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5 Steps for Dealing with Aggressive Customers

In the dealership world, we all have to deal with aggressive customers from time-to-time. Although you are more likely to encounter an aggressive customer on the service side of the dealership, every employee needs to be prepared to diffuse a hostile situation.

The first step is to learn how to identify an aggressive customer. Just because somebody has a complaint or raises their voice, does not mean they are necessarily aggressive. A customer becomes aggressive the moment their behavior becomes unreasonable, or unpredictable.

In an effort to help you better prepare for an aggressive customer, here are some basic principles of human interaction that will help you diffuse any situation.

Stay Calm

When encountering an aggressive customer, your first instinct is probably the typical “fight or flight” response. You need to avoid this. Do not mimic aggressive body language, as this tends to escalate the situation. Conversely, as an official representative of your dealership, you don’t get the luxury of running away from uncomfortable situations (unless your physical safety is truly endangered).

It is your job to do whatever you can to identify concerns and find solutions. Stay calm and do your best to help the aggressive party to calm down. Lead by example. Don’t raise your voice. Avoid sarcasm. Avoid aggressive body language. Basically, be the bigger person and remember you are representing your dealership and not just yourself.

Be Kind and Don’t Argue

Nobody ever wins an argument. Arguments may come to an end, but there is never a clear winner. Even if a point was argued to perfection, it is highly unlikely that the other party will concede and change their point of view. It is more likely they will still think they are right, but will harbor a quiet resentment for having been “proven” wrong.

Worse yet, arguments have a tendency to escalate into yelling or even physical violence. It is much better to keep your cool and avoid getting down in the mud with the customer by arguing.  An old saying goes: it is better to be kind than to be right.

Try to put yourself in the customer’s shoes and try to imagine the many challenges they may be facing. We all face challenges in life and sometimes they can become so overwhelming that we lash out over trivial things. We all have bad days, and any one of us has the potential to be an aggressive customer, given the right circumstances.

Listen and Try to Understand

A need for understanding is usually at the heart of any hostile situation. An aggressive customer typically feels wronged in some way, and probably feels like they won’t be heard unless they make a big scene. You can often lower the tension by showing a sincere desire to understand their plight.

Maintaining a calm demeanor can allow you to listen to what is being said. Ask appropriate questions that show you are truly interested in the customer’s point of view and show that you are sincerely trying to understand the situation.

Find a Solution

Dealing with an aggressive customer requires you to think on your feet. Not only must you stay calm, avoid arguing, and listen, but you must try to find a solution to whatever problem your customer has. The last thing anybody with a problem wants to hear is “there’s nothing I can do about that”. Although it may be true, you should avoid saying these words.

In all likelihood, there IS something SOMEBODY can do to make the situation better for the customer. Be careful not to make promises you cannot deliver on, but do promise to do everything you can to help. If you find that the problem is beyond your ability to solve, then get your supervisor involved. Go up the chain as high as you need to in order to reach a resolution.

Ask Them to Leave

In the rare occasion when your customer service skills and rehearsed charm cannot diffuse the situation, it may be time for plan B. This plan involves an invitation for the aggressive customer to leave the premises.

You should only resort to this strategy if all other forms of resolution have failed. Asking a customer to leave means that you have determined them to be unreasonable and unwilling to reach a resolution.

When asking an aggressive customer to leave, it is important to remember to remain calm. You may not use physical force, and you should never try to place a hand on them in any way. Also, you should avoid making any kind of intimidating gestures.

Start by citing that they are distracting from the positive atmosphere at your dealership and politely ask them to leave. If they do not immediately heed your invitation to leave, you can invite them by example. Walk toward the door yourself and hold it open for them.

It may be necessary to call security or call the police in extreme situations when there are fears about your own physical safety, or that of others. Asking a customer to leave is a last resort that hopefully you will never have to experience. Stay calm, listen, be kind, work toward a solution, and you will do well in most situations.

Ken Strong
Ken Strong
Retail automotive veteran and writer for

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