The Anomaly – When Customers Have a Lot to Complain About

The majority of customer interactions fall into the same general categories.  The categories may differ depending on the industry, but anyone in direct communication with customers for an extended period of time will notice recurring themes in customer needs. We listen to the same basic complaints, we address the same essential problems, and we participate in the same basic conversations.  This consistency in customer interactions is truly a wonderful thing.  It allows us to anticipate the needs of our customers and develop processes around our customer service.  Without these processes, we would have no ability to empower our customer service representations to act on behalf of the customer.

Just like any data set, however, not all customer interactions fall nicely into established categories.  While we may spend the majority of our time addressing single issues as they arise, once in a while we encounter the customer on the extremes – the outlier – the anomaly.  This is the customer who has had the extreme bad fortune to experience a series of negative events that would normally occur on a singular basis to most customers.  Perhaps a package was deliver to the wrong address, with the wrong product, and that product was broken.  Perhaps a customer’s credit card was charged twice for an incorrect purchase twice in a row.  Maybe all of this happened to the same customer.

Whatever the specific circumstances, these customers are like a coin flip that lands on heads 100 times in a row; it’s bound to happen to someone eventually, but thankfully (or perhaps hopefully) not that often.  In these situations, it is certainly difficult to salvage the customer relationship – but not impossible.  Here are three tips to turn the situation around and help repair the relationship.


Be Honest

Fess up.  Acknowledging the depth of the screw-up on the part of your organization is crucial.  Do not hesitate to tell the customer the truth about the problems they are experiencing, specifically addressing how infrequently you encounter problems of the current quantity or magnitude.  If it is the worst failure story you’ve ever heard from a customer – let them know that.  If you fail to address the severity or quantity (or both) of the failures then it will appear to the customer as though that level of failure is a standard event at your organization.  Make sure they know exactly how bad it really is.

This can be handled in a tactful, or damaging way – so it is important to be cautious with phrasing.  Statements such as, “I’m sorry to hear that and I’d be glad to assist with that problem” may seem helpful, but fail to communicate to the customer that you grasp the scope of the problems at hand.  A better choice is to express genuine surprise at the size of the customers concerns without being dismissive.

Dedicate the Time

Plan a time to call the customer when you can be assured uninterrupted time for at least an hour.  If you are receiving an incoming call that seems to be beyond the limits of what may be reasonably addressed, make arrangements to call the customer at a later time.  During the call, do not initiate an end to the conversation if at all possible.  Customers often like to repeat their complaints or main points multiple times.  This is one way in which they feel heard.  It is far better that they vent to you than to their friends and family.

Have you ever told a story so many times that you grew tired of telling it?  That is the principal behind this suggestion.  By continually recognizing the immensity or the failures on the part of your organization, the customer will have multiple opportunities to respond – potentially provided ever-increasing depth to their concerns in the process.  Being actively angry for an extended period of time is physically tiring.  Allowing the customer to work out their anger with you as the recipient is optimal.  Over time, anger may subside and a more rational and less emotional conversation may be possible.

Focus on the Positive

With such an abundance of negative being discussed it can be difficult to find positive elements to the conversation.  Start by thanking the customer for being willing to discuss their problems.  Let the customer know that, while you were sorry that these problems were occurring for the customer, you are glad that you had the opportunity to help solve them.  Also, by hearing of these issues now other customers may be spared the same fate.  Request permission from the customer to use their story in future employee training.  There is always a positive to be found in the sea of negative, it just may take some searching to locate.


What tricks do you have for responding to customers who have a lot to complain about?  Please leave a comment below!

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About davidbernst

Hello! My name is David Ernst and you've reached my blog. I've spent my professional career as a teacher, customer service supervisor, and pediatric office manager.
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