When was the last time you felt pleased with a customer service experience? As Warren Buffet once said, we can't just "satisfy" the customer; we have to learn to "delight" the customer. However, the reality is that the vast majority of customers today are unhappy with the service they receive, according to a survey by Arizona State University, which showed that over three-quarters of the respondents were less than satisfied with customer service department experiences.

Gone are the days when picking up the phone was the only option for customers to relay a complaint. Companies are diversifying their options to meet the demands of consumers by offering service via chat, text, email, and social media, and employing multi-level customer service teams -- but the problems remain. Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have infiltrated the customer service industry at warp speed and will continue to accelerate as companies invest in and learn more about the technology's capabilities. One report projects that "spending on cognitive and AI systems will reach $77.6 billion in 2022, more than three times the $24 billion forecast for 2018." But at least for the foreseeable future, companies still need to rely on people to deliver facets of the customer service experience.

No matter how advanced our technology becomes, humans don't change very much. That's why there are so many complications in dealing with customer service issues. Things can get heated at times, and representatives or service staff can, on occasion, become defensive when faced with a distressed customer. The bottom line is, the customer is ultimately left with the impression that no one is listening -- and that no one cares about their particular issue.

Thankfully, if you handle it correctly, you can take these thorny issues and turn them into an opportunity to win over a customer for life. However, you must know how to take control of the situation.

H.E.L.P. is a tried and true acronym that you can call upon when faced with an unhappy consumer. In fact, these steps can help diffuse almost any heated situation, as they target our basic needs as human beings -- to be heard, appreciated and involved.

Hear the customer out.

Empathize and apologize in that order.

Lead the customer to a resolution.

Provide a responsible course of action.

1. Hear the customer out.

When you listen in order to understand fully, it will help calm any situation. Genuinely give the customer an opportunity to vent their frustration and outline their issue or problem. If the exchange is face-to-face, provide cues that you are fully listening by maintaining eye contact and nodding your head. This type of body language shows the customer that you are present and want to help. If you're on the phone, repeat what the customer has said to you, to confirm that you have heard and understood why they are upset. Resist the temptation to interrupt - even if they are being rude and unreasonable. The first step is to solely listen and let the customer know they have been heard.

2. Empathize.

Once the customer complaint has been heard, let them know that they matter. Offer your empathy and an apology. Even if you feel the customer or client is misguided, if you want to resolve the situation, you must show compassion toward them. And be genuine about it -- a rote apology could exacerbate an already angry customer.

3. Lead the customer to a resolution.

It can be helpful to ask questions at this point -- and empowering for the customer. For example, "What can I do to fix this issue for you?" "What would it take to make this wrong, right?" There are risks in asking such open-ended questions. Keep in mind that most people just want their complaint to be heard and acknowledged. The worst-case scenario is that the customer will ask for something that you are not able to fulfill. In this situation aim to find the positive -- or the next best thing. You could say, "I appreciate that you would like me to do that for you. I am, unfortunately, not in a position to do that. What I can do is..."

4. Provide the responsible course of action.

Take the necessary steps to complete your commitment to the customer. Follow up with the essential channels and ensure the customer will receive notice that their grievance has been resolved. Of course, there will be situations when further steps must be taken, or a solution may not always be possible. These are learning moments. If the customer service experience has been authentic, even the most disgruntled customers will eventually come around if they feel they have been heard and empathized with.