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How do I deal with that (perpetually) unhappy customer?

We’ve all been there... you say, “A” and the answer’s “B.” You say “B” and the answer’s “A.”

While it’s true that unhappy customers are our greatest source of learning, that “walk through fire” sure isn’t the most pleasant form of education!

Most of us have been on both sides of the coin, so we understand where dissatisfaction occurs.

faq Some people walk off in a huff, and never return to the business. While others care enough about the establishment that they want to complain to someone who can fix it.

And as difficult as it is, the second type of customer is the one we most want to retain as a customer. Why? Because they care enough to take the time to complain and they care enough to give us another chance to get it right.  

So, what are the five top steps to resolve a customer complaint?


1. Try to communicate in person, or at least by phone. We’ve all seen how written complaints on social media seem to go from flame to inferno in seconds. It’s much easier to solve a problem when both parties are “human”, plus most customers are impressed enough to put down their guard when they are contacted in person.  

Customer Talks First

2. Let the customer “unload” first, without interrupting or justifying your point of view. The most important point, here, is to listen, acknowledge and accept that the customer is upset.    

Acknowledge and Confirm

3. Confirm back to the customer what you understand the concern to be, and keep repeating it until the customer acknowledges, “Yes! You’re right!” That’s your first sign that the customer is lowering their guard and willing to share in a dialogue.

Respond with Caution

4. Now that you’ve fully understood the complaint, respond with caution. If the customer is right….. then simply state the remedy and follow through with it. Fix the problem to the point that your customer is overjoyed.

But what if the customer is wrong? If you disagree with the customers’ interpretation, then apologize for the misunderstanding and calmly add new information that the customer may have overlooked.  

Make Concessions

5. This is where company policy comes into play. Some companies give employees full liberty to “do whatever it takes to make the customer happy,” while other companies have the desired protocol to escalate the solution. Wherever that final step takes the customer, at least you can feel good that you listened, acknowledged, engaged and facilitated a remedy without fanning the flames!

Remember: When you argue with a customer and “win the battle”... you still lose in the end!