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Customer Complaints and Improving Customer Service

Updated on January 15, 2017
Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

A professional career coach, Marcy has helped hundreds refine their resumes, improve their interviewing skills, and advance their careers.

How do you handle angry customers?

One angry customer can lead to a significant loss of business if not handled properly.
One angry customer can lead to a significant loss of business if not handled properly. | Source

Every angry customer you hear from usually means 10 others are also unhappy

It's an old saying, and not proven scientifically, but chances are it's pretty accurate to assume there are many times more upset customers than the ones you hear from each month.

If you work in a store, or provide a service such as hair styling or car repair, you probably have more good experiences than bad ones with your customers or clients, right?

But once in a while, someone complains, and sometimes they come across as rude or hateful while they're voicing their dissatisfaction. How you react in this situation can make or break your business reputation.

When you're faced with an angry, unhappy customer, you can either reverse the situation and gain a loyal customer or client you'll have for many years, or you can drive them away for good and risk losing other customers as well.

Years ago, it was commonly felt that for every one person who complains, there are 10 others who don't speak up. A corollary to that theory was that every unhappy client or customer shares their story with at least five to 10 people.

Today, however, the Internet puts businesses at a greater risk of negative exposure to the public. In addition to sharing the story with their family, friends and co-workers, that one angry client or customer is likely to post information on Facebook or on one of the sites that reviews businesses or professionals.

These tips will help you keep your cool when you're faced with an angry customer, and they'll also help you keep their business.

Don't shut them out!

Be receptive and listen, and you'll resolve complaints more effectively.
Be receptive and listen, and you'll resolve complaints more effectively. | Source

How to listen to the customer

We've heard for years that "Rule Number One" is "The Customer is Right!"

Forget that one, at least just for the moment. Maybe the customer is right, and maybe not. But if you have an angry client or customer on the phone or in front of you, rule number one is now, "Listen to this person and let them know you heard them."

Not every customer knows how to make a complaint that will get results. Often, all they bring forward at first is their anger, and it takes a skilled person to listen and uncover the problem.

You can diffuse anger almost immediately, in just about any situation, if you truly listen to what the person says and then repeat it back to them. The tension literally starts to fade when that happens. Here's how it works:

Angry Customer: "I'm fed up with this place - I'm never coming here again!"

You: "I'm sorry you had a bad experience; can you tell me what happened?" (You acknowledge the customer's experience wasn't the best, and you ask for details - your job now is to listen!)

Angry Customer: "Yeah, I'll tell you what happened! This!" Customer holds up a broken item. "It's a piece of junk!"

You: "So you're saying this isn't working right? Or it broke? Can you show me what went wrong?"

At this point, Angry Customer is probably calming down a bit, because he knows you're listening. The reason he knows you're listening is that you paraphrased what he said by asking if the item had broken or stopped performing.

If you've ever been in a mediation setting, you'll recognize this strategy. Mediators use 'mirror' language to help resolve issues, and they ask those they work with in dispute resolutions to learn to repeat to each other what they have heard.

This does several things - it ensures that what you think you heard is indeed what the person meant to say, and it let's the angry person know their words have actually been heard.

Bad customer service and rude management: Classic Fawlty Towers comedy scenes

Don't make these mistakes when you hear complaints

The list of mistakes that can be made when someone complains is nearly endless. Here are just a few things to avoid:

  • Don't assume this person is a constant complainer. Many people (those 10 other dissatisfied customers you didn't hear from) avoid this type of confrontation, because it takes nerve and it isn't comfortable. Perhaps this person is the one in 11 who actually confronts problems. If so, he or she has done you a favor.
  • Don't cast blame at the person who is complaining by pointing out they're behaving in an angry fashion. They already know they're angry, and it's your job to listen. In their mind, they have a reason to be angry. Once you listen a bit, you may end up agreeing.
  • Don't use the lame statement, "We've never had complaints about XYZ before!" Maybe you haven't had complaints before, but you have one now.
  • Don't start asking what they did to cause the problem. Yes, perhaps the item broke due to misuse, but properly handling this situation can help you retain them as a customer and avoid the fallout you might get if they take their complaints elsewhere. Your first job is to listen!
  • Don't say, "Well, there's nothing we can do!" That may indeed be the case, but those words will only anger the person further. Start by saying, "Let me see what we can do."

What about you?

Do you let merchants or businesses know when you've had a bad experience?

See results

Helpful strategies to resolve complaints

Now that you've listened and heard the complaint, here are ways you can resolve the situation. Please note, this does not mean that all issues can be 'fixed.' It just means you can resolve the current situation, which is that you have an angry customer in front of you.

  • Thank them for letting you know they have a problem: Here's a good phrase: "I really appreciate you for telling us about this. Sometimes customers have a bad experience, but they don't let us know, and we would like to have an opportunity to fix things."
  • Ask if they have had other concerns in the past: Maybe this isn't the first time they've been upset with your services. Tell them you want to learn how to improve.
  • Apologize for what they went through: This could be anything - a party that was a disaster because the seam in a dress split, a car that broke down on a rural road, a meal that was ruined when the appliance failed, etc. Let them know you recognize they had a bad (even disastrous) experience, and that you would have been upset in that position as well.
  • Ask how you can make it better: They may not have thought about what will make them happy. And maybe you can't do what they ask. But they will calm down just because you asked them what they'd like to see happen.
  • Ask how you can keep them as a customer: This tells them you value them, and that's important right now. Often, an angry customer will be so calmed by this time that they'll say, "I just appreciate you listening to me."
  • Use the "Sandwich Method" to tell bad news: If you can't fix their problem, sandwich that information between two positive statements. Suppose the customer has brought back and item that has an expired warranty. Here's how your discussion would sound: "I really appreciate you letting us know about this problem. I wish we could replace this with a new one, but that's not possible now, because the warranty has expired. Let me see what else we can do for you."
  • Offer whatever solution you can give: If you can't repair, replace or otherwise make it good, perhaps you can offer an attractive discount on another item, a gift certificate, some free services or another consideration to help resolve the issue.

Secrets of companies with top customer service ratings

Example of exceptional customer service

How to create a customer-oriented environment

Now that you've heard how to talk to those angry people, how can you create a corporate or business environment that focuses on the client and customer?

There are thousands of training videos on this very topic, but just a few core values can help inspire you and everyone on your staff to approach customers the right way. When you adopt these approaches, your entire organization can improve almost daily. The reason for that is simple; each customer is treated as a new opportunity to serve.

Train your staff to anticipate needs in a helpful way and to spot opportunities to do address problems, make a situation work out 'right,' and go the extra distance for each customer.

These do not have to be dramatic, grandiose gestures. Even the most simple efforts will stick in the memory of a customer who needs help.

This video gives an example of how one customer remembers an added touch, and how it continues to impress him, even after several years.

Customer satisfaction is one area where you can avoid time-consuming and costly problems simply by setting the right tone in your career or at your workplace. It's far easier to take preventative measures to keep clients and consumers happy than to do damage control when you haven't met their expectations.


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