You and your team work hard to provide stellar service — but customer complaints can still happen. Murphys’ Law says that anything that can go wrong will, and sometimes it seems like everything goes wrong with the same client over and over. Other times, even when your company delivers perfect service, you can’t meet a client’s expectations.
Sooner or later, at every business, an angry customer calls or walks through the front door. If the staff and management are taken off guard, they can become defensive and make the situation worse. That’s why it’s important for you and your staff to have a plan to deescalate tense situations before they arise.
This five-part plan usually works like a charm. Take time to role-play it with your staff so you and they are ready when the time comes.
Step 1: Validate your angry customer’s feelings
“I can see why you’re so angry.”
There is nothing in the world that makes us feel worse than when we’re angry with someone and they refuse to acknowledge our feelings. Even if you disagree with your customer’s point of view, it’s important to make them feel heard and understood before you try to work toward a solution.
The phrase “I can see why you’re so upset/angry/frustrated” is incredibly powerful. If you’ve never spoken this phrase to an angry person before, you’ll be astonished at how quickly it works to calm them. You can take the validation even further, if you like, by adding “I’d be upset, too, if I were in your shoes.”
Whatever you do, don’t negate the statement by adding a “but” at the end. Even if their anger is caused by their own unrealistic expectations, you can see why they’d be angry about their expectations not being met, right? Stick with that and resist the urge to tell them why they’re wrong.
When you nod your head and say “I can see why you’re angry,” the person will probably restate their point one more time — but with far less emotion. Let them speak, make sure they’re finished, and then move immediately to step two.
Step 2: Become their ally
“Let me see what I can do to help you.”
While your angry customer is feeling heard and validated, take things a step further by positioning yourself as their friend within the company who is going to help solve their problem.
Speaking this phrase not only aligns you as their ally, but it also gives you a little time to think about what to do next. If the customer is on the phone, get their number and offer to call them back in an hour. If they are standing in front of you, try to make them comfortable — offer coffee or a chair if possible — and disappear into the backroom for a few minutes.
At this point, even before you’ve offered a solution, your customer’s anger has probably dialed back to almost nothing.
Step 3: Offer a solution
Return with the best solution you have to offer, whether that’s a partial refund, a repeat of the service, a future discount, a free service call, releasing them from their contract, or some specific fix for their issue.
Sometimes a customer demands a resolution you cannot offer. In that case, try to understand what they’re hoping to accomplish and look for a different way to meet their goal. For instance, you might say “I understand that you want me to send an employee out to reservice your location. I’m afraid all our staff is booked solid this week, so I can’t do that. How would it be if I set you up with an upgrade for the deluxe service on your next scheduled visit instead?”
If there’s really nothing you can do for the customer, just say “It seems there’s nothing I can do, because …” and explain the reason. At this point, the customer is much more ready to listen and understand what you have to say.
One caveat: Even if the situation is the client’s fault, avoid starting your “because” statement with the word “you.”
Instead of “…because you booked a service that didn’t include [the thing you want.]”
Say “…because [the thing you want] isn’t included in the Basic Service.”
Instead of “…because you canceled with less than 24 hours notice”
Say “…because the contract requires 24 hours notice for a cancellation.”
Whether you’re able to offer a solution for the customer
Step 4: Use the feedback
After any complaint from an angry customer, it’s a good idea to evaluate whether you need to make changes in your services to prevent future problems.
It’s easy to dismiss angry customers as being too demanding or impossible to please. It takes humility to accept negative feedback and make changes — but that’s how your business grows and improves.
Even if the customer had unreasonable expectations, you can evaluate whether your business contributed to the problem. Is there a way you can do more to manage expectations? Does your marketing overpromise? Were your customer instructions too wordy to be easily readable?
If your team is having trouble providing the level of service your customers require, you might consider automating more functions to make things run more smoothly. For example, ServiceWorks can help you organize all your customer information in one place, send automated communications, optimize routes and schedules, track staff work with photos, and more. Try it for free for two weeks, no credit card required.
Step 5: Follow up
If you really want to earn your customer’s loyalty back, follow up after the incident to make sure they’re happy with the resolution.
This is a very low-effort action with a huge payoff. All you have to do is send an email or text asking them if everything is running smoothly now. It’s extremely rare for a company to care enough about a client complaint to follow up — which means this simple action could win you lifelong loyalty from your customer.