The art of dealing with an unhappy customer

It takes finesse to be a true Customer Service Agent. More and more, people want instant gratification, this spreads to the world of service as well. Whether it’s purchasing a car, insurance, or shopping online, people want to feel like they matter.  Before we dig into handling an unhappy customer, let’s look at some research.

Bain & Co. reports that a 10% increase in customer retention results in a 30% increase in company value. This research suggests that while acquiring new customers is essential to growth, it is more advantageous to your company’s bottom line to work on retaining the clients you already have.

The White House Office of Consumer Affairs reports that it is 6 to 7 times more costly to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing customer. Another affirmation, that retaining customers is key to your success.

The art of retaining customers involves many different tactics.

There are a lot of approaches to customer retention


You’ve heard the expression “Go the extra mile”.  One of the most important skills in providing excellent customer service is being able to turn an unhappy or upset client into a fan.  There are many ways to do this, and over the years of my work in customer service, I’ve found the best way, that works 99% of the time.  You see, there are those that refuse to be appeased, maybe they’ve had a bad day, a bad week, or a bad life- the point is- you can never please everyone.  99% is a good percentage!

The number one thing to remember when you’re on the receiving end of an unhappy customer is to LISTEN.

Listening is the most important part of customer retention

It’s human nature to seek being heard, by someone, anyone. This is what the unhappy customer is truly asking for- to be heard. When I handle an unhappy customer, the first thing I do is truly listen. I do not sit there and think of my grocery list for later, I do not focus on my response before they’re finished. I truly listen, so, that when I do respond, it’s intelligent and specific to their complaint.

Usually the complaint is that something didn’t happen at all, or the way it was supposed to.

When the customer is finished telling you why they are upset, the second most important thing is to express understanding and empathy. Don’t confuse sympathy with empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of another.  Try putting yourself in their shoes at this point, and maybe think back to a time you were frustrated with a service, that may help.

Empathy statements are statements such as: “That would frustrate me too”. That statement conveys that you would also feel the same in their shoes, it’s validating the way they feel! Humans seek validation. Understanding statements are statements such as: “I’m very sorry to hear that you experienced (INSERT THEIR COMPLAINT HERE).” These types of statements show the customer that you truly listened to them, and you understand their complaint.  You show them you understand their complaint, because you’ve repeated it back to them, verbatim.

You listened, you care, you understand.

When you are through this part of the conversation, the next step is to assure the customer you will take care of it. This does not mean instant solution! In some cases, it may be an easy fix, that you can perform over the phone or while they are standing there. A lot of times, you may need to research, speak with other team members, escalate to management, etc. depending on the issue.

The most important part of this stage of handling an unhappy customer is to set realistic and truthful expectations.

Set realistic expectations or you'll make your customer unhappy

You may just want to say anything to appease them and move on with your day, please refrain. This is another area you can set yourself apart as an excellent Customer Service Rep. Again, repeat to the customer in their own words, the issue they are bringing for resolution, explain the process you will go through to find resolution for them, and make sure you set a specific time to follow up with them, whether you have resolved the issue by that time or not, just so they feel important, and understand they are a priority to you.

Solving customer issues is very simple psychology.

  • People want to be heard, so, listen.
  • People want to be taken care of, so, take care of them.
  • People want to know what’s being done to help take care of their issue and them, so, let them know what you and your team are doing to solve their issue and make them a priority.

This is how you turn raving mad into raving fan! Go make someone’s day!

Sarah Green is the Client Success Manager for Agency Revolution. She has worked at Agency Revolution for nearly 8 years. Sarah works with our clients to help them see their business from the top and create a solid path and plan for their agency or brokerage.

One More Thing! What do you think? How will you and your peers use this to grow your agency or brokerage? Share your thoughts in the comment section below, subscribe to get updates delivered to you and *please share this if you found it informative.

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