By Katie Scheer

February 10, 2015

Customers come in all shapes and sizes, and we can probably all agree that the most difficult is the angry customer. This is someone who has been wronged (in his/her opinion) and is upset and emotional. We get it- mistakes happen, and you will have upset customers. Did you know that ~80% of dissatisfied customers tell 10 people and ~20% of dissatisfied customers tell 20 people? You don’t want this negative publicity- NO WAY! So as soon as it is apparent that your customer is upset or that there is a problem, it is absolutely necessary to deal with the situation ASAP. Unlike the customer, you are not angry, you are in control, and your only problem at the moment is helping him/her with his/her problem so that the stories these customers tell are positive and ones that showcase proper service recovery instead of the other way around.


6 Steps to Successfully Handling Complaining Customers

1. Listen completely. As the customers explain the situation, give your complete attention, give good eye contact and nod your head to show your attention. Don’t half listen.

2. Let them vent. Allow them time to just speak, state their case, and openly complain. Be polite- don’t interrupt, explain, defend, or justify until it is your turn. The customers want to vent (and it makes them feel better), so let them.

3. Apologize and mean it. This, at times, can be hard when you did not cause the problem or if could not have been prevented. So when you apologize, you are sometimes not taking blame, but you are apologizing for how they feel and/or for the bad experience. Put yourself in their shoes and be sincere; no canned responses.

4. Ask what you can do. If appropriate, genuinely and politely ask what you can do to make things right or to make the situation better. Sometimes though there is nothing that can be done, so the only thing you can do is to patiently listen to the customers (skip #5 in this situation) voice their issues.

5. State your action steps. Assure them that you will fix/assist with the problem and that you will take immediate action as soon as is possible. State what specifically you will do and by when and tell them when you will follow up with a progress report (and follow through on these touch points!).

6. Thank them. Without direct customer feedback, we have no idea if we are delivering the experiences that our customers want so we always need to show appreciation.


Your overall goal is to right the wrong and to alleviate the customers’ concerns. Preventing mistakes and unfortunate customer situations from happening again and immediately addressing the problems will minimize the damage and possibly present an opportunity for an upset customer to become a happy one.