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  Special Feature

Turn Angry Customers
into Loyal Customers

Posted 1/1/2010
By Jason Wells

Welcome to a new interactive format brought to you by AUTOINC. Rather than just read about best practices, you can hear it yourself. You will be able to listen to examples of good calls and examples of bad calls – all from the online version of AUTOINC. Special thanks to ContactPoint for providing this audio capability to AUTOINC.

Have you ever experienced any of these scenarios? "You're the fifth person I have talked to about this issue and no one is helping me!" "You said I would be in and out within an hour. It has been three hours, and I am late for my appointment!"

"Your ad said I could get $50 off, but now you are adding extra costs. That's dishonest, and you're wasting my time!"

Front-line employees may hear these statements, or some variation of them, from time to time. In extreme situations, customers may even become vulgar and demeaning.

What can you do?

What is your goal when this happens?

What is the best way to satisfy the customer and repair the situation?

Your ultimate goal is to provide great service that retains and attracts customers. If the dilemma is resolved professionally and competently, the problem actually becomes a positive interaction. In fact, when customers' criticisms are heard and promptly resolved, you will create a happier, more loyal customer.

Work with Customers, Not Against Them

Online Extras

Listen, Question and Resolve

Use of Negative Words/Phrases

Late Fee Waved

Working With Customer

Working Against Customer

We Don't Make That

The first step to conquering customer complaints is to create an environment that will allow you to work through the problem with the customer, not against the customer. This is extremely important.

When customers complain, the natural reaction is to match their attitude or defend our position. The most important skill we can learn is to disconnect from the attack, criticism, dissatisfaction or anger. It is critical to remember that a complaining customer is a customer who wants to be impressed. Customers will stay with you longer when problems are solved. Loyalty comes when you prove your commitment to customer satisfaction even when things go bad. The reverse is also true. If we don't effectively address the problem and we don't show sincere empathy to the customer when things go wrong, we will lose that customer forever.

The biggest mistake we make is defending our position. Don't defend your position! This approach will not solve the problem.

Another common mistake is to assume the customer is taking advantage of you or the company. When we think this, we unconsciously treat the customer as if they have done something wrong. This alone will ruin any chance of creating a positive outcome.

Ask Questions and Listen

The best way to avoid defending yourself is to follow step two, which is ask questions. Repeat back what the customer says, keep breathing, keep calm and acknowledge the issues. Use such statements as, "Sure, I see what you're saying," or "I understand." When the opportunity presents itself, make sure the customer hears you say, "I can see how difficult this is for you," or "I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes."


There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is sharing and understanding another person's emotions and feelings. It basically involves "putting yourself in someone else's shoes."

Comments such as, "I understand how you feel," are extremely powerful. Customers want and need service reps to identify with their position. You don't have to apologize; just offer understanding. If you have indeed been wrong, make every effort to let the customer know you are sorry and also take accountability for the situation. If you did nothing wrong, it is wise to still take full responsibility; however, you do not need to apologize or to assume guilt for the situation.

There is power in empathy. Put yourself in the customer's shoes and ask yourself how you would like to be dealt with if you were in their situation. Empathy allows you to relate to them, deal with them - not against them - to solve the problem. This is the first step to disarm their anger.

Avoid These Words and Phrases

Appropriate verbal communication is one of the most important elements in solving complaints. Even if you have empathized, you may not diffuse the situation because of the words you choose.

Never use phrases like, "It's our policy," "I can't," "I'm not allowed," or "But...," such as, "That's true, but..." Working with difficult customers is usually more about what you don't say than what you do say. It may be your policy, but when the customer hears this, they perceive that you won't help them. You may not be allowed or able to do what they want, but when you say, "I'm not allowed," you are essentially saying I won't help you. Instead, tell customers what you can do and avoid saying things you can't do. For instance, you will get much further in solving complaints if you say, "What I can do for you is..." or "here are some options available..." or "Let's see what we can do to make this work for you."

Stay Positive

Keep a positive and helpful attitude throughout the entire discussion. An optimistic approach will pacify much of the anger and will help you feel much better in the process.

These steps can transform the outcome next time you encounter a difficult customer. Remember these customers are the exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, most employees will remember the last worst customer experience they had even after hundreds of moderate to great experiences.

Remember to listen, acknowledge the details the customer explains, restate what you hear, show empathy, provide options and stay positive! When you resolve an angry customer's concern, you build loyalty that lasts for years.

Jason Wells is the CEO of ContactPoint. Founded in 2001, ContactPoint provides sales and service training approved for credit by the Automotive Management Institute (AMI). ContactPoint's Mentor system provides training, call recording, call scoring, coaching and analytics designed to increase sales-close ratios. For more information on ContactPoint, visit


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