Handling Irate Customers

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Handling Irate Customers

Irate customers in retail are a fact of life, and let’s face it: it’s unpleasant and downright awkward. If you don’t handle the complaint properly it can snowball into a bigger issue, getting bad reviews on Google, and then getting thoroughly dragged through the mud on Social Media.

Half of unhappy customers will complain openly, but the other half will want to avoid unpleasant situations, end up stewing and then eventually trash you on Social Media. Look at sites like TripAdvisor. I’m always weary about some of the reviews and wonder if the establishment they’re complaining about had a chance to correct the issues.

Here’s another way of looking at a complaing customer: At least you have a fighting chance to correct it and you may have a happy customer that the end. Here are some tips on how you handle a customer complaint:

1. The first thing you should do is NOT TO TAKE IT PERSONALLY. I can’t stress this enough. Robert Bisaws-Diener is noted psychologist and author. He writes that there are 3 types complainers:

A. The chronic complainers: These are people are always unhappy and think very deeply about problems and issues in their lives that causes unhappiness. Making a habit of complaining can become habitual and become part of their being, and ingrained in their psychology.
B. The venting complainer: This set is focused on themselves and their negative experience. Their negative experience can be frivolous, inflated, or even imagined. They have an agenda: they need validation. Venters seek the attention of people around them by showing anger, frustration, or disappointment; and solving problems isn’t a priority so there aren’t any solutions. They just want validation.
C. The instrumental complainer: This is the type of complainer we wish we all can have. They are quite reasonable, open to constructive solutions. Instrumental complainers “focus on the impact of the problem, the importance of change, and cooperate to create a plan for change”. This group is less than 25% of all complaints”.

2. Listen and don’t interrupt. Show empathy, nod your head in agreement, maintain eye contact and just let them blow off steam. Open your body language and don’t get defensive- remember it’s not personal. If he or she begins to raise their voice, offer to listen to their complaint in the back office away from other customers. You will find that you have better chance of solving the customer’s problem once they have depressurized.

3. Validate the complaint. This is where you apologize, agree with them and repeat the complaint back to them so you understand. Show genuine concern for their situation, and make sure you get the facts right. Say things like: “So if I understand the situation correctly……..”. Be sincere and courteous at all times.

4. Thoughtfully present a solution. This is where negotiating starts. If you’re lucky enough to get a happy solution without losing money on it, great. Otherwise, you need to make a business decision. How much do you value customer service and customer satisfaction? Can you afford a disgruntled customer? Is the complaint valid regardless of the fine print? Never tell a customer what you cannot do; always tell them what you CAN do.

5. Follow up. Call them, email them, text them; anything is better than nothing. Be a true Canadian and apologize for the inconvenience again and invite them return.


Good Luck!        

Rommel Santos is a Senior Corporate Manger with 20 years experience managing retail channels for Canada’s largest wireless telecom companies. He is now a digital retail entrepreneur offering web design services, and digital marketing management specializing in small business retail in Ontario.

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