Dealing with the Unhappy Customer Staff

Updated · Feb 25, 2002

By Brock Henderson

Why is this an opportunity and not a headache? Here’s why: irritate
one customer and they’ll tell a hundred people about their bad experience, but
deal with them correctly and they will become a loyal and happy customer. That’s
why it is so important to maintain warm positive relations with your customers—after
all, they’re handing you money every month—treat them and their money with
the respect they deserve.

They may be upset because of billing charges they weren’t expecting, or the
product or service wasn’t what they were expecting, or delivery was later than
promised, or they misunderstood your procedures and practices, or sometimes
it is a genuine error on your part, and there are also times when it
is simply a figment of the customers imagination. Whichever it is, how you and
your staff deal with the situation will make the difference between a loyal
and satisfied customer, and a customer who leaves you for the competition.

Listen. The absolute first thing to remember
in dealing with a customer’s complaint is to listen. Don’t interrupt, just let
them talk. We all want to think that people are paying attention to our needs,
so pay attention and let them talk their frustrations out. Often, just letting
them vent their frustrations is enough to defuse an angry customer. Sometimes,
if you let them talk and explain their frustration, they end up actually switching
sides and start defending you.

Ask questions. Questions help you get to the
real problem and not just the one they called you with. There are times, when
dealing with intricate or complicated matters, that the customer’s frustration
is more with themselves for not understanding what’s going on than it is with
you. By asking questions you accomplish two things: (1) you are able to clarify
the areas of concern, and insure that you are both talking about the same thing,
and (2) you demonstrate that you care about the customer and the problem.

Validate their frustrations. Let them know that
you understand why they are frustrated, and that you care about eliminating
their frustration. Don’t ever try to make excuses. Always acknowledge how upsetting
the situation can be and assure your customers that you want to provide them
relief as quickly as possible.

Seek resolution. Ask them how they would like
the situation resolved. They may not want what you think they want. Yes, it
is true that sometimes what they want is unrealistic, but try to accommodate
their desires as much as possible. Doing a little extra to resolve the situation
will go a long way towards satisfying the customer and winning their continued

Pause before speaking. Always pause before you
respond, that pause indicates that you are thinking about what they have said
and that you are formulating an appropriate response, not just rattling off
some stock answer that you tell everyone. In reality, you may be responding
with a stock answer, but the customer needs to feel that the answer was unique
and special for them. They need—and deserve—to be treated like an
individual and not some number.

Don’t pass the buck. Whoever gets the irate customer
first should have as much authority as possible to resolve customer disputes.
No one wants to be on hold while you “talk with your supervisor,” or “see what
you can do,” or be passed around. Let their first point of contact be their
last, no matter how far down the chain of command that person might be. Handling
and resolving customer complaints should be one of the first things any new
employee learns. If you can’t trust your employees to make intelligent and sensitive
decisions then why did you hire them in the first place?

Act quickly. No one wants to wait hours—or
even days—for some sort of resolution. When you make the customer wait,
you are adding to the frustration and the problem, not resolving it.

And finally, smile. Let them be the grump, you
be the ray of sunshine that is taking care of their problem. Be pleasant. Their
problem may be insignificant to you or may appear to be irrational, but it is
serious to your customers. Respect that concern and behave accordingly.

Now, in defense of those who have had the totally irrational customer complaint:
I understand you completely. Sometimes the customer is completely and irrevocably
wrong, and no amount of special treatment or consideration is due them. Unfortunately,
there are those who—even after having reality explained to them—want
you to give them some sort of credit on their account, and may even throw out
the old saying, “The customer is always right.”

At this point you have two choices. First, you can give in and give them some
sort of credit or adjustment to their bill, but I fear that no matter what you
do, you will never be able to make them happy. Second, you can decide that no
matter how much this customer is paying you, it simply isn’t worth the grief
and hassle of putting up with this much hostility, and stop doing business with

My words to you are simple: The customer is not always
right—but they are always the customer.

Reprinted from ISP-Plant.

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