How to Improve your Dealing with Customer Complaints

Dealing with difficult customers can be challenging, to say the least. But if you handle the situation well, you may even be able to improve your dealing with customer complaints. That is an awesome end game and should create further opportunities for your business.

Make sure that you listen actively to his problems or complaints, and resist the urge to interrupt or solve the problem right away. Be empathic and understanding, and make sure that your body language communicates this.

dealing with unhappy customers
Dealing with unhappy customers.

If you’re not sure how to fix the situation, then ask your client what will make him happy. If it’s in your power, then get it done as soon as possible. Follow up with your customer to make sure he was happy with how the situation was resolved.

Many of us have to deal with angry or unhappy clients as part of our roles, and it’s never easy. But if we know what to say and, more importantly, how to say it, we may be able to save the situation. In fact, we can even end up with a better relationship with our client than we had before.

In this article, we’ll explore how to deal with angry or difficult customers. We’ll highlight specific tips and techniques that you can use to smooth things over so that you can leave them feeling satisfied.

Before our tips on dealing with unhappy customers, let me tell you a story I experienced first hand.


A while back I was sitting on the runway in Orlando as my homeward-bound Jet Blue flight was about to taxi toward takeoff. Like just about every other flight that hadn’t already been canceled that day on the Eastern seaboard, ours was a couple of hours late departing.  The lead flight attendant gets on the P.A. system and says something very close to:


“Ladies and Gentlemen, we know we’re late taking off, and even though it’s the weather and not something we caused, we’re going to comp everybody’s movies for this flight. We know you’ve all had a long day and we want it to end with something nice and relaxing. And for those of you who were supposed to be on the Continental flight and ended up here, we don’t ever want you to go back.”


The mood on the flight — which could have been a rather dreary late evening affair — took an immediate upswing.  People joked and smiled and made eye contact.  They were noticeably brighter and calmer as the flight progressed.  And I’m writing about the experience today, and several thousand business travelers are reading about it.


What enabled this relatively small act of kindness and allowed it to become a major brand statement?  Midflight, I went to the back of the plane and asked.  I wanted to know the policy that allowed a flight attendant to make such a call.


“We’re allowed to make almost any decision,” the flight attendant explained, “as long as we can justify it by one of the airline’s five core values: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun or Passion.  If we can tie doing something back to one of these principles, the decision is going to be supported by the company.”


What JetBlue was saying to its employees … “If you act in support of the values that matter to our business, we want you to take risks to care for our customers.”


This is a very simple concept, eh? But how many of us put such a thing into practice with our people.  Sit down today with your employees and do what Jet Blue did.

So let’s examine some useful tips on dealing with unhappy customers:


adjust your mindset
Adjust your mindset.

Customer complaints … adjust your mindset

Once you’re aware that your client is unhappy, then your priority is to put yourself into a customer service mindset.

This means that you set aside any feelings you might have that the situation isn’t your fault, or that your client has made a mistake, or that he or she is giving you unfair criticism.

All that matters is that you realize that your customer or client is upset and that it’s up to you to solve the problem. Adjust your mindset so that you’re giving 100 percent of your focus to your client, and to the current situation.

Listen Actively

The most important step in the whole of this process is listening actively  to what your client or customer is saying – he wants to be heard, and to air his grievances.


Start the dialogue with a neutral statement, such as, “Let’s go over what happened,” or “Please tell me why you’re upset.” This subtly creates a partnership between you and your client and lets him know that you’re ready to listen.

Resist the temptation to try to solve the situation right away, or to jump to conclusions about what happened. Instead, let your client tell you his story. As he’s talking, don’t plan out what you’re going to say when he’s done – this isn’t active listening!

Also, don’t allow anything to interrupt this conversation. Give your client all of your attention.

Resolving customer complaints … repeat what you heard

Once he’s had time to explain why he’s upset, repeat his concerns, so you’re sure that you’re addressing the right issue. If you need to, ask questions to make sure that you’ve identified the problem correctly.

Use calm, objective wording. For example, “As I understand it, you are, quite rightly, upset because we didn’t deliver the samples that we promised you last week.”

Repeating the problem shows the customer you were listening, which can help lower his anger and stress levels. More than this, it helps you agree on the problem that needs to be solved.

Show legitimate empathy and apologize

angry customer scenarios
Angry customer scenarios.

Once you’re sure that you understand your client’s concerns, be empathic . Show her you understand why she’s upset.

And, make sure that your body language  also communicates this understanding and empathy.

For example, you could say, “I understand why you’re upset. I would be too. I’m very sorry that we didn’t get the samples to you on time, especially since it’s caused these problems.”

Dealing with unhappy customers … offer a solution

Now you need to present her with a solution. There are two ways to do this.

If you feel that you know what will make your client happy, tell her how you’d like to correct the situation.

You could say, “I know you need these samples by tomorrow to show to your customers. I will call our other clients to see if they have extras that they can spare, and, if they do, I’ll drop them off at your offices no later than 5:00 pm this evening.”

If you’re not sure you know what your client wants from you, or if they resist your proposed solution, then give her the power to resolve things. Ask her to identify what will make her happy.

For instance, you could say, “If my solution doesn’t work for you, I’d love to hear what will make you happy. If it’s in my power, I’ll get it done, and if it’s not possible, we can work on another solution together.”

Rapid action and follow-up

Once you’ve both agreed on a solution, you need to take action immediately. Explain every step that you’re going to take to fix the problem to your client

If she has contacted you by phone, make sure that she has your name and contact details. This gives her a feeling of control because she can get hold of you again if she needs to.

Once the situation has been resolved, follow up with your client over the next few days to make sure that she’s happy with the resolution. Whenever you can, go above and beyond her expectations. For instance, you could send her a gift certificate, give her a great discount on her next purchase, or send her a hand-written apology.

Use the feedback

Your last step is to reduce the risk of the situation happening again.

If you haven’t already done so, identify how the problem started in the first place. Was there a bottleneck that slowed shipment? Did a sales rep forget to confirm an order?

Find the root of the problem  and make sure it’s fixed immediately, then consider using Kaizen  to continue improving your work practices. Also, ensure that you’re managing complaints and feedback  effectively, so that you can improve that way that you do things.

Additional tips

  • It’s important to handle difficult customers professionally. Learninghow to stay calm  and how to stay cool under pressure  can help you get through challenging situations with grace and professionalism.
  • If your client is especially angry, then talk slowly and calmly, and use a low tone of voice. This will subtly help lower the tension, and ensure that you don’t escalate the situation by visibly getting stressed or upset yourself.
  • If your client has sent you a difficult email or they’re angry with you over the phone, then offer to meet with him or her in person if you can to address the problem. This will not only diffuse anger (since it’s harder for most people to get truly angry face to face) but it also shows that you genuinely want to address and fix the situation.
  • If you feel that your client is unreasonable, you might start to get upset, especially if he or she is criticizing you, or your organization, unfairly. So learnanger management skills  so that you can stay calm in these situations.
  • Occasionally a client or customer may become verbally abusive towards you or your team. Know in advance what you’ll tolerate, and what you won’t. If things escalate, you may need tobe assertive  and stand up for yourself, or even walk away from the situation to give the client time to cool down.
  • People in your team might be the ones on the “front line” when it comes to dealing with difficult customers. Make sure that they know how to engage correctly inemotional labor . (This means that they should know how to manage their emotions when dealing with difficult people.)
  • Work on improving yourconflict resolution skills . These skills can help you if you need to negotiate with your clients.


The Bottom Line


It shouldn’t take more than one unpleasant experience for a business owner to realize that proactive measures are more effective when it comes to customer service than having to respond to an unhappy customer. The tips mentioned here represent just a portion of the steps a business owner can take to set things right with a customer who’s disappointed, angry, or upset.

Although the situation might be slightly different when dealing with a customer who’s downright nasty, the principles applied are still the same: an unhappy customer will wreak havoc on a business’s reputation unless the business owner rectifies the situation.

There will be times when nothing can be done to satisfy an unhappy customer. At that point, the customer service employee must simply defer that customer to a manager or supervisor. But employees who handle customer service complaints quickly, efficiently and professionally will minimize those issues and will give employees a sense of ownership in their jobs and the company.




Need some help in building better customer trust from your customer experiences?  Creative ideas to help grow your customer relationships?


Call today for a FREE consultation or a FREE quote. Learn about some options to scope your job and pay for results.

Call Mike at 607-725-8240.


All you get is what you bring to the fight. And that fight gets better every day you learn and apply new ideas to make your customer experiences better.


When things are not what you want them to be, what’s most important is your next step. Call today.


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Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he blogs on topics that relate to improving the performance of your business. Find them on G+Twitter, and LinkedIn.  


Digital Spark Marketing will stretch your thinking and your ability to adapt to change.  We also provide some fun and inspiration along the way. Call us for a free quote today. You will be amazed how reasonable we will be.


More reading on customer experience from our Library:

12 Ways Doctors Can Create Remarkable Patient Experiences

Simplify Customers Lives for Remarkable Experiences

Disney World Customer Experience Design … a Difference Maker

My Best Examples of Customer Experience Stories


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How to Improve your Dealing with Customer Complaints