• How to Handle Irate Customers

    FROM THE Summer 2013 ISSUE

    Learn how to handle them and look like a hero.

When most people come in contact with an irate customer, their first instinct is to turn and run. Dealing with a customer who has a problem and is upset about it can be more than a little daunting. With the proper perspective, however, you will see that the customer’s complaint is actually an opportunity for you and your organization to put your best foot forward.

What to Do

  • Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer is telling you.



  • Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.


  • Put yourself in the customer’s place and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, "I understand that must be upsetting" or "I don’t blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way."


  • Ask pertinent questions in a caring, concerned manner and actively listen to the answers.


  • Suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer’s concerns.


  • Solve the problem quickly and efficiently or find someone who can.


What to Avoid

  • Don’t directly challenge someone who has a complaint and is angry.



  • Even if that customer is wrong, don’t attempt to prove it. Your goal is to solve the problem, not to enter into a debate on the merits of the complaint.


  • Don’t let the conversation wander or get off the topic. Solve the crisis at hand without looking for, and finding, additional problems.


  • Don’t participate in fault-finding. Shifting blame doesn’t help anyone.


  • Don’t let your personal feelings get in the way. Stay cool and use courtesy and tact to diffuse the situation.



When you successfully handle irate customers and their complaints, you will be rewarded with a satisfied customer and a customer who will be loyal to you and your organization. That loyalty will have a positive impact on your organization’s bottom line and make you look like a hero.

- John Tschohl 

John Tschohl is founder and president of Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis, Minn. He has written several books on customer service and has developed more than 26 customer service training programs distributed throughout the world.

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