Calming Complainers

Addressing complaints can show people that you’re human and give them a solution to their problems, but to make the most of the situation, it can help to know the type of complainer.


With today’s technology, complaining customers can broadcast their thoughts far and wide in real time. The upside of that is that once retailers know more about their customers’ concerns, they can address them and turn the experience around. Addressing complaints can show people that you’re human and give them a solution to their problems, but to make the most of the situation, it can help to know the type of complainer.

Serial Complainer
Serial complainers are always on the lookout for the next issue they plan to gripe about. They can often get angry and are hard to please.
WHAT TO DO: It’s unlikely that you can make a serial complainer happy. These can be the hardest type of complainer to deal with and are often more interested in showing you how upset they are versus finding a solution. Your best bet is to stay calm and try to move the complainer along quickly. Offering a quick fix and sending him on his way may pacify him and free up staff time so they can quit dealing with him. If the customer made a scene in front of others, take heart. People know there are serial complainers out there. You will have earned points for maintaining your composure and trying your best.

Best Customer Turned Complainer
If one of your top customers brings you a complaint, address it immediately. When those who usually offer compliments bring a negative experience to your attention, something clearly happened to upset them. Loyal customers are the backbone of any business and they deserve your quick attention.
WHAT TO DO: The good news is that loyal customers who have an isolated negative experience at your location are likely to offer constructive com- plaints. They can typically explain the situation in a calm manner and help the business understand their concerns. Listen to what they have to say and then work together to find an appropriate solution. When handled properly, customer complaints can increase customer loyalty.

Long-Time Customer, First-Time Complainer
Much like your best customers, when loyal customers bring it to your attention, address the issue quickly. Long-time customers who have had good experiences in the past will likely only complain if something truly has gone wrong.
WHAT TO DO: Start by apologizing for their trouble and asking for more information. It shows you care and allows you to start solving the problem. It also shows others you take complaints seriously.

Social Media Complainer
Social media complainers take to the web to air their grievances. Facebook, Twitter, Yelp and dozens of other social media sites allow customers to broadcast their complaints complete with photos and videos.
WHAT TO DO: Social media is all about conversation, so responding and responding quickly is paramount. Even if you don’t have a solution ready, simply respond and let the complainer know you’ve heard his concern and are working on a solution. Sometimes you can move a discussion away from public view with a direct message via Facebook, a phone call or an email. Even if you do, post some type of follow up on the public complaint so others know you’re taking care of the issue.

For Calming Customers
Rebecca Morgan, author of Calming Upset Customers, knows dealing with upset or angry customers raises the stress level of business owners and their staff. She shared the following tips to help calm customers and turn the situation around:

  • Remove the upset customer from the main customer area, if possible. She rants and raves to get attention and knows that many people will give her what she wants to shut her up quickly.
  • Listen fully and don’t interrupt. If you do, it will escalate the customer’s anger. Take notes and look up often to maintain eye contact. Assume body language that shows you’re interested and concerned.
  • Don’t take upset customers’ rantings and ravings personally. Don’t get emotionally hooked. When you let him or her push your buttons, you lose. When you respond emotionally with anger, sarcasm, tears, you can’t respond rationally. He wants to upset you because he thinks you’ll give him what he wants to get rid of him.
  • Make it a game or challenge to see how many upset customers you can turnaround.
  • Look for the gifts upset customers offer you. These gifts are what they can teach you about dealing with ugly human behavior. The better you deal with them, the fewer upset people you’ll have in your life. They’ll see through your body language and composure that you are confident you can find a solution without getting rattled.
  • Understand that obnoxious customers are often embarrassed because they made a mistake and want to blame it on you.
  • Respond by being reasonable, firm, pleasant, mature and professional to show them that you’re going to do what you think is right no matter how obnoxious they get. They think that being rude is the only way to get action.
  • Don’t give away the store to shut her up. That rewards her behavior and teaches her and others that acting belligerently is the way to get what she wants.
  • Use the “broken record” technique, firmly, yet politely, repeating what you can do for him.
  • An important concept to remember is that you won’t please all people. You should do the best you can, but there are some customers your organization can do better without. It is management’s responsibility to determine if this customer is one that should be encouraged to utilize someone else’s services.
WebOnlyFeatureIcon.png Stop Watch covered how to address negative comments online earlier this year.



This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazineStop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.

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