How To Handle Unhappy Customers

Published by Mike Michalowicz (Google+)

It sucks to receive complaints. I mean, it is a blow to the ego for sure.  But there is a silver lining (or perhaps its platinum)… a complaining customer is an opportunity to improve your service not only for them, but for all future customers.  And, if you do it right, you can turn that unhappy customer into your biggest, most vocal fan. Here are 55 tips, donated by TPErs, on exactly how to turn that raging customer into a raving fan:

1. What Will Make You Smile?

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Be sincere and look the customer in the eye and asked what can we do to make you smile today?

Thanks To: Derrick Hayes of WOE Enterprises

2. The Power Of The Stomach

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: When I find out that a customer is unhappy or unsatisfied with a service my company has performed, I will usually send them a gift certificate to a nice restaurant in town. People have a hard time staying mad at you if you are willing to feed them, and it gives you the opportunity to engage them on a more personal level and find out exactly how you can remedy the issue.

Thanks To: Shawn Van Dyke of REDBUD Construction Services, LLC

3. Turn Complaints Into Publicity

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: When you get a customer complaint, FIX the problem and then publicize, publicize, publicize. Post the customer’s complaint, HOW you fixed it and the customer’s response on your website’s customer service page as a testament to how responsive you are to your customer’s concerns.

Thanks To: Heather Allard of The Mogul Mom

4. Reassurance And Promptness

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Always be prompt in responding to complaints. The customer will feel they are heard. Also reassure them that their happiness with your product is your biggest concern. The customer is always right even when they aren’t ;)

Thanks To: Keonna Montague of T.A.K.E. LLP

5. Offer An Immediate Discount

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Sounds simple right? If your customer is already returning…with a complaint, offer them a small discount immediately. They know you value them, are listening to them and they are saving money right then and there. They never stray.

Thanks To: Becky Tures of Celebrity Skin Couture Air Tan

6. Free Premiums = Upsell Opportunities

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Offer a premium service for free or at a great discount. The performance of this service will upsell the customer for future business. It will also be a good show of integrity and credibility on the part of the business owner.

Thanks To: Stephanie Treasure of Jamaica Real Estate Guide

7. Are You Listening To Me?

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Disgruntled customers need to know they are heard, and I make sure I give them a summary of their complaints for two reasons:

1.)I need clarity so I can easily find a solution.
2.)They need to know I understand their problem.

I must show attentiveness, empathy, and solutions!

Thanks To: Sparkly D of Got A Hero?

8. Under Promise & Over Deliver

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: This works great for ANY customer, but particularly for those who are “struggling.” Whatever the problem is, I make it my business to “under promise & over deliver” extreme value to that customer. Even if I know I can solve the problem at a level 10, I promise to fix it at around a level 5; then deliver “The 10″. At the end of the day, they may share the “problem”, but will broadcast the “level 10″ solution and how TCE gave them more bang for the buck.

Thanks To: Francina Harrison of

9. Be Their Advocate

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: First, take action and solve the problem. Be their advocate and get to the bottom of it. Second, give them something free,…discount, food, t-shirt. Third ASK their opinion and LISTEN!

Thanks To: Tom Furman of

10. It’s All About Response Time

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: When we receive a complaint, question, or comment we do our absolute best to get back to our members. If your response time is immediate your member/client/customer will be extremely happy to have heard from you, no matter what the situation is. A short response time shows that you care!

Thanks To: Justin Obey of Social Boston Sports

11. Common Sense

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Eliminate any redundancies or policies that don’t make common sense especially in the service you provide.

Thanks To: Justin Callaway of Magnate Magazine

12. Hit Problems Fast

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Call the client as soon as you hear about it (I have a web business). Act quickly as problem requires: contact shipping provider; offer to replace or repair something that is not in perfect shape; follow up by phone or email later to see that the client is now satisfied.

Thanks To: Reena Kazmann of

13. Blow ‘Em Away

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Really listen to the customer and find out what went wrong-get as many details as possible. Find the people in your organization (who have the authority and can deliver) that can go above & beyond to blow this customer’s expectations away.Be unique-don’t just fix/replace a product (your competitor can do that too). It costs far less to keep an existing customer than to gain a new one!!

Thanks To: Randi-Sue Deckard of Designing-Diva Studios

14. Surpass Their Original Expectations

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Apologize for screwing up, tell them to give you one more chance, and then work day and night to make sure that you deliver what you originally promised, and then some, at no extra charge.

Thanks To: Libby Wemhoff of mCB Publishing, Ltd.

15. Give them “Plus-One”

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: If I have an unhappy customer, I listen to their complaint, apologize for the inconvenience, and give them a total refund and a coupon for a discount on their next purchase of services. It’s the “plus-one” attitude that does the trick. Give them more than what they originally requested. Most of the time they come back and it’s an opportunity to win them over by showing them you care about their business.

Thanks To: Suzanne Shaffer of Liberty Design Services

16. Full Disclosure

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Most people with complaints just want to be heard. A lot of people may shy away from an angry voice mail or e-mail, but response time is very important (so respond RIGHT AWAY!). Also, if it is your fault, ADMIT IT! A quick and honest response will set you up to build long standing relationships with your customers…

Thanks To: Matt Seliga of Seliga Promotions

17. Please Listen, I Practiced

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: When processing a customer complaint many CSR try to justify or talk about policies prior to listening to a customers problem. Listen first then ask questions. The customer practiced what to say all the way to the store (or the phone). It is easy to help them with what they really wanted, after you listen.

Thanks To: Stephen Bell of The Networking Masters

18. Say You’re Sorry – First!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Simply start by apologizing, and be sincere about it (customers can smell a faker!).

You can’t be prideful about this – apologize for the trouble that the problem has caused them, and if it was your fault SAY SO!

Get your apology in very early in the discussion, and it will soothe ruffled feathers straight away.

Your customer has probably riled themselves up over a period of time to get to the point where they are ready to complain, but you can take the wind out of their sails by an immediate and sincere apology.

Thanks To: Tamsin Fox-Davies of Enthuse Marketing

19. Your Service Recovery Tool Kit

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Have a service recovery tool kit at hand. Fill it with gift cards, gifts, and coupons that all employees are empowered to use at their digression, but only after an apology. Say something like, “You came all the way down here for your appointment and our technician left sick. I am so sorry. This is not the way things are usually done here. Please accept this $25 gas card as a sign of our apology.”

Thanks To: Marilyn Suttle of Suttle Enterprises, LLC

20. Love Them Enough To Let Them Go

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Quit pushing when you’ve ripped a customer relationship. By respecting their choice to disengage, you can actually preserve your reputation. One past client, whom I continued to recommend even though we had “broken up”, speaks highly of me to others. He told me it was because I apologized, made amends, and let him go without too much drama or hassle – “no harm, no foul.” I lost his business, but since then he’s referred me 4 clients.

Thanks To: Vicki Flaugher of SmartWoman Publishing

21. Kill With Kindness

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: I always compliment complaining customers to death while they are yelling at me – what a great shirt, great smile, great business. Your employees love you – you must be doing something right. It’s hard to keep yelling at someone when they are being so nice. Then I can begin to address the problem.

Thanks To: Kate Thompson of Thompson Consulting Company

22. Two Magical Words: Thank you!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: My mama always told me to be gracious, no matter the situation. So if confronted with a disgruntled person, I say “thank you.” Bottom line: the customer wants to know that their complaint isn’t taken in vain. So feedback, good or bad deserves these two magical words, because if they took the time to contact me, minimally, they deserve a thank you!

Thanks To: Aimee LaLiberte of Style for Grace

23. Customer Turned Spokesperson

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Sometimes customers have every right to feel disgruntled, and its our job to genuinely thank them for the input that will save us from having more dissatisfied customers down the road. Use this opportunity to develop a lasting relationship by listening and responding to the customer’s concern. After correcting the problem, go above and beyond the customer’s expectations by offering a fantastic (and unexpected) product or service free of charge, then follow up to insure satisfaction. This once disgruntled customer will now be more effective at promoting your company than any paid advertisement could ever be!

Thanks To: Amber Dennett of Divas Doing Business

24. Bad Rep!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Your reputation is on the line with every client, every sale, so whatever it takes, make it right. Your client will remember your company and talk about your great customer service to his clients, family, friends, etc.

Thanks To: Tina Wick of Greenpurse

25. Pop’em In The Puss…

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: The key to going from zero to hero in your customer’s mind is to first apologize for whatever upset them and then prove you really mean it with something that stands out and is memorable. A six pack of Jones Soda with a photo or cartoon drawing of your customer on the label smacks them right in the face and leaves a lasting impression. You can customize yours at for under 20 bucks.

Thanks To: Jimmy Vee & Travis Miller of Gravitational Marketing

26. What’s The Problem?

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Usually, a customer is unhappy because their needs are not being met. Get past the complaining and find out what is at the root of the problem. Then, solve it. The customer will be your best friend!

Thanks To: Karen Berg of Karmel Publishing LLC

27. Kill ‘Em With Quickness!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Responding to complaints is usually the last thing anyone wants to do but assigning someone with a friendly customer service attitude to make this their first priority will win guests’ hearts and loyalty. Respond within a few hours; positivity and promptness usually gives guests quite a shock, as most don’t ever expect to hear back from a live person – the first step in exceeding their expectations!

Thanks To: Jennifer Steinhart of Glen Ivy Hot Springs Spa

28. Breakages Became Grand Prize!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: A customer complained about box of shortbreads being broken. There was a problem with the master carton, so I told the customer that I was so sorry and that there was a rogue, damaged carton floating around the U.S. I then explain that by finding it and reporting it she was a “Golden Ticket Holder!” I treated here with a brand new case (not just a box) of shortbread… and she became a raving fan!

Thanks To: Rachel Gaffney of Rachel Gaffney’s Authentic Irish Goods

29. Listen, Listen & Listen More

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: One word: LISTEN! If you take the time to truly listen to what your disgruntled customer has to say it opens up opportunity on many levels. Listening is a skill that can be learned and is much more difficult than it sounds. Only by listening attentively can you really uncover what is upsetting your customer. Are they having a problem with the product, packaging, service, etc? Don’t talk over or at the customer, let them talk at their own pace and “mirror” back to them what they have said. When a customer truly feels heard you have gone a long way toward reestablishing good will.

Thanks To: Andrew Esserman of Coffee Bean Direct

30. The Patient Teacher

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: The best way to turning a disgruntled customer into your biggest fan is to become the patient teacher. After listening to the customers feedback, take time to educate them on your products and services and how they can benefit from them. A little patience can go along way.

Thanks To: LaNorma Huggins-Hopes of Signature Designs by LaNorma

31. Wait For Them To Breathe

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: A lot of the people who complain are as interested in you listening and caring about their issue as the actual solution. A simple question can let them vent and explain their perception of the complaint, “can you please tell me about the problem, and start at the beginning?” It is now time to shut our mouths and let our valuable customer tell us every detail about their problem and after some time they will begin to slow down and then take a deep breath… It is now we jump into action and ask the question that will make that person a customer for life…”what can I do to make it right?”

Thanks To: MB Linder of Forefront Media Labs

32. Be The Aspirin

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Identify your customer’s pain (what is causing them to be disgruntled) and solve it quickly. Be the aspirin that cures their complaint and do it in calmly and in a friendly manner, and you will turn them into your biggest fans.

Thanks To: John Exley of GE Transportation

33. Do Something Way Outside The Box

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Offer to build a free, simple website for the disgruntled customer. My client was disappointed with the results of a power sweeping job so I offered to build the customer a website for free. Using a free template and web programming skills I learned for free from a local community college, I built the website in a day using Dreamweaver then charged the client for hosting. The client is thrilled that they got a website for free, I won back their loyalty in my main company, and I continue to make an extra monthly stream of income for web hosting that requires no extra effort on my part.

Thanks To: Deborah Bravandt of Alpha & Omega Group

34. The Art of the Apology

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Listen to their entire angry tale. Then say,”I’m sorry you are so disappointed. What can I do to make you happy?” That’s usually all it takes.

Thanks To: Alisa Bowman of Bauman Ink, Ltd

35. Thank Those Who Say You Suck

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: When I wrote an article about the music scene in a city on the other side of the world, I got an email telling me how wrong I got it and how much the article sucked. I contacted the young woman who complained and she is now one of our contributors – and she helped put a whole team together for us overseas as well. Those who care enough to write and tell you something about your business sucks are doing you a huge favor, and if you put your ego aside, it can turn into a great opportunity.

Thanks To: Chris Stevenson of SoundProof Magazine

36. Listen Up! Really!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Really listen to your customer’s complaint! Repeat their issues/concerns back to them to let them know you actually heard what was said. When upset about something, most people want their complaint to be heard and acknowledged. This often calms them down enough to allow you to move on to finding a solution everyone can agree on.

Thanks To: Gladys Strickland of GS Business Resources

37. Stop Complaints Before They Happen

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Your repeat customers may want the same product over and over again. But what if it is out of stock? Instead of putting them on back-order (and initiating a potential complaint), replace the product with a BETTER and MORE EXPENSIVE product with an explanation for the swap. You’ll get love, not complaints.

Thanks To: Lyn Hoyt of Berkeley Tandem, Inc

38. Follow Up

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Listen to them! Be sympathetic and when they are done “venting” ask what you can do to make things right. Go above and beyond their expectations, but only if they have a valid complaint. Send a written note to show you care after all is said and done.

Thanks To: Jocelyn Wiebe of Affordable Health Care

39. Listen & Compromise

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: LISTEN and have the ability to compromise with them to THEIR satisfaction!
Validate how important their problem is/was and how I can turn it around & retain their loyalty. Ultimately, DONT ignore their concern, Find a way to make them happy!

Thanks To: Jonathan Wilner of A. Harrington Limousine Service

40. Never Ever Get Defensive

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: You will never end up with a happy customer if you get defensive. One rule that we have is to never explain, if you find yourself explaining or sending a long email, then you are being defensive. When someone is upset they want to be heard and they want attention, the best thing you can do is listen, quickly respond, apologize that they are upset and offer a solution. This almost always turns them around.

Thanks To: Beth Schoenfeldt of Collective-E

41. Take Full Responsibility

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Take responsibility. Never make excuses or pass the buck or throw someone under the bus. Listen to the complaint, then do more than the customer asked for.

Thanks To: Brian Rouff of Imagine Marketing

42. Two Ears – One Mouth Ratio For Customer Service

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: We have two ears and one mouth for a reason, and this could not apply more than dealing with an upset customer. Listen twice as much as you speak. To turn a disgruntled customer into a raving fan, I listen carefully, twice as much as I speak, to ensure I completely understand the core issue. When I speak, I reiterate what they’ve said, and I promise to fix it. At the end of the call, the customer will feel valued and heard. Provided you keep your promise to fix the problem! Look as disgruntled customers as teachers for your business….

Thanks To: Kelly Buckley of The WordSlingers

43. Listen, Ask, Share, Agree & Ask Again

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: 1. Listen to the customer. Demonstrate listening by rephrasing.

2. Ask the customer what they want.

3. Share limitations and ask for additional alternatives.

4. Agree on a resolution.

5. Ask the customer what they did like.

Thanks To: Cathy Liska of Effect Services

44. Respond Where Users Complain

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Use We all receive the email alerts of questions and complaints posted, which makes it easy for the person with the best insight into the issue to answer it.

The results are responses like this: “In less than 24 hours from posting my problem with your theme, you and your company have not only corrected the problem, but have set the “customer service” bar a little higher for everyone else doing business on the internet.”

Thanks To: Kevin Dwinnell of Brand Thunder

45. Fess up. Fix it. Free.

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Always accept full responsibility – no quibbling: better to lose a couple of $$ than try to deal with an outraged customer who knows how to tweet, etc. Always pay for shipping. Always offer something of tangible value to the customer – and not just something that requires them to spend more money with you.

Thanks To: Clay Gordon of pureorigin

46. Lagniappe Leaves ‘Em Loyal

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: In dealing with a customer complaint, you can convert anger and angst to loyalty by tossing in a “lagniappe” (an unexpected gift). After straightening out the mix-up, you will have resolved the issue. But will you have converted the complainant into a life-long customer? Chances are greater than you will if you offer a small gift to thank the disgruntled individual for giving you the opportunity to make your company/store/services even better. It could be a coupon, a free product, or even the request to quote the customer on your company website.

Thanks To: Marlene Caroselli of Center for Professional Development

47. Make It Easy To Voice Concerns

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: It is essential that customers who are dissatisfied tell YOU first – before going on Twitter, Facebook etc. and bashing your company. A good example of this is Sonic who has a great customer line and connects it directly to the locations so that the manager there can respond and does so VERY quickly in my experience.

Thanks To: James Hills of mhn PR & Internet Marketing

48. Ask The Customer For The Desired Resolution

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Ask the customer how they would like to see the problem resolved and come as close as possible to fulfilling that request. Even if you take a loss on the job, keeping the customer long-term should offset the loss, not to mention the referrals that come from turning around a bad situation. People love to talk about problems they encounter and rarely have the chance to conclude with how amazing the customer service was with the company about which they were complaining. Be that company!

Thanks To: Patricia Fragen of Strategic Office Solutions

49. Empower Your Employees (For Real)

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Empower your front-line employees to resolve the problem immediately after asking the question, “What can I do to make this right for you?” Customers usually ask for less than you are inclined to offer. Employees who deal with customers should be able to learn to exercise good judgment in handling these situations. The immediate resolution of a problem by an attentive employee will garner significant, long-term goodwill.

Thanks To: Ann Latham of Uncommon Clarity, Inc.

50. Morph Ragers Into Ravers

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: 1. Thank the customer for apprising you of their experience and feelings. State that you always want to know when there is dissatisfaction because you are committed to excellence and to improving your services.

2. Apologize for their negative feelings and experience. Validating this allows them to feel heard and understood and feel “right.”

3. Ask them what they need to make this right. They may want you to provide the service/product again at no charge, or they may want their money back, or some other alternative. Honor that.

4. Thank them again for alerting you to this situation for giving you the opporutnity to improve and/or learn a lesson.

Thanks To: Nancy Irwin of Dr. Nancy B. Irwin

51. KeepThe Info Flowing

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Sometimes clients misinterpret (willingly or otherwise) their own resistance as dissatisfaction. I find that if you keep the relationship going by continually sending them information and guidance they can utilize where appropriate and when you come across it, you can easily turn a resistant client into a pleased-as-punch client. They will be thankful that you haven’t forgotten them and that dissatisfied or not, your main goal is to help them achieve their dreams, hopes & plans.

Thanks To: Susan M. Baker of Escape Hatcher

52. Use The No Fail Questions

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Always ask a question that starts with “how” or “what” and contains the word “I” or “we”. It’s based on John G. Miller’s personal accountability or responsibility mantra. The question becomes, for example, “How can I solve this problem?” or “What can we do to solve this problem?” No one is defensive or accusatory but entirely taking on the responsibility for making the customer happy.

Thanks To: Phyllis May of The Fiery Retiree

53. Three Steps To Raving Fans

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: Follow this process: (1) listen to the customers, (2) ask sincerely what it will take to make them happy, and (3) try your best to make that request happen. Even if you can’t do what they want, the fact that you heard them and tried to make things right is transformative.

Thanks To: Pat Lynch of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc.

54. A Complaint Is A Gift

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: A complaint is a gift. If we look at it that way, it will be received with love. When we are open to hearing a complaint about our products or services, it is the first step to resolving the problem and turning around a customer. It is a known fact that when customers have a problem with a company and it is resolved quickly by the company, the customer is often more loyal to the company than before the problem occurred.

Thanks To: Randi Busse of Workforce Development Group, Inc.

55. Problems Are Priceless Opportunities!

How To Handle Unhappy Customers: I received an email from a customer politely wondering the status of her Kindergarten book order — I immediately emailed her and called her to tell her that we would priority ship another Kindergarten book, include the First Grade book at no additional charge and that if the original book showed up, to pass it along to a friend. In the conversation she mentioned her business and before you know it we shared information, leads and became instant friends! Three weeks later when ABC Nightly News was interviewing her for her big break, she gave the producer that extra Kindergarten book that had finally showed up!

Thanks To: Stacey Kannenberg of Cedar Valley Publishing

Compiled by Mike Michalowicz, Author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur

Category: Managing Focus, Marketing Like Mad, The Right Actions
Tags: , , , .
  • Randi-Sue

    Awesome. Love the common theme in many of the tips. Shut up, listen, clarify and then blow ‘em away with more than they expected! This is a golden opportunity to not only retain their future loyalty/business but give referrals because of stellar service!

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  • Shawn Van Dyke

    thanks so much for including my recommendation in this list. What an honor! I use free food all the time not only to ease the stress of my customers when things go wrong, but I also use it as a reward for my best customers that make my job serving them easier. This inspired me to expand on this marketing idea here
    Thanks again.

  • LaNorma Huggins-Hopes

    Thank you Mike for including my recommendation. Once again a great topic with great recommendations from all.

  • John Baker

    There is a company we have started using named Frequent Follow-Ups. They make customer follow-up calls for you and provide the results. The beautiful part about their system is that it requires no effort. The follow-up calls just happen and you do not have to remember to do anything. You may want to check them out.

  • http://none Sean

    These can be great recommendations–however; be careful. There are some customers who live by the mantra of “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” and they specifically complain (when there isn’t actually a problem) banking on the fact that you will offer them premium service, discounts, and even free things. It’s unfortunate, but it definitely happens–and giving into that only makes them more bold and ensures they continue scamming other businesses since they usually succeed.

  • Sparkly D

    I’m loving that Service Recovery Tool Kit (Marilyn Suttle) and Converting your customer into a spokesperson, which was touched by a few people here. I’m going to bookmark, and study these tips for Crisis and Reputation Management reasons.

  • Lyn Hoyt

    LOVE reading the suggestions made by everyone else. Sure shows what you are made of as a business when you handle a complaint with ease and options! Thanks for including my suggestion.

  • Susan M. Baker


    Thank you so much for the opportunity to contribute! Keep the great ideas coming.

    Susan M. Baker
    Escape Hatcher

  • MB Linder

    Thank you for including my recommendation! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the other 54 suggestions.

  • quinncreative

    Great suggestions. Useful. I just wish my client had told me she was unhappy, instead of telling a colleague of mine six months later. I could have fixed it FAST if she’d said something back then.

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  • Gladys

    Another great list – and interesting that there is a common theme running through many of the answers. Thanks for putting this information together, and for including my tip!

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  • smallbiz

    Unfortunately some “squeaky wheels” are the problem and try to take advantage of small businesses. If only businesses could rate clients on professional boundaries and honouring their end of contracts.

  • Gues

    Very cool list!

  • Cindy Siow

     I’d like to add one more. Pay them a personal visit to try to make thing right.

    • toiletpaperentrepreneur

      Thanks, Cindy! Great idea!