Let's face it - the customer is not always right. What is always right is to treat them as if they were, because a customer will likely tell numerous people about their bad treatment at your business whereas they rarely pass on the good treatment experiences they have. After all, as customers they expect a good experience. No matter how much customer care training you conduct, some customers will end up dissatisfied with something. They may become so irate that they decide to confront you face-to-face to take the opportunity of venting their frustrations - at times rather abusively.

It's hard to take a dressing down patiently when the customer is obviously in the wrong. But by and large that is the approach you should train yourself, and your team, to take with complaining customers. Here are six practical tips to keep in mind when talking through a complaint with a customer - if you want to keep them as one.
  1. Establish exactly what the customer is upset about

    Listen carefully - actively - to the customer's complaint before trying to resolve it. Never let the customer go without getting enough information to make a sound decision about how to resolve the problem - calling them for more details will annoy them even further. Allow the customer to explain the situation, then, if necessary go back to ask further questions, clarify issues, or politely disagree. This phase also allows them to let off steam and nine times out of 10, just doing that has a calming effect.

  2. Accept ownership of the problem

    Avoid getting involved in a point-by-point debate over the rights and wrongs of the situation. Nothing is more guaranteed to enrage a customer who already feels badly done by. Use 'I' language - "I will do whatever I can to help you.", "You are an important customer and I would like the opportunity to resolve this situation and make you happy." 'I' language shows the customer that you are taking responsibility to resolve the situation.

  3. Take complaints professionally and not personally

    Do not take a customer's anger personally. Remain objective and remember that they are upset with the situation, not necessarily with you. A professional demonstrates that they value complaints as a way of assessing where things have gone wrong in customer service and as an opportunity to win back customer loyalty.

  4. Maintain open body language and a helpful attitude

    Your body language will express more than your words will as to what your real feelings are. It needs to be just as reassuring to customers as what you are telling them - that you are concerned, you want to hear their grievance, and that when you have all the information, you'll try to rectify the situation.

  5. Apologise even if the matter is not your fault

    Marketing research done by major companies tells us why it is important to take the attitude that 'the customer is always right'. A customer who has a bad experience generally tells 10 other people about it. Simply saying, "I'm sorry. What can I do to make you happy?" can stop the complainer in their tracks and prevent the spread of bad PR.

  6. Be able to say "No" to the customer (in a tactful way)

    On occasion a complaint may be clearly spurious and it will not be possible to give the customer the sort of satisfaction they are seeking. If you cannot give the customer what they want, explain exactly why. Saying "No" requires tact and diplomacy.
Ultimately, customers will assess your response to their complaint, and judge you accordingly, using three criteria: how they were treated (the politeness, empathy, effort, and honesty of the personnel who dealt with them); the process they were put through (how responsive your people were to their grievance, as well as how fast and simple the overall process was - the longer customers have to wait to get answers, the more dissatisfied they are); and the complaint outcome (has it left them feeling satisfied with the way you handled things). Curiously, a well handled complaint can be a powerful driver of customer loyalty.