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How to deal with unhappy customers – a customer service survival guide

Posted by Perceptive Insights Team - 19 January, 2015


Customer retention strategies and overall customer satisfaction often equals revenue growth. A happy customer is a returning customer, after all. 

That happiness with your business is built from the solid foundations of customer experience—but sometimes it doesn't always work out as you intend. Sometimes, the customer experience goes askew, and it can seem impossible to claw your way back into a customer's good graces.

We thought we’d share our best tips for turning angry customers sour faces into smiling ones—which should help you in your efforts to achieve customer retention. Equally, these strategies work just as well in dealing with disengaged employees. Why not share this with your customer service or HR teams?


Related content: Customer experience game changes that grow revenue


5 steps to turning angry customers around

1. “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that”

Your first response should always be to understand, second to console. Often, people who complain do so in the heat of the moment, straight after the event.

Giving them a bit of breathing space and hearing them out can sometimes be enough for their complaint to be resolved. Most customers are simply looking for acknowledgement, and lending an ear and showing genuine compassion and empathy goes a long way.


2. What does the customer want?

After listening, asking “what can I do for you?” is the next step. Getting to the point of what they’re actually after will keep the interaction short and sweet.

Do they want a refund or exchange? Maybe it’s a genuine apology or simply to be heard? Understanding exactly what your customers are after will help you to respond in a relevant way, so that they feel well taken care of.

Once you understand, do everything in your power to give it to them as quickly as possible. If it’s not possible, suggest an alternative solution or refer them to someone who can help. 


3. What’s the impact?

What’s the scale of the potential impact? It's important to consider that a customer complaint isn't always necessarily in line with the impact of the trespass they've endured. That doesn't mean dismiss the customer's feelings, simply to remember that while this may seem small to you, it will almost certainly be a big problem to them.

All complaints should be approached with equal attention, but naturally some will have a much greater impact than others. Make sure you identify the biggest threats and prioritise your resources accordingly.

When you have a clear understanding of the issues, be prepared to handle the problem. Understanding what customers complain about and planning for this in advance will help you identify the gravity of a complaint and the strategic course of action needed to correct it. This helps with settling future responses to complaints in a much quicker fashion.


4. Be quick to respond

When it comes to customer complaints, responding instantly is crucial. Many companies still operate with a 24 or even 48 hour response time. If someone has to wait for that long to get a response out of you, chances are they will take their business elsewhere.

This is especially important when considering social media, as that’s where most customers take their complaints these days. Businesses don't seem to realise how important speed in response is: only 32 per cent of those complaining on social media were happy with how fast the business involved responded.

The problem with this is that any issues can spread instantly and you really want to avoid negative talk about your brand spreading. To counteract this, you’ll need a solid social media strategy that supports regular monitoring and responding to complaints.


5. Learn from feedback

The truth is, you can learn the most from where it hurts the most. This is why complaining customers are actually a good thing.

As many as 96 per cent of unhappy customers don’t actually complain [directly to the company], and 91 per cent of those simply just end up leaving you.2

Listening to the feedback and learning from it is the only way you can make sure you improve your business. And finally, always thank them for their feedback and be grateful for them being honest.



The whole customer experience, including providing excellent customer service is always relevant.

There’s no getting away from it. We hope these tips will help your team get to grips with making the most of customer feedback—diffusing tense situations, resolving issues, and ultimately learning from the entire experience.

Good luck!


How do you know the true value of customer service? Read our guide below to find out.

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1. The Economist Intelligence Unit survey, September 2014

2. Understanding Customers, by Ruby Newell-Legner

Topics: Customer Experience

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