“Be thankful for customers who complain. You still have the opportunity to make them happy.” ~ Unknown

The customer is always right, right? That’s what we have continuously learned. Never argue with a customer. Do everything you can to make the customer happy. Don’t go to sleep angry at the customer. (Wait, sorry, got that mixed up with marriage and your spouse, but still good advice. Never let an upset customer make you lose any sleep.)

Here’s a novel concept. The customer is NOT always right. But it’s important to remember, the customer always thinks he or she is right. And it’s always important to remember, the customer is always the customer.

The goal of every customer service situation is to make the customer feel like a winner before walking out your door, ending a live chat or hanging up the phone. They need to feel that their complaint or concern was handled quickly and efficiently.

So what do you do when you have a screaming, unhappy, unwilling to listen, unreasonable person standing right in front of you, (or on the phone) causing a scene?

It’s a simple one-word answer…LAUGH. That’s right, LAUGH. Let me explain. When dealing with an irate customer, it’s important for the person dealing with that customer to remain calm and composed. Talking back or arguing will never help settle the matter, and could quite possibly make it worse. Keep your composure and your integrity and LAUGH.

The LAUGH acronym stands for:

      • LListen and empathize. Nothing is more important than to listen to what the customer is saying. Most of the time, the customer just wants to vent about their situation. On average, it takes about two minutes for a complaining customer to say what they want to say.  That’s it, just two minutes. So, for two minutes, let them talk. DO NOT interrupt, even if you know they are wrong, even if you know you have a solution to their problem. Interrupting will only make you look bad. The customer will feel you do not want to hear what they have to say. Listening is a skill; one of the most important you can master. (If possible, take the person to a private area, away from other customers.)


      • A Acknowledge the wrong and Apologize. Sometimes that’s all a customer wants to hear, that someone is sorry they are going through this situation. It can be a simple “I am so sorry you are going through this. I understand your frustration. Let me see what I can do to make it right.” It’s also important to make eye contact when apologizing. If you’re on the phone, put away distractions. Your tone and attitude comes through on the other end. Make sure the customer knows you are on their side.


      • U Understand and take ownership. This is not the time to make excuses or shift the blame. Make sure you completely understand the problem (ask questions if you don’t), and then work together to find a solution. Ask them what they feel is fair and realistic. Work to find a suitable solution. It might not be all they were hoping for, but they will know you were trying.


      • G Give. Fix the problem and do something extra. It’s the extra effort that will show the customer they can walk away a winner. The extra does not need to cost much money, or take a lot of time, but will leave the customer with a positive attitude about your business. Don’t forget to say “Thank you.”


      • H Hit home with a follow up and learn from the mistake. Follow up with a phone call, text or email. Or a hand written note or a discount on a future purchase. Let them know you are sorry for the situation, that you care about them as a person and customer, and will work hard to make sure it doesn’t repeat itself.

Following the LAUGH model will help take a bad situation and make it better.

Also remember to use the customer’s name when appropriate (everyone loves to hear their own name), and don’t take their situation personally. They didn’t come in to complain about you (hopefully), just their problem with your product or service. It is a great learning opportunity if you log the complaint and talk about the solution at your next staff meeting.

And when the customer is gone, and everyone is happy, go take a little time for yourself in the back and pour yourself a big drink. No, not alcoholic. Save that for after work. But do give yourself a little time to recover and get rid of any stress.

Please share some of your biggest customer complaints and how you handled it in the comments section below.

Paul Rutter is a customer loyalty, repeat business and customer service expert, a keynote speaker, corporate trainer and business author. He has had the unique opportunity to live with his customers and co-workers for months at a time traveling the world, and shares his experiences with land based businesses. For more information on More Than Perfect® Service, contact Paul at Paul@PaulRutterSpeaks.com, follow him on Twitter on @RealPaulRutter or visit him on Facebook/PaulRutterSpeaks.

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