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6 tips for dealing with angry customers

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How to deal with aggression at work

Christmas is fast approaching. For many it’s more of a stressful season than a silly one. If you work in a customer-facing role, like in retail or hospo, you’ve probably come across more than your fair share of angry customers.  

When people are under pressure, sometimes they lash out. And if we’re the ones who have to deliver bad news, like that this year’s must-have toy is sold out, then we’re often the ones to cop it.  

Aggression in the workplace is unacceptable, no matter what your customers are going through. Harassment or aggressive behaviour is considered workplace violence and can affect your physical and mental health. 

Here are some tips for how you can deal with angry customers. 

1. Get some help

First and foremost, your health and safety at work is the responsibility of your employer

That means if your venue’s booked out when someone wants to have their end-of-year get-together and they take it out on you, you may not feel safe. 

Your first port of call should always be to get your manager. They should be better equipped to deal with an angry customer and can help provide an effective solution. 

If your manager isn’t available and you feel threatened, ask for help from a security guard, colleague or people nearby. 

2. Stay calm (even if you don’t feel that way)

If someone has just abused you for something that’s out of your control your natural reaction will probably be to get pretty pissed off yourself.  

But it’s important that you stay calm and don’t react to their aggression. When you talk to them, use a low, monotonous voice and try to treat the person with respect.  

Ignore their insults and don’t say anything to them that might exacerbate the situation. 

3. Empathise with their feelings (but not their behaviour)

To help calm an angry customer, it can help to try to understand their point of view but also point out that they’re being inappropriate.  

Say things like ‘I understand you’re upset, but it’s not acceptable for you to swear at me.’  

By pointing out their behaviour, it might help them realise the impact they’re having on you. 

4. Move away from the situation

Make sure you put some physical space between you and the angry customer for your own safety. Stand about four times further away than you usually would.  

You have a right to refuse to carry out unsafe work. If you feel physically unsafe, such as in the threat of physical violence, remove yourself from the situation and go somewhere you feel safe. 

5. Report it

Always tell your employer about the incident, even if you resolved it. They should have procedures in place to help support you. 

Depending on the level of aggression from the customer, you may want to report their behaviour to the police. This is important if the behaviour escalates to physical assault or the threat of violence.  

Make sure you keep a record of what happened, when, and where it happened.  

Remember, it’s your employer’s responsibility to ensure your safety at work. Your employer should have a plan for how to deal with these situations.  

If it’s something that happens regularly, then they really need to investigate why, and how they can fix the situation. If you have a health and safety rep (HSR) at work, talk to them about the problem.  If not, read up on your rights and/or make a report to your local WorkSafe authority.

6. Talk about it

Regardless of how serious it seemed at the time, you may find yourself affected by verbal abuse long after the event. It’s important to talk about what happened to you, whether it’s to a colleague, friend, family member or your employer.  

If you’re struggling to cope, talk to your employer about what support services are available to you.  

You can also talk to services including: 


Get a crash course in your workplace rights, including more info about workplace health and safety, by downloading our guide to not getting screwed over at work.

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