The 3 worst ways to handle a frustrated customer


by Luis Maza on Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014.

“The customer is always right.” You’ve heard it before. But if you’ve ever talked to an angry customer who–because of user error–has condemned your company’s product and has taken up a personal vendetta against every employee at your company, then you’d probably have a tough time saying “the customer is always right” with a straight face.

Ultimately, though, whether your customers are justified in their complaints or not, they form the lifeblood of your company, and you would be nothing without them. You should be in the business of keeping customers happy not only because you want them to continue buying from your company, but also because each happy customer is a potential brand evangelist. Your customers support you currently, and collectively they could play a major role in the future of your company.

So how should you react to customers who are dissatisfied and angry? Here are a few ways of reacting that will most certainly make things worse (which we hope you’ll avoid).

1. Take it personally. If someone is speaking angrily to you, it’s safe to assume they hate you, your mother, and your dog. Remember that the failures of your company’s product are directly tied to your failures in life as a person. The quicker you adopt this way of thinking, the sooner you’ll find it natural to use techniques that have been proven to escalate the anger of already angry customers. These techniques include provoking, being defensive, talking back, ignoring their needs, and insulting them.

But if you’re trying to give your customer a positive interaction with your company that convinces them to remain a loyal customer, it’s probably best to decide right now that you’ll never take it personally—even if the customer does. Remember that the anger of a customer is rarely a direct result of a mistake you’ve made- you just happen to be the face and voice that the customer associates with the product they’re frustrated with. If you truly adopt this mentality, you’ll be able to keep your cool, make a sound assessment of the customer’s issue, and then solve the issue in a way that leaves you and the customer satisfied and happy.

2. Blame the customer. Your product or service has no flaws—everyone who buys it should be completely satisfied because it delivers on everything it professes to offer and more. So anyone who complains is dumb and they’re clearly using the product wrong. And if you’re trying to make angry customers angrier, you better tell them all of that.

Or, if you believe that your customers’ satisfaction is essential to the success of your business (hint—it is), then take responsibility for the shortcoming of the product and be sympathetic. At this point you’ve trained your mind to not take it personally, so you’re okay with taking the blame no matter whose fault it is. You might have to employ acting skills that have been dormant since you starred in your third grade play, but you must convince your customers that you’re on their side, that the fault lies with the company, and that you are personally sorry for the shortcoming.

3. Be rude. You have a right as a dignified human being to be rude to someone who is rude to you. Stand up for your rights! Don’t let a know-nothing customer talk down to you—you’re the king! And don’t just stand by idly—return insult with insult, escalate the heated tone and make sure your customers know that it’s you who’s in charge.

Or, if you’re trying to diffuse a situation and turn a customer into a brand advocate, you might try politeness. All other things aside, politeness might single-handedly turn the tide on a customer’s opinion of a brand or company. Some customers just need to vent and have someone listen to them. Others need a real solution to their problem. By being polite and truly listening, you may just win over that red-in-the-face customer.

As long as you have customers, you’ll likely have a few who express frustration at some point. But if you avoid the above pitfalls of customer interaction, you could turn a few frowns upside down, and eventually create a happy customer base that carries your business to the next level.