How to Handle Difficult Customers: Know When to Hang Up

Can I really hang up?

The first question on everyone’s mind, who has ever dealt with a difficult caller is probably: Can I hang up on this person? There comes a point when all your efforts seem to be pointless, and you have no choice but to disconnect. You are running a business—not a call center. Even call centers have their limits, which we’ll get into later. Time is money, and when you recognize that the person you are speaking with is not listening to reason or simply using up your time needlessly, it’s time to hang up the phone. Before it comes to that, these rules-of-thumb may help to bring resolution before you cut the cord.

Maintain Control

Rule number one when dealing with a difficult, long-winded, or even hostile customer is to never react emotionally. You’re bound to get upset or frustrated when you’ve exhausted yourself, and your caller still refuses to be reasonable. The trick is to keep your head. In dire situations, like natural disasters for example, there is a reason we are advised before we do anything to stay calm, and it’s because the situation always gets worse when we lose our cool. Do your utmost to avoid being rude or returning hostility, but instead think of yourself as a guidance counselor who is merely managing a tough student. Be the stronger person and stay in control.

business woman on phone

Lessons From the Call Center

Before you say something rash to your customer or slam the phone down on your desk, whether this particular caller is imminently valuable to you or not, it is a great idea to have a plan that gives you a mental outline concerning how to handle each situation. Found in an instructional cheat-sheet published by Call Centre Helper, the following are a few guidelines used by call center agents, every day:

1. Pause:

Emotion must be diffused before you can get anywhere with your caller; it’s necessary to let them vent, for a reasonable amount of time, as this person has possibly been preoccupied with an issue for days.

2. Acknowledge:

This is an opportunity for you to show genuine empathy and apologize for their issue.

3. Clarify:

Be patient with your customer, listen carefully, and ask directed questions so that you fully understand the problem.

4. Respond:

Whatever your appropriate response is, be positive—but don’t make any promises that you can’t keep (that would create even more unrest for this person, which creates unrest for you).

5. Focus on What You Can Do:

Comment on what you can do to help resolve the problem; don’t remind them of what you can’t do.

Don’t Second-Guess Yourself

Even the people running these call centers usually have a going rule that their agents are completely within limits to hang up on a caller if they cannot be reasoned with—and this comes from an organization that could not exist without the best customer service. You are running a business. You gave it your best shot, listened to this person run on and on for no real purpose, or even suffered their insults for more than enough time. There is no reason why you should feel any remorse for letting them go. Your day is already stressful enough.

Last Resort

All of the aforementioned plans of action may be giving some customers more consideration than they probably deserve, and there are some occasions that require you to put your foot down. Many tough customers will eventually listen to reason if you can find a way to properly relate to them, but if you find there is absolutely nothing you can do to resolve the situation, don’t be shy. Though you may not be able to get a word in, kindly thank this person for their call, and hang up the phone.

“Training Course CCH1,” Training Cheat Sheet–Handling Difficult Customers, Call
Centre Helper,


Stephanie is the Marketing Director at Talkroute and has been featured in Forbes, Inc, and Entrepreneur as a leading authority on business and telecommunications.

Stephanie is also the chief editor and contributing author for the Talkroute blog helping more than 100k entrepreneurs to start, run, and grow their businesses.

StephanieHow to Handle Difficult Customers: Know When to Hang Up