Advanced Customer Service Skills: Manipulative Customers

Here are a few tips and best practices to help either you or the people you coach handle these difficult situations like a pro.

The contact center agents we coach encounter many different types of difficult customers. Some get upset for valid reasons and others, frankly, use anger and insults to try and game the system. Our agents need to be able to handle both.

First of all, agents don’t usually have the communication skills needed to deal with manipulative or otherwise unreasonable customers. We have found that many companies simply don’t teach the skills agents need for dealing with these unreasonable customers in on-board training and that only the very best coaches have the ability to truly make a difference when coaching and practicing with agents.

As we teach our agents, starting the call off right and acknowledging customers are the first steps toward deescalating calls. Here’s how a top-notch agent might sound when confronted with a furious customer:


“Sir, I appreciate and understand how upset you are today. I’m glad you called and that I got your call. I have a couple of options I can offer you. Would you like to hear them now or have you got more frustration you’d like to share with me?”

But, what happens when irate customers are not swayed by an agent’s competence and empathy?  Level-headed, reasonable people will start to calm down if an agent remains professional and sincerely acknowledges customer concerns. Customers who maintain their level of anger when you legitimately address their concerns to the best of your ability might be trying to manipulate the situation.

Consider using or coaching agents on the following tips we’ve developed based on thousands of interactions with the best customer service teams in the world:

Don’t react emotionally

This gives away control of the conversation and lacks professionalism. Meeting a customer’s anger with anger will only escalate the situation and give them more to complain about. Maintain a professional and understanding demeanor throughout the interaction. Be aware and in control of your voice tone.

Be positive and offer choices

Speak in a positive manner. Instead of talking about what you can’t do, talk about the options you can offer. And give the customer a choice, if possible. This lets them feel more in control and lowers resistance.

Accept self-important people

When a customer actually plays the “do you know who I am” card, simply tell them you understand how important they are, (using a sincere voice tone, of course), and then follow up by saying something like, “However, the only options available at this point are…” and restate what you can do for them.

Deflect verbal abuse

This one is difficult for some. It involves parking your ego when an angry customer turns to insults. Rise above, take the high road and continually acknowledge their concerns, while remaining firm in what you can do. Realize it’s them, not you, so don’t take it personally.


Customer: “You clearly don’t understand how to do your job.”
You: “I’ll admit I’m not perfect, but even so, what I can do for you today is offer you…”

Easier said than done. Maintaining a level-head when someone is clearly trying to bully or manipulate you is difficult, and responding appropriately and effectively takes practice and repetition. Coaches can incorporate this type of practice into private coaching sessions or team meetings, but oftentimes, coaches themselves need to hone their skills first. It’s one thing to tell reps how to handle manipulative and unreasonable customers, and it’s another thing to be able to demonstrate the appropriate response.

Our teams need to be exposed to what greatness looks like. As coaches, we need to drill these techniques repetitively rather than showing reps only once or twice and expecting them to achieve. Consilio can whip your team into shape by showing supervisors, coaches and/or customer service reps how it’s done and then practicing with them until they have the process down pat. Our processes and capabilities put demonstration, practice and repetition above all else to build and improve your team’s skills. Our rigorous training is so effective, we guarantee our results. Give us a try and see what a difference world-class coaching can make in your organization.

Take the Next Step to Leadership and Sales Success

If you’re ready to take your team to the next level, let’s talk. Our affordable, customized solutions will enhance and elevate your leadership, sales, and communication performance.

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