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Mary Ellen Halloran
Anger Management Coach
Willimantic, Connecticut
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Responding to an Angry Customer

When you are faced with an irate customer, how you respond can set the tone for your relationship with the customer in the future.
Written Jul 28, 2010, read 2613 times since then.
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Suppose it’s an extremely busy day at work. You’ve got a pile of paperwork to process, or a long list of customers to contact or visit, or many service calls to make, or a huge project to tackle. You’re going about your day, trying to get as much as possible accomplished and to do a good job at it. Suddenly a customer arrives and approaches you with a scowl on his or her face, pointing out that an error had been made the previous day which created all sorts of problems for many people, and blaming you and/or your employees for having made the error. Your customer shouts, “What am I paying you for, if you're going to make mistakes that screw everything up?” Several of your employees and other customers are standing around, watching this scene. You know that the error wasn’t yours, because it involved a piece of work that another company had performed. You feel angry over having been accused of something you didn’t do, humiliated over having been dressed down in the open work space, disrespected because you have been a conscientious service provider who always tries to do your best, and disappointed to learn that the other company responsible for the error knows about it but has not owned up to it. What do you do?

Let’s look at your options:

1.Shouting back at your customer that it wasn’t your error.
2.Remaining silent, but slamming things around to show your anger.
3.Apologizing to your customer just to keep the peace and hoping the incident will blow over quickly.
4.Looking your customer in the eye (respectfully), acknowledging that an error had been made, and stating that you will do whatever is necessary to correct the problem. (If, in fact, you or your employees were responsible for the error, this straightforward approach is the most effective way to maintain your customer's respect despite the error. Depending on the nature of the error, you may want to offer the customer an add-on or a discount to compensate his or her for the inconvenience the error caused. For now, though, let's stick with the situation in which the error was not the fault of either you or one of your employees).

Option 1 might cost you the job and future work with that customer. Option 2 will perpetuate your customer’s current impression that you are irresponsible. If you follow Option 3, you will ignore your own feelings about the situation, running the risk that they will “come out sideways” some time in the future.

Your best bet is Option 4, because it will not fuel your customer’s current anger and it leaves the door open for you to express your feelings about the situation later. When things have cooled down, you will be able to speak with your customer privately, empathize with his or her anger over the error, and express your surprise over having been blamed because the error wasn’t yours. If you do this respectfully, you can set the record straight and maybe even get an apology from the customer! It’s possible that in the future he or she will think twice about how to handle situations in which errors have been discovered.

Learn more about the author, Mary Ellen Halloran.

Comment on this article

  • Marketing Maven 
Coventry, Connecticut 
Mary Helen Richer
    Posted by Mary Helen Richer, Coventry, Connecticut | Jul 28, 2010

    Far too frequently we have "knee jerk" reactions to accusations or anger from customers. We fail to stop, really listen to the customer and understand the frustration they are genuinely experiencing. Whether we were at fault or not, the best course of action is to diffuse the situation in a calm, professional manner.

    This does not mean that you need to shoulder the blame for something that you or your company were not responsible for but without empathy and understanding, you can not diffuse the situation. How you handle this type of situation, particularly in front of other customers and/or prospects, will impact how they see you and how they feel about you. You can be seen as a problem solver or just a problem; the choice is yours!

  • CEO (Architect, Building Codes Consultant, Interior Designer, Construction Manager, Builder, Home Inspector) 
Woodbury, Connecticut 
Milton "Greg" Grew
    Posted by Milton "Greg" Grew, Woodbury, Connecticut | Jul 28, 2010

    Good advice. In our business those kind of situations rarely occur in person. A client, contractor or other project participant might call or email about an alleged error. I usually have the time to take deep breaths, research the issue in our documentation to find out the source of the problem, and then address it very calmly but directly once I have done my homework and am prepared to correct the problem whether or not it originated with us.