Working With Upset Customers

Most of us have been on both sides of the fence. We’ve been treated poorly — or at least with indifference — by a customer service rep, manager, retail worker or phone person. And if you’re in business, you’ve probably had the occasional upset (or maybe even unreasonable) customer to deal with from time to time.

So we should all have some idea on how to deal with upset and irate customers. But we usually don’t apply anything we may have learned. Instead we fall back on habit and reactions time after time.

In the Productive Customer Communications training my firm conducts, we try to show front-line people in businesses and non-profits how to respond instead of react, engage instead of enrage, and eventually calm down and satisfy the complaining customer.

It’s tough to satisfy someone who has a complaint. But it is worthwhile. Consider the cost of obtaining a new customer. Every time an unsatisfied customer leaves, he or she needs to be replaced. Why not spend some time and effort in retaining an existing customer instead of trying to obtain a new one? That, as they say, is “Marketing 101.”

What follows are some suggestions to help you handle the upset customer in your business.

An upsetting situation can be fixed. You just need a strategy, and the right approach, to give you a better chance of success. First, keep these guidelines in mind: Don’t argue. Avoid creating more anger. Fight the urge to make smart remarks. And don’t take it personally.

Resolving the issues for upset customers takes some preparation and practice. But you can do it, using these six steps:

1. Project A Positive Attitude

There are really two types of people: Fountains and Drains. Which type are you? The Fountains are the type that gets issues resolved. They are welcoming, outgoing and understanding.

2. Let The Customer Vent

Nothing can be achieved while the customer is angry. Venting allows the anger to come out and subside. Listen carefully, but don’t take things personally. And never say “calm down.”

3. Be Empathetic

Put yourself in their shoes. Remember, listening is a learned skill. You can listen two ways. You can use Deliberative Listening, which is a focus on the words of the speaker. Or you can use Empathetic Listening, which focuses on the speaker.

4. Demonstrate Understanding

Paraphrase the customer’s comments when it’s your turn to talk. This demonstrates you understand what they mean.

5. Begin Active Problem Solving

Determine the customer’s goal. You are at point “A”; try to untangle things and get to point “B.” Look for alternatives and options. Suggest that you both try to get past the current situation. This will help them imagine there is a possible future and you don’t have to stay stuck or out on an island.

6. Mutually Agree On A Solution

Make the customer part of the solution. Assure them you are here to help.

Sometimes, you’ll need to say “No” to what the customer perceives as the “only” solution, and move them toward something that is realistic and doable. But how you say “No” is really important.

The “Hard-to-Accept No” comes from you using phrases like “I’m not allowed to do that” or “That’s not our policy” — or worse, “That’s not my job.” All translate to “I don’t care about you.”

The “Service-Oriented No” derives from phrases like “What I WILL do is…” and “What you CAN do is….”

Remember, resolving issues with upset customers is critically important to most organizations. And it’s a key component to good marketing and branding efforts.


About The Author

  • Author | George Farris
George Farris is CEO and Senior Brand Coach at Farris Marketing. Email questions and comments to GFF@FarrisMarketing.com and connect with George on LinkedIn using the icons above.

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