The Disgruntled Customer

There is a person that many businesses fear like the plague – the disgruntled customer. The disgruntled customer is that person who is not happy with your product/service and doesn’t mind letting you know how he/she feels either via phone call, face to face or social media. Did you know that this customer is your best friend? I can hear you saying “Come on now Errol, my best friend? How can that be when they’re not happy with my product/service?” Just like your best friend should be honest enough to tell you about your blind spots, the disgruntled customer – by way of their discontentment – brings your “business blind spots” to your attention. Remember., only 4% of customers that decide to stop doing business with you bother to tell you why they’re no longer your customer. The other 96% just silently go away.

How do you deal with your disgruntled customer? Here are a few tips:

Listen to the issue – Allow your customer to fully vent, all the while filtering the conversation for bits of information that point to the customer’s reason for disgruntlement. Let the customer know that you’re listening by periodically offering a verbal confirmation such as -” I understand your frustration” or “I can understand why this is an issue for you.” If your customer says “Are you still there?” (if you’re on the phone with the customer) then you know that your customer feels you aren’t listening. When face to face with your customer, this should never be in question!See for what can happen when your face to face customer feels you aren’t listening.

Apologize – Offer a sincere apology for the issue. “First of all, let me apologize for any discomfort, inconvenience (whatever is appropriate) that this has caused.

Restate the issue – Repeat back to the customer what he/she stated is the cause of his/her unhappiness. This step reinforces in the customer’s mind that you’re really listening.

Focus on the resolution – Stay focused on the resolution. Advise your customer of what you will do to correct the situation. Ask if the resolution is acceptable. Your customer will appreciate this as you are getting their buy-in to your efforts to resolve the issue. If the customer insists on continuing  to be focused on the issue, advise them again that you understand , restate your resolution and ask ” May I get started on correcting this for you?” or state “Let’s get started on taking care of this for you.”

When you need more info – If you don’t have a resolution readily available (this does happen sometimes), advise the customer that you will get the information required to develop the best resolution. Give the customer a timeframe (5 minutes, one day, etc.) in which you will provide the resolution, get their agreement and follow-up within the agreed upon timeframe. Your credibility is at stake as well as your ability to retain this customer.

Follow-up – Don’t forget to follow-up with your disgruntled customer. Thank them for bringing the issue to your attention. Let them know that by allowing you to correct the issue, it prevents the issue from reoccurring.  Advise your customer of how valuable their input is to the success of your business and even offer a token (discount on next purchase, free items, etc) to express your gratitude.

Analyze the issue – Create a database of customer issues in order to identify negative business patterns. It’s important to analyze your operations from your customer’s viewpoint. The goal is to consistently provide great customer service. Your willingness to thoroughly examine why the issue happened and prevent it in the future is very important to maintaining a high rate of retention.

Remember, cherish the disgruntled customer. By voicing their dissatisfaction, they’re giving you an opportunity to retain their business(and the business of others who might be impacted by the same issue) versus just silently allowing your competition an opportunity to replace you.

19 thoughts on “The Disgruntled Customer”

  1. I am completely agreed with this…Many of the times when I was working as Support Engineer….I love to handle this customers as challenge and always over come with flying colors….Empathy is the first thing it will cool down and paraphrasing the issue will cool them down more as they will be sure that you know the problem so you must be knowing the solution too..then my knowledge will do the magic….

  2. Great article. I like how you point out the importance of asking for the customers cooperation in allowing you time to find a resolution; it’s a key factor in transforming the disgruntled customer’s opinion of your organization.

  3. I agree completely, sometimes an opportunity to improve a situation can be a great asset.

    But in the restaurant industry there seems to be a sharp increase lately. I am seeing people being completely unreasonable with their complaints. Sure, that has always existed, but it is becoming an epidemic. We constantly have people dramatically alter dishes, against our advice not to do so, and then send it back because they don’t like it. People being irate because we don’t have something they request, even when it has never been on the menu. Then there is the self appointed food critic. They watch every cooking show on T.V., so now they feel like they know as much as someone who actually works in the industry.

    I also want to know why the burden of responsibility for allergies has now been completely placed on our shoulders. If you are allergic to everything under the sun, maybe you should be at home preparing all of your own meals.

    This newer breed of customer is very difficult to deal with. Basically they are dead wrong, but you still have to apologize and placate them.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read the article and comment H.T.. The face of the customer has changed over time. The younger generation seems to have a spirit of “deservedness” – I want what I want when I want it how I want it and where I want it – without the least bit of consideration as to what it might take for someone to attempt to fulfill there requests and then it’s your fault if they aren’t satisfied. The 1000 channels available has produced all types of so called experts so I’m not surprised that you have to deal with the self appointed food critics. Hopefully, these types of customers represent a low percentage of your customers. Here’s your copy of my free monthly online newsletter, “Now That’s Customer Service!”, where I offer practical customer service tips and real life customer service stories.

  4. Good point Errol, one of the most important points to touch on is listening. In my experience at Starbucks, we had one guiding rule which was essential in not only dealing with disgruntled customers, but key in the development of ones characteristics and work ethics. This rule was the LATTE rule and it stood for: Listen, Acknowledge, Take action, Thank the customer and Encourage them to come back. Once you are able to connect, emphasize and project the desire to want to help, you can very quickly turn a customers dissatisfaction with service into a service which was legendary and left the customer wanting to return simply because of how they were assisted. You have to Show You Care in order to help turn these situations around.
    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Rule of thumb,happy customers tell a few friends unhappy happy ones ca reach 50+.
    At one point I was so insulted I used in a customer service meeting with 300 senior managers and further put if in my monthly newsletter reaching an additional 3000 nothing is more impotant than customer care especially disgruntled ones!

  6. Thanks Errol for the excellent discussion of how to deal with disgruntled customers. You’re absolutely correct that they can be your best friend. Upset customers have taught me how to listen, to not take their frustration as an insult, but as a opportunity to help solve a problem. They have also made clear to me that part of the problem to be solved is that we don’t listen empathetically. Genuine empathy requires that we try to understand the other person’s feelings, not merely the incident (usually a series of incidents) that has led to them. We try to jump in to defend our organization, or co-workers, or to quickly offer a solution without understanding what is really occurring. Active listening, empathy, and thorough follow-up are keys to customer service recovery. My barometer of a successful encounter is simple: if the customer is laughing by the end on our conversation, we’re on our way to a happy, productive relationship.

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