the encounter, take a moment to reflect. Evaluate the conversation objectively. Were there points where things could have been handled differently? What went well
Write down details of the encounter, including the customer complaints, your responses, and any outcomes. This is useful for future reference, especially if there's a follow-up or if the situation escalates.
Gather feedback for improvement
If you have regular team meetings with supervisors, mention these challenging interactions to get feedback.
Use the experience as a catalyst to develop further. This might mean brushing up on product knowledge, refining communication skills, or doing additional training like role-play to handle difficult customers.
Get support post-confrontation
Following the interaction, take a short break before heading back to the frontline. Take some deep breaths, go for a brief walk, or grab a coffee to help calm down.
Next, try debriefing with a supervisor or colleague. Sharing a bad customer experience with someone else can provide a fresh perspective or simply serve as a means to vent and get emotional support.
Schedule regular debrief sessions with other team members where everyone can share those you won’t believe the call I had today stories. It’s therapeutic and everyone will learn a thing or two.
When to forward to a manager
There will be times when you need to forward the experience to a manager. If the encounter ticks any of these boxes, it’s best to let a manager step in.
- Repeated issues: If customers consistently raise the same concern, it may indicate a deeper issue. Maybe it's a product flaw, a gap in communication, or a recurring bug that needs addressing.
- Threats or severe discontent: If a customer threatens to escalate the matter, leave negative reviews, or end the business relationship. Managers may have access to resources or strategic insights that can address the root cause or pacify the situation.
- Emotional or verbal abuse: Your well-being is paramount. If a customer becomes disrespectful, excessively aggressive, or uses offensive language, involve a manager.
- Feedback on products or services: Sometimes, rude interactions stem from genuine gaps in the product or service offering. If a customer’s rudeness revolves around such gaps, sharing this feedback can lead to product improvements.
Leveraging tools to handle rude customers
"Two heads are better than one" holds true, especially when confronting the challenges of rude customer interactions.
Using a shared inbox like Missive lets customer service representatives share emails with other team members and discuss them in a conversation. Here are five ways a Missive team inbox can improve teamwork and efficiency:
- Collective experience. A team inbox lets multiple people view a customer's issue. Team members can collaborate and decide the best response or solution. From the team inbox, you can directly reply to a message or assign messages to colleagues.
- Faster response times. When multiple agents access the same inbox, there's a greater chance that messages receive a quick response. This is useful when a rude customer demands an immediate solution. You can customize it so active members get notifications while observers don’t.
- Continuity of service. If an agent is unavailable or needs a break after a tough interaction, another team member with access to the entire conversation history can take over, ensuring that the customer receives consistent support. Supervisors can use workload balancing to assign messages fairly.
- Learning opportunities. Observing how different team members handle difficult situations is a valuable learning experience. New team members can learn strategies and techniques from seasoned pros by reviewing past interactions or writing emails using templates.
- Escalation efficiency. Should an issue need escalation, managers with access to the team inbox can quickly review the entire conversation thread, ensuring that they have all the context they need to step in and address the situation.
In the face of rude or challenging customer interactions, a team inbox is more than just a tool—it's a support system and a central platform for collaboration. By leveraging the collective strengths of the team, businesses can transform potential pitfalls into opportunities for growth.
The hidden opportunity for rude customers
Rude customers aren’t just a challenge, they’re an opportunity. When you lean into proven strategies and embrace collaborative tools like team inboxes, you’ll get insight into your business and boost customer experience.
Every interaction, no matter its tone, is a chance to strengthen customer relationships, refine product offerings, and empower the support team.