Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Irate Customers

Have you ever gotten good and mad at a company you've done business with? Of course you have.

For me, how the company handles my complaint is a make-or-break moment. That's because I am really not a difficult person. Really, I'm not! If anything, I'm too easy to please and too willing to make concessions. Especially compared to many of my (terrifically picky) friends. Just sayin'.

So when I am upset with a product or service, and upset enough to bring it to the provider's attention, something is really wrong.

Companies can be responsive, understanding and remedy the situation. Or they can be snotty, dismissive and utterly unhelpful. The first attitude usually earns them another chance. If they're particularly nice, I'll forgive them completely.

But the latter attitude is a deal-breaker. I will make a point never to do business again with a company that belittles my concerns and makes it clear they don't care enough to remedy them.

Service strategist John Tschohl, http://www.johntschohl.com, author of "Achieving Excellence Through Customer Service," has come up with a list of do's-and-don'ts for defusing irate customer situations.

Listen carefully and with interest to what the customer is telling you.
Apologize without laying blame, regardless of who is at fault.
Put yourself in the customer’s place, and respond in a way that shows you care about his or her concerns. Use phrases such as, “I understand that must be upsetting,” or “I don’t blame you for being upset; I would feel the same way.”
Ask pertinent questions in a caring, concerned manner, and actively listen to the answers.
Suggest one or more alternatives that would address the customer’s concerns.
Solve the problem quickly and efficiently, or find someone who can.


Directly challenge someone who has a complaint and is angry. Even if that customer is wrong, don’t attempt to prove it. Your goal is to solve the problem, not to enter into a debate on the merits of the complaint.
Let the conversation wander or get off the topic. Solve the crisis at hand without looking for, and finding, additional problems.
Participate in fault finding. Shifting blame doesn’t help anyone.
Let your personal feelings get in the way. Stay cool and use courtesy and tact to resolve the situation.


  1. Having run a call center in the past, one that handled 4 million plus calls per year, and one that I had to shuffle out of state, and then punt off-shore, my best advice is: Keep the customer service group as close to the actual business as possible. In the same building -- at least, in the same town.

    If you don't, your customers will, at best, suspect your intentions, or at worst, quit out of utter frustration.

  2. Great post, Karen.

    Did anyone tell this to B of A? What they're putting my friends through is unbelievable.

    We had such a lousy experience with Charter that we didn't even get another cable company, we gave up on TV altogether. We may get TV again someday but never again with them.

    AT&T, anybody? I've given up on. Getting my new Verizon phone in a couple of weeks.

    In all of these cases, the people on the phone are perfectly nice but the companies don't follow up. It's all well and good if your call center people are well trained, but it doesn't matter if you don't back them up with action.

  3. Karin, exactly right. I have heard that from many customer service experts over the years. The more remote the customer service, the less effective they are both with customers and to the company in general.

  4. Petrea, it's a mixed bag for me. I've actually had terrific experiences with AT&T and I've done a lot of jiggering my account lately, mostly downsizing my traditional phone service in favor of going mobile. They have been gracious and effective and helpful.

    I don't have Charter but when I did they were quite good. Ditto for AMEX (terrific service) and Wells Fargo.