How To Best Deal With An Upset Customer

Regardless of what type of business you own, having to deal with an upset customer on occasion is likely a part of the job. Even if operations are usually smooth, chances are that everything isn’t perfect all of the time. Customers become upset for a variety of reasons, some clearly defined and some not. In any event, professionally handling these instances is of utmost importance.

When it comes to dealing with an upset customer, resolution strategies must be implemented at a more global level. In other words, you have to develop company-wide policies and procedures for doing so. As the owner, you must discuss specific approaches with your employees that they can use when customers are upset.

Determine the Main Causes of Problems

While you cannot prepare for every complaint that customers will have, you can do some research to determine what the main concerns about your business are. Having your business appear on local review websites can help to generate traffic to both the site and the actual company. This situation has another perk too. When your company earns fewer than five stars, you can take a look at the reasons why. Such an approach can help you to determine what the concerns are about your business, thereby allowing you to develop strategies for resolving the complaints and for addressing them when customers express concerns in-person.

Online reviews sites offer one way for you to determine the areas you should focus on when it comes to customer service. You could also run analytics of customer surveys and email complaints. If you currently aren’t implementing a system of reviews, establishing surveys and questionnaires can help you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of what your customers’ needs are.

Upset customer example

Create Workshops

Once you have figured out what it is that is making customers complain about your company you can set up a series of workshops that tackle these challenges. For example, let’s say that customers are frequently complaining about a lack of communication or poor communication in a particular department. Developing a workshop about positive communication skills can spread information to employees without singling out specific individuals.

Workshops are also useful in the sense that employees can learn skills and then immediately put them into action. You could establish a brief lecture followed by role-playing activities to see how well employees integrate the skills that they have been taught. Depending on the type of company, you may also find conferences in the discipline. Bringing employees to such events allows them to learn more skills from a wider audience and to share their own experiences with handling frustrated customers.

Start the Day with Meditation

It’s important to remember that your employees are dealing with problems outside of work too. Even employees who are adept at keeping personal issues out of their professional lives, a contentious conversation with a customer could cause them to become tremendously stressed. Some businesses have to deal with complaints from customers on a regular basis due to the nature of the company. If you are the owner of such a business, consider starting the day with meditation or other grounding activities for the entire staff. When you can inspire employees to begin their shifts with a clear headspace, they may very well be better equipped to deal with the stress factors of the day. You could also employ this technique when you are predicting a particularly volatile day in the workplace.

Build a Department

Having customers come into the business and voice their complaints can prove a jarring experience for other customers and employees. An essential part of the process is to develop a department for handling complaints. In a smaller company, you may have one or two people who are in charge of these situations. Of course, you can’t prevent customers from going up to another employee and complaining; however, you can train employees to direct an upset customer to the proper resources.


Implementing changes at the company-wide level is crucial; to do so, you must know what skills to teach. One of the most helpful strategies that employees can use when they are handling an upset customer is to listen to the complaint. After hearing multiple complaints, cutting people off is tempting. It’s incredibly easy to do so when the complainer is acting rudely. However, think about the last time that you wanted to express concerns about a particular issue. You might have started by ranting; you then may have realised that you were speaking somewhat illogically and curtailed your attitude and thoughts. Sometimes, providing people with a platform to talk is just what they need. They may grow more frustrated if they feel as though the employees aren’t listening.

It’s not enough to just let customers talk when they are complaining. Even though they may sound as though they are just ranting, they are probably conveying some important information about the situation as well. For example, as they are discussing the issues, they are likely mentioning the who, what, where, when, why and how of the situation. Jotting down notes can help employees to know these important details. If employees ask for information that customers already said, the latter group may become angry. While employees don’t need to note every word that irate customers are saying, they should work to get down the important information.

Dilbert customer complaintDilbert

Remain Respectful

When someone is shouting at you or your employees, it may seem virtually impossible to remain respectful. Some situations are more serious than others, and you do need to know when to call the proper authorities. However, in many cases, you have to learn how to detach from the situation. In other words, remember that the customer is not necessarily angry at you. In fact, the customer likely does not know anything about you. Instead, this person is expressing frustrations at a particular situation and taking them out at you. If you can remember that the conversation is not truly a personal attack, you then can retain a higher level of respect. Also, remember that this random person’s opinion of you as a person does not matter. Remaining respectful also does generally involve apologising for the hardship that the upset customer has experienced.

Speak Calmly

An escalating situation does not resolve the issue. In fact, the problem could just become worse and potentially even violent. While you may feel tempted to shout right back at the person yelling at you, doing so is unlikely to bring the problem to a resolution. Speaking calmly to an upset customer allows the situation to at least stay at a neutral level. Also, when the customers hear that you are speaking calmly, they may emulate the same tone of voice. It can be challenging to continue carrying on and yelling when someone is talking to you in a gentle voice.

Know Company Policies

Some complaints have to do with company policies. For example, customers may be complaining that they were unable to return an item that they ordered online, or are maybe concerned that a product that arrived in the mail does not exactly match what they saw on the internet. If employees do not know what the store policies are, customers are likely to become even angrier. Also, policies can help to support employees when they are dealing with contentious customers. It can be difficult to handle these situations, especially for new employees or individuals who have more timid personalities. Having the policies to back one up can boost confidence and prove useful.

Company Policy

Ask for a Manager

Some customers may come in asking to speak with a manager, but employees may need to use this strategy too. Employees should know when a situation is beyond what they can handle. For example, employees who have just started at the company may need to ask for a manager to help handle inquiries. While the ultimate goal may be to encourage employees to tackle these issues themselves, it’s also possible that managers are primarily in charge of doing so. In other words, as the owner, it’s essential for you to establish who is in charge of what tasks. When roles aren’t clear, employees may bounce customers around from department to department or personnel to personnel.

Offer Solutions

When an upset customer is complaining about issues with the products, services or shop, it may seem easy to tell them that they are incorrect. This approach, however, is likely to make them angrier. The customers are complaining because they are in need of solutions. Therefore, it is essential for employees to tell them what the solutions are. It must be made clear to staff members that there’s a difference between offering customers whatever they want and providing solutions. In some cases, no solution may exist, but these situations are often uncommon. It is more likely that customers are asking for a solution that is impossible but there that other solutions can work. Articulating these solutions to an upset customer is essential.

This strategy is useful in another way too. If you have children or have ever had the responsibility of watching children, you may know how much more effective it is to offer a choice between to reasonable options than to demand an action that the child deems unreasonable. For example, the child may not want to wear a sweater on a cold day. Instead of ordering the child to wear it, the caretaker can offer an option between the green coat and the blue sweatshirt. This tactic is one that helps kids to feel empowered, and people, in general, like to feel empowered. Providing options can empower customers. Of course, employees must be trained not to speak to customers in a patronising manner.

Provide Future Discounts

In some situations, there may not be much that your company can do to appease the customer. For example, some people may try to return items after the deadline for making returns. Bending the rules in these cases can be a problem because other customers may expect that you will do it too. The same customers may try to return items past the deadline again. However, even if you cannot offer a remedy right now, you can try to appease the customer in future situations. If you are not able to provide a solution that satisfies the customers’ immediate needs, you could offer them a discount on their next visit. If you own a restaurant, you could provide a free appetizer. If you own a retail store, you could offer a percentage off the next purchase. Offering a discount for a future visit has a perk for you too. Since the customers are upset right now, you might be afraid that you will lose them permanently. Providing a discount can encourage them to return, despite the negative experience that they believe that they are currently having.

Free cinema pass

Don’t Form a Group

Unless an upset customer is growing violent, you probably don’t need to have more than two employees involved in the situation. When you have too many people from the company speaking to the customers at once, they are likely to feel as though you are teaming up against them. Imagining how you would feel with a group of people going against you will likely demonstrate why this approach isn’t the best idea.

Don’t Make a Scene

Again, violent or aggressive situations call for different measures. However, in most cases, you do not need to draw extra attention to the conversation with the customers. Yelling or otherwise bringing more attention to the scene can cause the upset customer to become embarrassed, which can make the problem grow even worse.

Protect Yourself

While you don’t want to bring in the entire staff to deal with one angry customer, you also want to make sure that you protect yourself. For example, if one employee is left alone with one customer, the latter may accuse the former of saying certain words or acting up. Of course, taking complaints of this nature from customers in a serious manner is of utmost importance, but so is making sure that false claims don’t arise. When more than one person is present or witnesses the interaction between the customer and the employee, you can have a greater sense of what happened.

Know When to Call for Help

Envisioning a scenario where customers become violent is frightening, but you have to face the reality that it could happen. Train your employees to know when they need to call the police. You could also consider installing panic buttons under your employees’ desks. They may not necessarily have the opportunity to pick up a phone and dial the appropriate number in the event of a severe situation. Pressing the panic buttons could allow them to contact the authorities with greater ease and protection.

An upset customer is likely going to come into your business at some point. Due to this reality, you need to know how to handle the situation. Bringing in company-wide changes and sharpening individual skills can help you and your employees to manage such experiences with customers better.