It is difficult, but not impossible, to sell to a customer who's had a bad experience with your company. Here's how:

1. Apologize and probe for details.

If all you do is apologize, the problem remains in the air and the customer will remain skeptical.  Therefore, you must figure out, in depth, what happened.


  • Customer: "I did business with your company in the past and they were unprofessional."
  • You: "I'm sorry somebody else at my company screwed up.  I'll try to do better."
  • Customer: "Why should I believe you?"


  • Customer: "I did business with your company in the past and they were unprofessional."
  • You: "I'm so sorry to hear that you had an unpleasant experience with us. Exactly what happened?"
  • Customer: "Well, I ordered 100 framistats and..."

2. Diagnose the entire problem.

Continue to ask questions until you understand exactly what happened.  There are four reasons the diagnosis is essential:

  1. Irate customers will never feel comfortable working with you until they've been "heard out," which means listening to the entire complaint in detail.
  2. You can't possibly reassure the customer that your company won't screw up that way again if you're not 100 percent certain what actually happened.
  3. You may discover elements of the "screw up" that were the customer's fault, such as unreasonable expectations. Going forward, you'll need to address these.
  4. You may discover that the customer is completely at fault and a total pain to work with and thus not worth the effort to cultivate any further.

3. Devise an action plan.

Assuming you decide to proceed, create a step-by-step process that will ensure that the problem doesn't recur. This process should consist of two parts: 1) what you plan to do differently and 2) what you need the customer to do differently, if the customer was partly at fault. Example:

  • You: "If you decide to work with me, here's what I intend to do.  First, I'll give you my private number, so you can call me directly whenever you have any questions... [etc.]  How well does that address your concerns?"
  • Customer: "It's okay, I guess."
  • You: "Great. Now here's what I'll need you to do, if we decide to work together.  Would you be willing to give me a heads up the moment you know that you'll need fewer framistats?
  • Customer: "I can do that."

This method gets you and the (now formerly) irate customer working on the same side to fix the problem so that it doesn't come back to bite either of you.

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