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Seven Ways To Handle Abusive Customers (And One Way Not To) – Guest Blog by Shep Hyken

Enjoy this guest blog by customer service author and speaker Shep Hyken, on how to handle abusive customers – and one way not to!  Click here to view the original blog.

No employee should be treated poorly by customers. 

I feel bad for the people who work at the airport luggage office. The office is usually next to the baggage carousel, and the airline employees who work there interact with one passenger after another, all with the same complaint: My luggage is lost! 

Nobody ever goes into that office to say, “Thank you, my luggage is here. You guys do a great job!”  

Recently, the Edinburgh Airport in Scotland came up with a solution to deal with the many calls from irate passengers verbally abusing its employees. According to a BBC News story, the Edinburgh Airport decided to simply disconnect its customer support line. 

It turns out that 90% of the complaints the customer support team received had to do with lost luggage. An Edinburgh Airport spokesperson said, “Unfortunately, we have seen a rise in the amount of abuse our teams are facing from passengers. Although we appreciate the frustration they are facing, it is not acceptable and there is no excuse for abuse.” 

I couldn’t agree more with the reason. However, the solution to cut the customer support number is a bad one. Not all customers are abusive. They may be upset and angry about their lost luggage, but most people aren’t abusive.  

The decision to cut the customer support number means that the good customers are now penalized for the “sins” of a few. Furthermore, the frustration level gets even higher if customers can’t get the support they need.  

It is important to note that while the airport gets calls for lost luggage, the responsibility falls to the airline, which sends passengers to the airline’s luggage office or customer support number.  

So, what’s the solution? Here are a few ideas: 

  1. Have a recording that directs the customers with lost luggage to call the airline they used. 
  2. If the customer ignores the recording, have the customer service rep properly trained to empathize and provide the customer with the airline’s phone number. 
  3. As part of the customer service rep’s welcome, mention that the call is being recorded for quality assurance. A live agent saying this has more impact than a recording. It also serves as a warning to a potentially abusive customer.  
  4. If a customer is abusive, warn them that you may terminate the call.  
  5. All customer service reps should assume the call will be friendly until the customer proves them wrong. 
  6. All customer service reps must be trained to de-escalate anger whenever possible before it becomes an abusive conversation.  
  7. Leadership must show employees they have their backs regarding abusive customers. If employees are properly trained, leadership should respect an employee’s decision to end the call.  

You don’t have to be an airline to appreciate these seven ideas. Not all may work for your particular situation, but one thing definitely will not work: eliminating the calls by disconnecting the phone number.  

Shep Hyken is a best-selling author and speaker on customer service best practices and trends. His newest book is  I’ll be Back, How to Get Customers to Come Back Again and Again. For more information about Shep Hyken, visit his website at

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Customer Service Institute of America