Sales 101: Handling The Angry Customer


I am often reminded of the following true story whenever I encounter a hostile customer or prospect, witness a scene where someone is losing their cool or observe someone getting chewed out for something that they may or may not have done.

No one enjoys being yelled out, cursed at, bullied or manhandled in any form, whether physically or verbally. It does however, happen at times. What options do you have to diffuse the situation? Can you separate yourself from the abusive behavior being directed at you before you lose your cool and strike back? How can you keep your emotions in check so that you might still accomplish your task?

Several years ago, my brother, Jim, a stellar salesman, was attempting to set an appointment with a longtime out-of-state customer. He was unable to reach the man after numerous attempts. He faxed him, he e-mailed him, he left messages, he even mailed him letters, but to no avail. The man would not respond. This went on for weeks. His account soon became delinquent. What now?

It appears that this customer, let's call him Mr. Frank Jones of the Jones Company, was extremely angry about a situation involving a shipment of goods that did not arrive on time and had caused him great inconvenience and loss of revenue. Everyone at Jim's company had attempted everything possible to satisfy the order in a timely manner, but eventually fell victim to considerations beyond their control. They had done everything possible, including regularly communicating with the customer at the time, but things simply did not work out properly.

Jim was concerned. He had known Mr. Jones for a number of years and the Jones Company was a long-term customer of considerable value to his firm. Jim weighed his options and decided that the only thing left to do was to get in his car, make the three hour trip and show up on Mr. Jones' doorstep at 8:00am on the following Monday morning.

Jim pulled up to the parking lot of the Jones Company at 7:50am the following Monday morning, and found Mr. Jones' Mercedes in his regular parking place. He took a deep breath, prayed for a moment and proceeded out the door for the inevitable confrontation with Mr. Jones. Noticing him entering, Sue, the receptionist, promptly got out of her chair to meet him. Jim greeted her and asked to see Mr. Jones. "Ah? he's not in today Jim, you should really try to call him first." Jim started to explain what Sue already knew, and without further dialog, both realized that each of them were fully aware of the situation.

Jim smiled at her, made mention of Mr. Jones' car out front, excused himself and began the long walk down the hall to Mr. Jones office. He knocked and peered inside to be instantly recognized by Mr. Jones. He jumped up from behind his desk as my brother calmly stepped just inside his office. What occurred next was the worst blast of foul language, nasty expressions and crude threats ever made by a person. Mr. Jones continued to yell and curse at Jim referencing him, his company, his family, his friends and anyone else he can think of. Sue cringed from down the hall expecting a horrid exchange.

As it was, there was no exchange. Jim simply stood there, directly in front of Mr. Jones until the verbal assault had finally concluded. Jim never said a word during the entire fifteen minute episode. He simply allowed Mr. Jones to vent. It wasn't easy, but he did it.

Mr. Jones wanted a confrontation. He wanted Jim to speak so that he could continue his assault, but there was no response, only eye contact. Jim waited until it appeared that Mr. Jones was regaining his composure and simply said, with a straight, genuine expression on his face:

"Okay Frank; Don't sugar-coat it. Give it to me straight."

Frank started to laugh, and then he howled jovially for some time. He approached Jim, put his arm around his shoulder and gestured towards the sofa for them to sit together. Jim left thirty minutes later with the relationship repaired and an order in hand.

Wow! How many of us could have handled it that way. Could you keep your composure while being assailed from all directions? How did Jim succeed? He simply did the following:

1. Jim took action and continued to act until a solution was reached.
2. He put his personal feelings aside, removing his emotions from the equation.
3. He allowed the customer to vent until he was finished, without interruption.
4. He knew that in reality, there was actually nothing personal in Mr. Jones assault.
5. Jim was committed to keeping Mr. Jones' business

Remember this story and learn from my brother Jim when you encounter an irate person or angry customer. Be smart. Live to sell another day!


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