Published September 25, 2006

The Irate Customer: Dealing with Customer Dissatisfaction!

Customer dissatisfaction is a challenging thing to deal with. There are an unlimited number of things that could upset a customer. And, what pleases one customer could infuriate another. How do you deal with those times when a customer has a "melt-down"?

The first thing you can do before your first customer walks through your door is to make sure you have processes in place and let your employees know what those processes are. These processes should include:

  • Managing customer expectations. Many customer complaints have happened because a customer misunderstood what they were going to receive in the transaction. Train your employees to lay it out clearly for your customers.
  • Authority. Instill in your employees some level of authority to solve issues at the counter. Not all issues can be (or should be) solved at the counter but many can be. Help them to understand which ones can and which ones cannot be solved and show them ways to solve the problem. (This could include refunding money, providing a free additional product, etc.)
  • Chain of command: Have a clearly established chain of command. If the customer isn't happy, the employee can send them up a level to a manager. If the customer is still not happy, the manager should send them too who?

Once you have those things in place, you will not have every issue solved. You'll still get irate customers. Here is how to deal with them when it happens.

  1. Get them out of the store: If they are in your main store area, get them out of there! Other customers are standing around and listening to them and they don't need to hear that. Also, it could shake up sensitive employees who need to be fully on their game to serve customers. This also helps to get the irate customer away from the cause of their anger.
  2. Calm them down: Never say "calm down" but instead be calming! Don't cross your arms in front of you. Keep your arms at your side. Don't smile (or frown). Nod a lot, keep a quiet voice. If you speak at just above a whisper, they'll stop yelling.
  3. Identify the problem: Ask them what's wrong. Let them say their piece without interrupting or getting defensive. Restate the problem to make sure you understood it. Ask for their agreement that you understood. (Asking for agreement on things is a great way to build rapport, especially with an upset customer).
  4. Ask them what they feel could be a solution: Tell them you have a few ideas but you'd like to hear what they feel would be an adequate solution. Often, you may be surprised at how little they really want in order to feel that justice was served. Other times, you may be surprised at how much they want. (I've seen customers who have said they just wanted to vent and other customers who have asked the employee be fired!).
  5. Determine if it is possible to make them happy: This is the most difficult step and some business owners will balk at the suggestion. You need to decide whether following through on their request would actually make them happy. If they demand a refund, for example, would they actually be happy? Truthfully, the answer could still be no.
  6. Solve the problem: Now it's time to solve the problem. You can do this in a few different ways. If you feel that their request is reasonable and that once you've done what they asked, they'll be happy, then do it, and then throw in something extra for free. If you feel that their request was unreasonable (and they don't have anything better) or that their reasonable request will simply not make them happy, you may have to "let them go." Apologize that you cannot help them and let them rant some more. They will stalk off and they could say bad things about your business, but in those cases, they would have said something bad about you anyway.

Irate customers are as much a part of business as good customers and regular customers and high maintenance customers. Use these tips to handle them.