Taking It Down a Notch: Tips for De-Escalating Irate Customers

By: Andrea Hinck

When managing a public space—pub, bar, liquor store—it is inevitable that you will come up against complaints from customers. Customers can be justifiably upset, and not every experience you provide will be uniform or will perfectly match customers’ expectations. Let’s face it: mistakes happen, and problems arise. It is how you deal with the problem that matters.

But what do you do if a customer is particularly irate about their experience? Perhaps their complaint comes in the form of a raised voice and hostile body language. How do you calm your patron down and deliver a solution that will make them, you, your staff, as well as other customers happy?

The training team at go2HR has compiled these expert tips that you can use to help train staff. They can easily be implemented in your business.

Use Respectful Language: Be respectful, inclusive, and professional in communicating with your customers. Be mindful of the words you use and how someone might interpret them as they will impact the resolution of any issue.

Listen: Frequently customer complaints are resolved simply because a person feels heard and understood. Even when they are demanding something unreasonable, proactively listening without being distracted will go a long way to getting a peaceful resolution. Be empathetic and non-judgmental, the hallmarks of active listening skills.

Echo and Repeat: After listening to a full description of the problem directly from the customer, repeat the concern back to them in plain language. Be mindful of what you hear and what you repeat. If there are inconsistencies, this will be the customer’s chance to correct you. The ultimate goal is for both parties to have the same understanding of the situation.

Don’t get Defensive: Stay neutral in your tone and response when a customer is actively complaining. This is critical to showing them that you are taking their concerns seriously. Remember, the goal is to de-escalate and solve the problem, not exacerbate the level of antagonism.

Respect Personal Space: Be very aware of your proximity, position, and posture when interacting with an irate or upset guest. Allowing personal space shows respect, keeps you safe, and tends to decrease a person’s level of anxiety.

Mind Your Body Language: Similar to personal space, it is important to be aware of your body language and tone of voice. Be mindful of your gestures and facial expressions so they’re not perceived as threatening.

Coming to A Resolution: The goal of any negative customer interaction is to resolve the issue quickly and effectively. Present your customer with a solution to their problem and work on satisfying their immediate need. Don’t forget to learn from the experience and see if there are any new procedures or policies that can be put into place to prevent this from happening again. Adopt a solution-oriented mindset. It may take a few deep breaths, but keeping your mind and attention focused on finding a solution is important. Don’t lose focus on the task at hand, and don’t be afraid to solicit the customer’s opinion on how you both might work towards a solution together.

Set Boundaries: Prevailing wisdom used to say the customer is always right, but more often than not, that is simply not the case. Unacceptable behaviour should never be tolerated, such as physical or verbal threats or abuse.

If you are suspicious that the customer is inebriated (slurring their words), waste no time in removing them from your establishment. Your safety and the safety of your staff and other customers is the number one priority.


Want to stand out for your excellent customer conflict resolution? Start with these basics:

  • Establish the rules and make sure your employees understand them.
  • Provide staff with training resources, so they are confident responding to challenging guest interactions.
  • Practice scenarios with your team that will empower staff and prepare them to handle difficult situations.

In today’s business environment, developing a positive workplace culture is more important than ever. A positive culture boosts morale, keeps your workers engaged, sets them up for success, increases productivity, and improves the overall quality of your customer service.

Andrea Hinck is Director of Industry Training at go2HR.

Know the Rules: Zero Tolerance for Violence in the Workplace

by Lonnie Burnett

Regardless of where you work, violence is a risk factor. But just because the risk exists, doesn’t mean you are powerless. In fact, with just a few simple steps, employers can better protect their employees.

WorkSafe BC identifies violence in the workplace as an occupational hazard. The regulation defines workplace violence as “attempted or actual exercise by a person, other than a worker, of any physical force so as to cause injury to a worker, and includes threatening statements or behaviour which gives a worker reasonable cause to believe that she or he is at risk of injury.”

Did you know that there are some simple steps an employer can take to help mitigate the risk?

  1. Conduct a risk assessment.
  2. Put policies and procedures into place for best prevention.
  3. Educate and train employees on the risk and how to report.

Interested in learning more? Check out WorkSafe BC Violence webpage and go2HR’s resources on violence prevention.

Lonnie Burnett is Industry Health and Safety Specialist at go2HR.