It happens.

You’re not going to make 100 percent of the people happy 100 percent of the time.

In my business, when we’re faced with a challenging customer, we call it an “opportunity.” That’s literal by the way.

I’ve been in business for decades and in sales since I was a kid, and one of the key things that all good salespeople learn is that you want to know principal objections because as you address the complaints, it gets you closer to a yes. But, sometimes you also have to address the issues from a customer that is not satisfied with your company. Again, this is an opportunity.

Customers Want to be Heard

The most critical piece of advice I’m going to share with you in this post is to listen. Listen, listen, listen. I get it. No one wants to be on the other end of a customer complaint and often what happens is that the person hearing the criticism will feel that they have to respond. Perhaps they feel personally attacked because of inexperience, but sometimes that does happen. Maybe they think they have to defend the company because the customer, in their view, is wrong or incorrect with the supposed facts. Or maybe, they want to try to fix the situation quickly and they begin to speak.

Don’t speak.

The hardest thing you can do, but the most important, is to train yourself and your team when they are hearing customer complaints to remain quiet. Allow the customer to have the space to express themselves. And, when the inevitable moment of silence arrives, hold back and don’t jump right in with a reply. Sometimes a pause in the conversation is because the customer is thinking. You have to give them the space to express themselves, and depending on how upset the customer is, you might have to listen for more than just a minute or two. Wait.

If you train yourself and your team to listen and pause, you’ll know when the customer has spoken everything they have to say about the issue. And more often than not, particularly if they are one of those people that gets easily upset, they will have expended the pent-up energy and feel more relaxed. You have to let them get the emotion out before you can begin to address the issue.

The other very important thing that happens when you provide a customer who is not satisfied with your company’s service or product is that they will have a sense of appreciation for you because you did what so few people in other companies do––you listened and allowed them the space to express themselves.

How to Engage to Uncover the Facts

Once the customer has fully expressed themselves, you can begin to ask them questions. I tell my team always to ask open-ended questions. You’re not looking to prove or disprove anything at this point. All you’re doing is listening to uncover the facts, based on how your customer views it––not your team. Remember, people may see the same situation differently, and so it’s important to understand how an irate customer views the circumstances of the situation that upset them.

When you’re engaging with them at this stage, especially if this is the first time you’re learning about this complaint, you should aim to obtain the facts, as they see it. You want to probe and carefully unpack what their experience is with your product or service, and you also want to understand how your team handled it because it can be a teaching opportunity.

Get the Facts and Return

More than likely, you will have to do your internal investigation and then get back to the customer. Generally speaking, your research should happen within the day. If your fact-finding is going to take longer, then make it a point to tell the customer that you will get back to them in (give them an exact number of days). If you don’t have a reply to them by then because you’re still in the midst of fact-finding, then make it a point to send them an email and apprised.

People want to know that you (or a manager) is dealing with whatever their issue is and they will generally give you the space to understand what occurred. However, to make sure that you keep the customer on your side as you help them with the issue, make it a point to keep them updated. It’s one of the best things you can do aside from listening.

A Question for the Resolution

And finally, once you’ve got all of your facts and as you seek to resolve the matter satisfactorily (even if it costs you a little), ask the customer how they would like to see you address the situation. People like being engaged in the solution and more than likely, a customer will have in their mind what they would like the outcome to be for the matter. If you can satisfy them, you will see that your irate customer will become a happy customer because you handled their challenge to their satisfaction.

If their suggested solution is not something you can do, then consider if there is any way to compromise. Make it a point explain why you can’t meet the full extent of how they would like you to address the matter, but strike a compromise if at all possible. In other words, allow them to become your partner in finding a mutually beneficial solution. And, when you and your team approach customer complaints in this manner, you’ll discover how a stressful situation can become an opportunity.


Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact”(Free Digital Download)

© 2018 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.