Customer Experience

The 5 Best Ways to Deal with an Upset Customer - By Steve DiGioia

Regardless of your business there will be the inevitable situation where a customer is dissatisfied with your product or service. It is something we never want to deal with but know we must.

HTrends Regardless of your business there will be the inevitable situation where a customer is dissatisfied with your product or service.  It is something we never want to deal with but know we must.  “There is a lady out front that is unhappy with her _____________” is a phrase that no manager wants to hear from their employee but it does happen.  So as any good manager we rush out to greet the upset guest and find out what is the problem.

But do you know the simplest and most effective way to address the situation?  Are you prepared on the spot to make the situation “right” for the customer?  Are you able to alleviate all their fears and concerns and to do so quickly? 

Here are the 5 key steps needed to make this happen:

Learn The Facts From All Parties Involved

Before we can make a decision as to what steps are needed in order to resolve the issue, we must seek out all the facts of the case.  In an impartial way, speak with the customer to determine what happened and their impressions of why they believe they were wronged.  Then do the same with your employee(s).  Find out what steps may not have been taken behind the scenes that would have resulted in the customers’ dissatisfaction.

Were all standard procedures followed; are these procedures even appropriate, or must they be adjusted, in order for this situation to not happen again?

Know Your Abilities and Limitations in the Steps Available That You Can Take to Fix the Issue

You need to enter the conversation knowing what you can do right now to fix almost any issue.  If you don’t then you will look ineffective and low-ranking in the eyes of the customer.  They want to deal with someone that can make things right for them.

There must be a system in place for a company’s hourly employees, as well as mid-level managers, to be empowered to quickly offer a refund, an upgrade, to “WOW” the customer by going above and beyond, or to take any other appropriate resolution without needing to first get approval from a senior manager.  This only delays the process and may make the customer feel as if they are being shuffled from employee to employee just to fix what they may believe is a small and easily addressed problem.

Inform the Customer That YOU Are the Person That Will Assist Them

Do not hand-off the customer to others, take care of it yourself.  Walk the customer through all the steps needed to resolve the issue.  Peace of mind comes easy to a customer when they know that the person to whom they addressed their concern will see the resolution to the end.

But this may not always be possible so this is where the next step comes in.

Get Direct Assistance From Others in Your Organization; If You Are Not Able to Resolve the Issue Yourself

There may be times when a resolution cannot be achieved at the moment the issue is brought to your attention by the customer.  Computer systems may “be down” so a refund cannot be given.  Another branch office or location may be closed so you are not able to contact the person(s) able to fix the issue.  But most times this will not be the case.

There will usually be someone else that is reachable and in a position to make the final decision regarding the customer, if you can’t.  Explain your situation, and that you are with the customer, either in person or by telephone, and that you need assistance.  This person may be able to give you the final authorization or recommendation to take care of the customer’s needs.

The ultimate goal is to quickly resolve the issue at the moment it happens.

Follow-up With the customer (After Action Contact)

As part of the initial conversation with the customer you should be able to get their name, phone number, email address, etc. or will be able to do so later on in the resolution process.  This gives you the information needed to finally put the issue at rest.

Once the issue is satisfactorily resolved, personally contact the customer again for an after action report.  Depending of the method used the length of time between resolution and contact will vary to take into account different scenarios:

  • A refund check was mailed
  • A new food item cooked and presented
  • A room upgrade was given
Each of these has a different length of time needed between resolution and follow-up.

Contact the customer.  Confirm that the issue has been resolved to their satisfaction, or preferably above their expectations.  Let the customer know that you value their business and look forward to seeing them again in the future.

One method I like to use is to tell the customer that next time they planned to visit our business, call ahead and I will personally make arrangements to book their reservation, take care of them at the check-out counter or personally make any other preparations for them. Then when they arrive, finish off the experience with a “gift” of some kind.

This has been the best way I found to turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal repeat customer.  And one that is appreciative of your efforts and actions.

About the Author

A 25+ year industry veteran, and known as “the ops guy” during his tenure at Hilton Hotels, Steve DiGioia has redefined the operational and service standards for multiple food and beverage departments for some of the best names in the industry. 

His book “Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift…Even If You’re a Bad Waiter” is an easy to follow training method that can be used across all industries, resulting in better customer retention and repeat business for your company.  Steve also writes a blog focusing on Customer Service Stories and training tactics.

Remember: Only by making your guests feel special, feel as if THEIR enjoyment is YOUR primary concern, will you create the "WOW" experience we all hope for. All else is not important.



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