You may have heard me talk before about a situation when we had to deal with when we had a very angry and upset customer. Let me remind you about the situation and show you how we dealt with the person and with the anger.

A Challenge and a New Product

Several years ago, a customer had come to our place of business and asked us to do something that no one else could do for her. As a matter of fact, what she was asking for was something we had never done. She wanted a picture printed on a T-shirt. It’s probably hard for you to believe, but back then no one knew how to do that yet.

After she explained what she wanted, our art director asked if he could see what he could do, and we decided to give it a try. This happened several years ago before I even knew what an Apple computer was, but the art director had just gotten in the new Apple computer and wanted to experiment to see if he could do what the customer was hoping we could do for her. When we asked her if she’d like for us to give it a shot, she was eager for us to try and said she would really like that. So, we did.

Amazingly, our staff was able to pull this off. The customer had wanted us to print a picture on a T-shirt, and we were actually able to do it. When our staff showed her the finished product, she was really excited. And she placed a fairly good-sized order for the shirts to sell at her retail store.

A Problem and a Boundary

When she came to pick up her order, she had written the check to pay for it when she suddenly started yelling at our customer service rep who had been helping her complete her payment. The customer was so loud I could hear her from the other end of the area. I looked over and saw that the customer service rep was doing exactly what she should have been doing which was quietly listening to the woman while she continued screaming at her.

When the screaming continued, I walked over to see what was going on. At that point the customer pulled out one of the shirts and told me to look carefully at it. I told her I didn’t see anything and asked her what she was referring to and what I was supposed to be looking for. She reached into her purse and pulled out a magnifying glass. Then she told me to look through it to see a tiny speck of stray ink that had come through the screen onto the shirt. With the help of the magnifying glass, I was able to see the tiny speck that was not possible to see with my naked eye.

The customer was still very angry, and I wasn’t going to argue with her, so I asked for the check that she had just written and gave her back her money and also told her she could take the shirts. She had been cursing at our customer service rep, and I told her that that kind of language was absolutely not permitted at our company. I also told her not ever to return to our company unless she was willing to apologize to our employee for the way she had talked to her and treated her. The customer was still very angry. She stormed out of the office and threw gravel when her car spun out of the parking lot.

A New Order and a Requirement

A few days later, the front office told me that this lady was on the phone. I took the call, and the customer was very excited, She told me those shirts we had made for her were the best-selling shirts she had ever had at her store. I told her I was happy for her.

She then said she wanted me to print some more shirts. I told her I would be happy to do that, but that, before we did business with her again, she would have to come into the store and apologize for the way she had talked to our customer service person. She quickly asserted her right and said that I could not force her to do that. I agreed and told her that would be entirely her choice. Meanwhile, she kept trying to convince me that I needed to go ahead and fulfill her order, but that she didn’t need to make an apology, and I kept assuring her that was the only way we would ever do business together again. I finally suggested to her that she might be able to find someone else to make the shirts, but she screamed at me that no one else could do it. And then she slammed the phone down.

About a half hour later, I was told that this customer was in the front office. I went over to talk to her, and she asked me again if we would make a new batch of these shirts for her. I again told her we would be glad to after she apologized to our customer service rep. She was incredulous. She said she couldn’t believe I was making her do that. But I told her that I wasn’t making her do that, that making an apology was entirely her choice.

An Apology and a Resolution

After going back and forth a bit and after some consideration on her part when she saw I wasn’t going to change my mind, she decided to approach the customer service rep and actually started to apologize. When I saw that was what she was going to do, I told her that she would have to wait for a few minutes until I got everyone in the room to come over and gather around so they could also hear her apology. I told her since the whole office had heard her screaming and cursing earlier that they also needed to hear her apologize, as well.

Again, she resisted, maintaining that I couldn’t force her to do something like that. Each time, I agreed that I absolutely could not make her apologize, that it would be entirely her choice whether to apologize or not. When she finally understood that the only way we would fulfill another order for her was if she apologized in front of everyone, she made her apology to the entire group.

After she apologized, I told her we would be glad to fulfill her order, but that it would take a couple of weeks before we could fit it into the production schedule. She was agreeable to that. While everyone was talking, the production manager motioned to me to step aside and told me that we could actually finish her shirts by the end of day because he said he would be willing to move some other production around to make that possible.

A Happy Customer and New Learning

When I told her what our product manager had just offered to do, she teared up. When she realized how helpful we were trying to be to her at this point, she was amazed and truly grateful because this T-shirt was a money maker for her. She also realized that our group was willing to go the extra mile because she had been willing to apologize.

As you can see, the first thing to do when faced with an angry and upset person is to remain calm and listen, just as our customer service rep did. Rather than responding, rather than shouting back in anger, she remained calm and quietly listened.

When I entered the situation from the outside, I also had to maintain calm. I was also determined to uphold a value in our company that we would try to fulfill the customer’s needs as much as we possibly could. That’s why I returned her check and gave her the order of T-shirts. I was willing to give her the order we had done for her earlier to make sure we did all we could on our part to meet her expectations. We had done all that. And we had remained calm. We also had drawn boundaries to make sure that any further transactions between her and our company would have to be based on a choice she would get to make on her own.

When we walked out this process, we actually accrued several benefits from the interactions with this angry customer. We gained a loyal customer, and our employees got to see the value in remaining calm and not responding in anger. They saw how we allowed the responsibility for further interactions to be the angry person’s choice to make.

Handling an upset and angry person is possible. As transformational leaders who meet people in all kinds of situations with all kinds of needs and sometimes with all kinds of emotional responses, we need to learn how to handle these sorts of angry situations. We need to remember not to respond in anger, but to let the other person’s anger subside before we try to resolve a situation. And we learned to remain firm about the boundaries we have established for our company.

We also learned how to print pictures on T-shirts and were able to do that for lots of other customers.

Ford Taylor is a leadership strategist, keynote speaker, and the author of Relactional Leadership. As the Founder of Transformational Leadership, he is known as a man who can solve complex business issues, with straightforward practical solutions, while maintaining his focus on people.