4 Ways to Diffuse Customer Complaints

If you Google ‘Top Consumer Complaints’ you will get a range of answers. Many of the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Top 10’ lists have little overlap. They contain such things as poor customer service, pushy salespeople, delays in work completion, defective merchandise, hidden fees, unwanted emails, telemarketing, failure to deliver, unknowledgeable employees, unresolved issues, can’t get a human on the phone, can’t speak with a supervisor, and rudeness. Whew! Quite a list.

If you look through the list, and as your own experience may tell you, much of what customers complain about cannot be eliminated. Many of the complaints are a part of the human condition. For example, delays in work completion can happen for a variety of reasons and many are unforeseen. Similarly, unknowledgeable employees are often the result of being recently hired. To complicate this ‘human condition’ thing, in recent years, it seems, people have become more and more intolerant of perceived slights and they are often quick to voice their discontent.

Part of the problem is that the complaint often has more to do with the person complaining then what they are complaining about. A shocking revelation for you, no doubt, but what this means is that there is sometimes little you can do to rectify the situation because some people will, as the saying goes, “Complain if they were hung with a new rope.” However, there are some things you can do that will help disarm the moment. I encourage you to go beyond what you’ve done before and remember that all situations are transformable.

Four Ways to Get You Started

Be genuine

Avoid over-using the complainant’s name. Using it once or twice can personalize the situation, over-using it can sound patronizing or condescending. And if you are going to use their name, be sure you have it correct.


Let the customer voice their complaint and listen to them. Shut down the script running through your head and listen. This step is vital. I realize you have probably heard a sinceritymillion similar complaints but right now, in this moment, pretend you haven’t. Be attentive, compassionate, concerned, and genuine. People are skilled at picking out fakes, even if they don’t know it, and they will now if you are pretending to care.

Let Them Know They are Heard

Do this not by saying, “I understand that….” But rather, do it by clarifying. Something like, “So you are upset about/because _________________? I’m trying to make sure I’ve heard you correctly.” You don’t have to use my words, but something that conveys the same meaning. Sometimes simply repeating their complaint back to them is helpful because it can bring it into perspective.

Ask what Will Help

Depending on the level of anger/upset, if you jump too quickly to problem solving it can be counter-productive. Instead, try reframing. For example, if the complaint is that the service was not fast enough you could say, “You are unhappy about how long it took to have your meal served, but we would rather explain the wait than apologize for the quality of your meal.” (Yes, that is a take from the old Jimmy Dean commercials.)

The most important thing you can do when you have unhappy customers is to make them feel heard and make them feel that what they have to say is important to you. Again, be genuine here. If you are disinterested in your customers they will know. Keep in mind that your job is not to make them happy but to resolve the situation in a way that reinstates their faith in your company/organization.


Remember that this is a blog. It is quite brief and not intended to teach you everything you need to know about customer service, but to serve as a reminder or guide. If you would like to know more, contact me today and let’s talk!





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