How Do You Handle Angry Customers? Patrick Swayze Style!

August 9, 2012

How do you handle angry customers? It is a question you hear often when training for customer service.

Anger is a trigger for most people. It creates an immediate psychological reaction in the recipient, and that reaction is different for everyone. While there are numerous techniques for handling angry customers, one of the most fundamental was laid down by Patrick Swayze in the movie Road House:

“Be nice.”

In Road House, Patrick Swayze plays Dalton the Cooler (head bouncer)  brought in to clean up a tough, road house bar. In the speech below, he talks to the staff about how to handle angry customers. While our customers will not be drunk and violent (we hope!), Swayze’s advice actually provides a great model for customer service.

Here it is in Dalton’s own words:


All you have to do is follow three simple rules.

One: Never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected.

Two: Take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary.

And Three: Be nice.

If somebody gets in your face and calls you a _____, I want you to be nice.

Ask him to walk, be nice.

If he won’t walk, walk him. But be nice.

If you can’t walk him, one of the others will help you. And you’ll both be nice.

I want you to remember that it’s a job. It’s nothing personal.

Patrick Swayze on Handling Angry Customers

Warning: While this blog is PG rated, this clip is from an R-rated movie about a bouncer in a seedy road house bar. It is very NSFW. If you are offended by profanity, please do not watch this clip.

Though all three of Swayze’s rules can be applied to handling angry customers, there is a tremendous amount of wisdom (yes, I said it, wisdom, from the movie Road House) in the third rule.

Begin with being nice. Don’t patronize and be firm if necessary — but be nice. Remember that it’s a job, and that it is nothing personal.

If you understand your triggers and how you react when confronted with an angry customer, you can try to detach yourself from the emotions of the moment. And that is important because even though a customer’s anger is usually not personal, it very often feels personal.

Now, obviously there are a lot of techniques for handling angry customers — phrases to use, assurances to give — but all of the techniques in the world are worthless if you are not in the proper mindset to use them. Handling angry customers begins with self-awareness and a desire to serve.

So, in the words of the great Patrick Swayze, when confronted with an angry customer begin by being nice…  until it’s time not to be nice anymore.

Rest In Peace: Quick tributes to Patrick Swayze and Jeff Healey

10 thoughts on “How Do You Handle Angry Customers? Patrick Swayze Style!”

  1. In my world, if they get that angry I usually get fired.

    I do try to be empathetic and put myself in their position to see how it would make me feel. This is when I really make sure I have my listening hat on. The absolute last thing I try to do is make excuses; let the shit (sorry PG-rated site) rain down on me and then we’ll figure it out from there.

    There has been a few times I wanted to fire right back; but this business is too circular. It’s always best to never burn a bridge. At best, just never do business with them again.

    If I am responding with an e-mail or a letter, my account manager makes me wait 24 hours and she wants to read it before I cut it loose. That has been a good mechanism for me….:).

    Always be nice; but I’m in sales, right? We are always nice….:).

    1. You nailed it, of course. Empathy is key. It’s really where everything has to start.

      I like the account manager review idea — gives time to rethink language and to get another set of eyes on it. A very wise policy. I’ve let a few hot emails slip through my fingers over the years (fortunately very few); none of them had a productive result.

  2. Sometimes people just want to be heard. If you listen and are nice you can often defuse their anger relatively quickly. I have had several people apologize to me for their behavior primarily because I listened, smiled and did my best to solve their problem.

    If you take it personally you lose.

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  4. Heh… I used a movie clip today but damn, you brought the big guns. SWAYZE! Think “Road House” is one of those cult classics… and yes, pretty smart. One reason I hate the ‘scripted’ robocalls and customer/tech support staff is that – being so structured and rigid, it doesn’t give any room for people to be nice.

    Take a look at Rule 2: take it outside. If there’s a problem on FB or Twitter or our blogs, of course we should respond. But there are times that such service/support can’t happen that way, so we need to step out to DM or email or calls. FWIW.

    1. It’s funny you mention that Davina, because I could have written an entire blog post about “take it outside.” Who knows, I still might. 😉

      Online, you’re right, it’s important to know when to move it to a more private venue like DM or email, or even, an actual phone call… In retail, we deal with this issue a lot; you need to know when to take it to the office or another area when you have an upset customer in the middle of a crowded lobby.

  5. Love the Patrick Swayze reference! I always try to follow these four principles: Let them vent. Stay calm. Let them know what you CAN do. Focus on a solution.

    Additionally, studies show that a customer service representative who handles a disgruntled customer’s situation favorably will earn that same customer’s return business 7 times out of 10.

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