Categories : Coaching Communication Customer Service De-escalation Difficult Situation Management Retention Team Building Training


With today’s economy as it is, you are likely experiencing an increase in customer complaints.  And if you have had to institute price increases, some customers may be even more emotional.  With limited or reduced available cash, many customers are becoming more selective in how much they are willing to spend for products and services.  Many are faced with determining if the value is worth the investment.

We have all had to deal with the customer who is impossible to please!  Hopefully these are few and far between and the majority of your customer complaints can be addressed and have a positive outcome.  It’s important that you have a process for resolving complaints, as that will help to ensure that you are dealing with both the emotional and practical aspects of good customer service.

Greeting the customer – whether or not you realize initially that you are speaking with someone who has a complaint, you should always greet the customer in such a way that they know you are happy to hear from them.  Start all conversations in a friendly way, regardless of any previous negative customer service or daily life experiences you may have had.

Listen to the customer – give each customer the opportunity to release their frustration.  This doesn’t mean you need to be the subject of anyone’s verbal abuse, but for the vast majority of people, they just want to be heard.  Be empathetic and listen to them,  identify their facts and their feelings.  Being an active listener can make a huge difference to the direction this conversation takes.  It can be hard to give your full attention to a customer if you tend to hear the same kind of complaints.  It’s important to recognize that a successful outcome is dependent upon your ability to be a good listener.

Ask clarifying questions – it’s critical to ask questions that will help to clarify your customer’s concerns or problem.  One of the greatest challenges in talking with someone who has a concern or who is upset is to respond before you completely understand their concerns and have had the opportunity to vent appropriately.  It’s even harder if you’re well familiar with this type of concern.  Even though you may have dealt with this type of situation countless times, that is likely not the situation for your customer and they deserve to be heard without interruption.

So what kind of questions do you ask to gain a good understanding of their concerns?

  1. Question to capture the basic facts of the issue – this allows the customer to give you an overview of the situation and hopefully release some of the emotion from the complaint
  2. Question to gather more details and specifics – make these questions short in nature and inquisitive.  Ideally, you want to allow your customer to be doing most of the talking, as if they were telling you the story, rather than you asking question after question after question.  This approach again allows for some of their emotion to be released.

During this process you are always evaluating to determine what the impact is to your customer – just how are they affected?  What can you do to satisfy the customer?

Empathize with the customer – empathize means to identify with or to understand or have compassion.  The easiest way to do this is to find a common ground – find a point of agreement.  It does not mean that you need to agree with the complaint, but just that you are able to find some kind of common ground.  This demonstrates that you have been listening to the customer so in turn, the customer feels as if he/she has been heard, and more importantly, that you understood that concern and their issue is important to you as well.

Address the Issue – this is your turn to make lemonade out of a lemon!  With some or most of the emotion of the complaint diffused, do everything in your power to resolve the problem.  One key thing is to take responsibility for any role your company may have had in contributing to the customer’s dissatisfaction.  Most people understand that mistakes will be made.  And when problems are successfully resolved, most people tend to choose to do business with those companies again.  If you are in a non-competitive situation, it is still to your benefit to do all that you can to resolve a complaint quickly and effectively.

Confirm with your customer­ – ask questions to make certain that your customer is satisfied with the resolution and to see if there is anything else that you can help with.  Oftentimes customers end an interaction with ill will.  Do all that you can to end the experience on a positive note, even if you can’t satisfy every request of the customer.

Follow Through – many times you cannot completely resolve a customer’s complaint with the first interaction.  If you need to get back to the customer, let the customer know when they can expect to hear from you.  Try to deliver on this as quickly as possible.  If another department needs to be involved, make certain the customer knows which department will also be involved, why and with whom they will be dealing.  If you are able to resolve the complaint, see if you can create a way to offer added value to the customer’s experience.  And don’t forget that if you discover that the cause of the problem was within your company, look for ways to correct the situation or processes that caused the problem.  It doesn’t make sense to let the source of problems continue to create more problems, which will only result in more complaints and more disgruntled customers.

Be proactive so that others do not need to be reactive!


David Saxby is president of Measure-X, a Phoenix, Ariz.-based measurement, training and recognition company that specializes in customer service and sales skills training for utilities.