The Customer Is Really Mad! Now What? (The Intensity Reduction Method)

Today was supposed to be an easy day. You’re caught up on most of your work and if all goes well, you might even get to duck out of the office a little early. Then all of the sudden, you get a message from a customer that you weren’t expecting, and the clouds of despair roll in. She is mad. Maybe it was a missed delivery, deadline, a quality issue, or a surprise in her invoice, but whatever the case, this train is off the rails. How did this happen? Did you do something wrong? Did someone on your team drop the ball? Is this just all a big misunderstanding? Either way, the matter must be dealt with, and the sooner the better.


When your customer is this upset, it’s usually because one of their most important expectations has not been met, they feel like there has been a breach of trust or they feel like they don’t have the level of control they desire in the situation. Sometimes there is an element of all 3. They may not have come to you looking for a fight, but they are certainly prepared to do so if you don’t get control of the situation right away. Hopefully, you and your team don’t find yourselves in this situation too often, so memorizing the Intensity Reduction Method may not be practical, but it is good to keep a written copy nearby or even train the team on it every so often. Here is the best way to deescalate a situation when a customer is truly angry.


  1. Acknowledge the problem – Sounds simple enough, and this does not mean accepting blame. Listen to your customer without a sense of judgment until you get all of the facts. 
  2. Demonstrate that you understand the problem – The first step in calming a customer is letting them know that they have been heard. Repeat back the facts that they have shared from their perspective. This usually is not the time to bring up opposing facts and viewpoints. That will come later. Again, resist assigning blame unless the evidence is overwhelming. 
  3. Take ownership of the problem – Let the customer know that you will make the issue your priority to the best of your ability. After the customer feels like they have been heard, making them feel important is the next best step to calming their emotions. 
  4. Embrace the challenge – I know there are a million other things you’d rather be doing than handling this issue, but you have to work through the problem. This may require help from your team, but nothing wins an angry customer over quite like feeling that they have an advocate in you. 
  5. Focus on solutions – Avoid the blame game whenever possible unless gross negligence is indisputably evident. Sometimes customers create their own problems and deflect them onto your team. Energy is precious when you are conducting customer recovery. Use it as much as possible on the solution. There will be time to sort and address the blame later.

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