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How to Handle Unhappy Customers: Turning That Frown Upside Down

A man on the phone looking up at the sky with an angry expression

Whether you’re working from home or in the office, you’ll cross paths with both pleasant and more complicated customers. As someone who used to manage a sandwich shop, I’ve had my run-ins with distressed and angry customers. Although they’re sometimes tricky to handle, there’s always a path to ensuring their satisfaction. It’s important to handle unhappy customers with care and respect. If handled indelicately, you may make the situation worse and end up losing the customer. Addressing dissatisfied customers’ problems is necessary for maintaining a good reputation, so you’ll want to do it right.

Understanding Anger

Before you can resolve any problem, you must understand where anger comes from. Anger is an emotion people may exhibit when they feel threatened, attacked, frustrated, or powerless. If someone is angry, it’s usually because they’ve lost control over a situation.

Customers become angry when they’re dissatisfied with your service or feel as though you did not handle a situation correctly. For example, they might have received the wrong item from your business and did not get a reply in a timely manner, or they weren’t assisted with the issue at all. If their problem isn’t handled appropriately, feelings of anger will surface.

To deescalate anger, you must remember to avoid making the customer feel powerless, threatened, or attacked. You must endeavor to actively listen to the customer’s needs and handle their issue delicately. 

Solving the Problem Quickly

When a customer has a bad experience, word travels very fast. In fact, some studies have shown that dissatisfied customers tell somewhere between 9 to 15 people about their experience, while other studies show us that happy customers only tell about 3-5 people. On social media, they can reach a lot more than that. That being said, it’s important that you leave your customers with good impressions, so they don’t spread the word to their inner circles. To avoid this problem, you’ll need to solve the issue right away.

Keep in mind that there are two types of unhappy customers: dissatisfied customers and angry customers. Dissatisfied customers are typically unhappy for a moment, but feel better once they’ve let off some steam. On the other hand, angry customers have deep-rooted anger and typically seek out some sort of revenge when they’re unsatisfied. Their backlash can include something like a bad yelp review or a complaint to a corporate office directly. Either way, it’s not good for business and you’ll want to resolve the problem as fast as you can to avoid tarnishing your company’s reputation. 

Don’t Take Things Personally

There’s something you need to realize as the employee, manager, or business owner who’s handling the customer’s wrath: it’s likely not your fault. Unless you blatantly or purposely caused the customer distress, you need to remember that you personally are not the problem. Although it might be difficult, you must not let the customer get to you, even when they’re expressing aggressive behavior. You must remember to keep your cool and not take anything personally.

Oftentimes the unhappy customer is not angry or upset with you. They’re usually angry at something else. For example, they might be upset that your featured sandwich of the day is tuna instead of that meatball sub they really wanted. Or they might be upset that they signed an annual contract and can’t get out of it. It’s not your fault that the featured sandwich isn’t meatball, and it’s also not your fault that they didn’t read the contract they signed. They’re not upset with you; they’re upset at the situation and you just happen to be on the receiving end of the backlash.

Overall, try to keep your feelings separated from the situation because it’s most likely not your fault– they just want their problem fixed fast!

Use the H.E.A.R.T. Method

One excellent technique to solve customer service problems is the H.E.A.R.T. model

HEART:

  • Hear
  • Empathy
  • Apologize
  • Reassurance
  • Thank you

The heart method is a great technique that can work not only with customer issues, but for in-house employee conflicts as well. This method of conflict resolution is designed specifically to deescalate any problem. It focuses on listening and constructive action, rather than simply reacting to the situation. Again, you don’t want to react to the unhappy customer; you want to listen to them and fix the problem.

Let’s review the H.E.A.R.T. method so you can learn the best ways to solve customer conflicts. 

Hear

Before anything else, you must listen to the customer. Although you may not understand why they’re so upset, or you may not agree, people need to feel heard. Hearing someone out goes a long way, and some people genuinely just need to vent. Actively listen to the customer and make sure that you don’t interrupt them. That way you can fully understand the problem, the client feels listened to, and you can fix the issue accordingly. 

Empathy

If applicable, express empathy or sympathy with their misfortunes. Some examples of appropriate responses include “I understand where you’re coming from”, or “I understand that it should have been handled in a different manner”. Don’t be afraid to connect with the customer and don’t deter yourself from taking blame on behalf of the company. Sometimes businesses do mess up, and it’s okay to recognize that and fix the issue.

Apologize

Whether it’s your fault or not, you must apologize. Let the customer know that you’re sorry for the inconvenience that the issue may have caused. You want to ensure that the customer doesn’t feel like the problem was their fault. 

Reassurance

Commit to a rapid solution to the problem. Although you may not act right then and there, you can still guarantee the customer that you’ll do something. The worst thing to do is to do absolutely nothing and provide no remedy to the problem at hand. When you tell the customer that you’ll “take care of it right away” or “I’ll speak to my manager about this and get back to you later today”, it’s much better than providing no solution.

Thank you

Thank the customer for bringing this issue to your attention and taking the time out of their day to share their issues. After all, they were kind enough to bring something to your attention and not everyone does that. Depending on the problem, this exact issue could have affected other customers without your knowledge, so the customer’s initiative to contact you put a big problem on your radar.

You should also be thankful that they gave you a chance to fix the problem before they went on an online rampage, lowering your ratings and damaging your reputation. Be thankful that they gave you the opportunity to improve and develop solutions. Feedback is always necessary for any growing business, and that’s how you know where you need to improve. 

Overall, an unhappy customer can transition into a satisfied customer if you take proper care of the situation. You’ll want to make sure that you act with haste and listen to the problem to resolve it in a timely manner. You mustn’t focus on how the customer is making you feel. Instead, you must try to understand where the customer is coming from and why they are upset. Try your best to empathize or sympathize with the customer to understand how important this problem is to them. The H.E.A.R.T. method is a fantastic way to handle any customer, whether they’re upset or not. It will certainly lead your business to a more satisfied customer base when issues arise.

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