A customer with a problem or a complaint should never be met with a pat answer, a resounding silence, or worse yet, an attitude from someone at your company. On the contrary, an irate customer is an incredible opportunity.

If you are able to convert his anger to satisfaction, you have the chance to win real customer loyalty instead. Every employee who comes into contact with your customers should be taught this and be able to do the following:

1. Treat the problem as her own. A customer who contacts your company with a problem wants to be understood, not placated. Repeating the problem back to him as some companies instruct their employees to do is not only patronizing, it indicates that the client is being seen as a "type of issue," rather than an individual experiencing a personal problem.

What's more, interrupting the customer's complaint before he finishes is condescending and presumptuous, because it blocks the incredibly important moment of connection with the customer. A customer in distress wants to know that his pain is felt completely, as much by the company he believes is causing it as by him--regardless of whose fault the problem is.

In other words, this is a crappy moment being had by all. Empathy is everything.

2. Hear the back-story, not the badmouthing. If the customer feels his problem is being dismissed or that your company is not going to help resolve it, he can go from calm to outraged in a heartbeat. When this happens, the key is not only to hear what the customer is explaining, but also the back-story he has created in his mind.

For example, a customer who calls because he has received the wrong item in his order is likely less upset by the wrong item than by the possibility that he will not be able to return or exchange it. His fear, which may remain unspoken, quickly snowballs in his mind, and he thinks any or all of the following:

  • If I cannot return/exchange this, I have lost money.
  • If I lose money, I have been cheated.
  • If I am cheated, my business will not be able to operate as I had intended.

If the person listening to the complaint can hear this silent conversation and neutralize it quickly, the customer can be reassured and the problem can be solved through a painless and efficient conversation. That conversation happens when your company representative speaks with authority and calms the back-story so the real problem can be addressed.

3. Focus on the solution rather than the drama. The first and only thing out of your employee’s mouth should be "OK. Let's see what kind of options we have so we can get this resolved for you." Customers like to know there is not only one solution, but many. They also want to know they have a choice in the matter--and rightfully so--they have chosen to spend their money with your company, so they are entitled to feel their needs should be met in a way they can agree with.

By ignoring rhetoric and focusing on fixing the problem, your employee can diffuse the situation and turn everyone’s attention towards rapid resolution. The faster resolution is reached, the better the customer feels about your company, and the more willing he is to think positively about the final outcome of his interaction, despite the fact that it went awry at one point.

This kind of customer care (or the lack thereof) directly affects a company's bottom line. Companies, just like the human beings that compose them, are rarely perfect. Mistakes happen, and they can be forgotten only when they are made right.