Four Steps When Handling the Angry Customer

I stepped into the local BBQ joint to witness an angry customer in the lobby yelling at the owner that she hadn't received enough fries the night before. (Like, god forbid, Americans need more fries.)

I watched the owner do everyone right. She heard the woman out. Apologized that the serving had been too small, and then the owner solved the problem. She told the french fry fanatic that the next time she was in, if she felt the serving was too small, to just let the staff know and they would bring out more.

You would think this would be the end of it, but the woman just wouldn't let it go. "That's not the point! Your servings are too small!"

At this point everyone in the restaurant decided that woman might love french fries just a little too much. And our hearts went out to the poor owner. Customer service is tough.

Four Steps to Handling the Angry Customer

Sometimes you get a customer that's mad. Not kind of upset or disappointed--down right angry. And whether you had anything to do with it, you have to deal with the person.

Here are four simple steps next time you're faced with an angry customer:

1. Listen. Hear them out and really try to understand their problem. Just letting someone vent not only helps, but also gives you time to think of a solution.

2. Apologize.  This can be hard, especially if you've done nothing wrong and they're hostile. But it's not about taking blame. You're apologizing for the fact that they had to experience this problem.

3. Solve. Present a solution. Or get them working with you. "Tell me what I can do to make this right," can go a long ways.

4. Thank. Thank them for bringing this problem to your attention, or to be able to better serve them.

These steps are more thoroughly covered in a humorous DVD, The Difficult Guest. It's worth the watch if you haven't seen it.

Back at the BBQ

A week later, I was back in the BBQ and asked one of the wait staff how the french fry issue was finally resolved.

The waitress sighed. "Oh her. She lives behind the restaurant and kept making a scene. Now someone takes fries out to her every day to keep her from coming in."

Hmm. They did solve the problem, but I'm not sure whether that was good customer service or being held hostage. 

Diane Mettler has been a manager for nearly 20 years. She's also a freelance writer and editor—with hundreds of her articles published in a variety of magazines—and teaches writing at the University of Washington.