Handling the customer, not the complaint is the key to calming tempers, diffusing conflict, and solving customer complaints quickly and with great results.

As we all know, happy, satisfied customers are the lifeblood of any business and create the path to growth and sustainability. Without a strong, positive reputation based on customer satisfaction and repeat business, little else we do will make a similar impact in growth and profit. 

Unhappy customers can be broken into two (2) groups; those who are upset and those who are difficult. When a reasonable person gets upset, she may have a momentary lapse of reasonableness but she is still basically rational.  Difficult people on the other hand have a psychological need to get attention by disruptive and negative means. They are chronically hard to communicate with and typically never satisfied.   

Some of the techniques used to calm upset customers will work for difficult customers. Often however for those difficult customers we must reach deep into people skill strategies that work and many times the only resolution is termination of the relationship. The trick is to identify which one of these you have encountered, then make the determination regarding your continued efforts to save or let go of the customer.  

Let’s talk about the more common upset customer, the one who has a probable legitimate complaint about the service she received from your company. And yes, we want to encourage customers to let us know if something is amiss or not right about the service received.  If we don’t know about a problem, we can’t fix it. The last place we want to find out about an issue is through social media or online reviews. 

Staying calm and resolving the issue in an amicable way is paramount to a continued relationship and positive reputation building. Especially when the company is at fault. No one wants to be on the receiving end of an irate person’s ranting, however, it’s your response that will determine the outcome. 

Here are some tips for customer turnaround success: 

Attitude is projected through your voice tone.

Keep it friendly and helpful. People respond more to HOW you say something than to WHAT you say.

Get all the facts as the customer sees them.

Ask them to tell you what happened.

Words do make a difference.

Using words that create a defensive reaction will escalate the negative situation. Examples of fight-starter words: “I can’t do that,” “You have to,” “If you don’t,” “You will get charged,” “We’ll be charging you extra,” “We don’t,” and “We can’t.”

Use words that calm the customer.

Using words that calm the customer will change the direction of the situation immediately. Words such as “I’m happy to take care of that,”  “Let me look into this,” “Thank you for letting us know about that,” “I will certainly take care of that immediately,” “How can I help today,” “I understand how upsetting that must be.”

Never ask the upset customer to call you back.

YOU initiate the return call: “I will look into this and call you back.  When is the best time to reach you?” rather than “I’ll work on this, and you can call me back”.

Handle complaint issues via phone as much as possible.

Electronic communication for complaint resolution removes the personal factor that is so important in customer satisfaction.

While we never want to make an employee look incompetent, company leaders must take ownership of the problem. Revisit training and follow-up procedures and come to a swift resolution that will satisfy the customer. These are parts of the process for handling customers not the complaint. 

When a complaint is repeated for the same team, employee or task, a solid investigation into the process you have in place is necessary. When you hear more than once that your office staff is rude, or that one team leaves floors streaky, it’s time to review your training and follow-up process for improvements. 

Customer satisfaction is essential to an organization’s survival. Customers know when you care and will seek out companies who demonstrate care and concern. Make certain yours is one of them. 

Sharon L. Cowan, CBSE, is an author, speaker and industry consultant. She grew and sold a successful multimillion dollar commercial and residential cleaning company and focuses her time on helping businesses succeed. She is one of 180 professionals worldwide to earn the CBSE designation which is the highest individual certification in the janitorial industry.