5 Tips for Handling Customer Complaints

How to Handle Upset Customers in Your Small Business

In today’s episode: We discuss 5 tips I’ve learned through the years on how to handle update customers. I’ve been yelled at, spit at and cussed at. I’ve experience some pretty irate customers wanting the world. In this episode I share some of the lessons I have learned so that my experiences might help you in your small business.


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Upset CustomersDon't Have Time to Listen? Here are the Show Notes: 

Episode 89:  5 Tips for Handling Customer Complaints

Welcome back to the Local Small Business Coach Podcast. I am your coach, Tammy Adams.

Today we are going to take a look at the lessons I've learned when handling upset customers.  Here are 5 tips.


One thing we all can agree to, is, that we hate having people in our face screaming at us. Not only do we hate having them scream at us, we also hate how they always want things for free or at a huge discount for even the most minor things.

Through the years, I have dealt with a huge range of upset people. From those wanting an entire kitchen for free due a small scratch on a door, to a lady who wanted a year of free ice cream since one of the kids was rude to her. I’ve been yelled at, cussed at, spit at, you name it. I think one of the worse things we have to deal with as a business owner or leader, are upset customers.

Let’s face it, when people are upset, they really aren’t listening to what you think, they have something say and darn it, you are going to listen. They have already made up their mind what they expect to happen and in most cases, that is the one and only solution they expect.

Through the years, I have learned 5 valuable lessons on handling upset customers that I thought I would share.


Tip #1 – Upset Customers Just Want to Be Heard

One of the best things you can do with an upset customer is to shut up and listen. Let them vent. As I mentioned, they have one mission at first and that is to get things off their chest. They need to feel that you are actively listening to them and that you are hearing what they are saying.

One of the best things you can do is to acknowledge key points while they are telling their story.  Repeat what you are hearing in your own words to make sure you are hearing their concerns correctly. Avoid the tendency we all have to form your answers while they are talking. The minute you start doing this, you actually stop listening. Hear the entire thing out before you start to respond.


Tip #2 – They are Mad at the Situation, Not Necessarily You

Since we are human, our natural instinct is to want to defend ourselves when we feel we are being attacked. Too often, people get so defensive when a customer is yelling at them. They take it very personally. It is very important that you remember that they are mad at the situation and not necessarily mad at you.

This was probably the best advice I ever got when I first started dealing with upset people. It really helped me to disassociate with how they were communicating the problem. I knew that unless I had done something wrong, they were just wanting to vent. It allowed me to remain calm, cool and collected. It also allowed me to truly listen to what they were saying since I didn’t have that natural instinct to defend myself.


Tip #3 – Understand & Acknowledge Why They Are Upset, and Apologize 

When you practice tips one and two, it allows you to better understand why this person is upset. You not only want to understand, you want to acknowledge to them that you understand. Make sure you are sincere. For example, you can say something like, “I can see why that made you upset, I can’t say that it wouldn’t have upset me as well”.

Then, once you acknowledge their feelings, which by the way is exactly why you want to acknowledge. While the facts might be one thing, the feelings are something else. Remember, people view the world through their feelings first, then the facts. It is about how they perceived the wrong doing.

You need to apologize for the issue making them feel that way. Notice I didn’t say apologize for what happened, but rather for how it made them feel. People want to be validated. The sooner they can feel acknowledged, the sooner you can move on to our next tip.


Tip #4 – Solve the Problem, Don’t Throw Money at It

Now that you have heard what the customer is mad at, and you have identified the problem, you must solve that problem. But here is the key, the solution doesn’t necessarily mean, throw money at the problem. This was probably the second best tip I was given.

You see, we tend to think everyone wants money, or something for free. The reality is, the vast majority of people just want the problem solved. They still need the product or service. Giving them money, don’t solve the problem. It is a temporary solution. Once they get home, the problem is still there. And every time they see the issue, that anger will start up again. It is a constant reminder.

Think about when they talk to other customers, will they be telling people that they got money out of you and how bad of a job you did, or will they be bragging about how you took care of the situation and made it better? You want them telling folks you stood behind your product or service and made the situation right.

Even if someone is demanding money, don’t give in unless it is the right solution. Just explain that your number one priority is to resolve the problem and money doesn’t do that. They might not like it, but that is ok. What are they going to tell people, that you took care of the problem but wouldn’t give them money?


Tip #5 – Keep Them as a Customer by Treating Them with Kindness

Finally, I want to remind you to always be kind, yes, even when they aren’t. They will remember your kindness when the dust settles and their anger dissipates. The feeling you will leave them with is what will cause them to return to your business or use your services again.  Ultimately, isn’t that the main reason you want to resolve the issue quickly and efficiently? You want to retain their business and retain the business of their family and friends.



By the way, there will always be people you can’t please, don’t worry about them. They are such a small percentage of your business. Why give all that time and energy to the less than .01% out there? Focus your energy on the 99.99% who just want their issue resolved. Way to often we give so much power to this small group. We allow them to take up way too much of our time and energy. That is time and energy that can be better spent on assisting the customers that need you and your business.



By the way, these 5 steps also work when you have upset employees. So if you master these skills, and utilize when someone on your team is upset, I think you will see these situations de-escalate quicker. You will nip it in the bud, resolve the problem and not let it fester within the employee or spread as a cancer with the other employees.


Hopefully these 5 tips will help you next time you have an upset customer. Remember, remain calm, listen to what they are saying, acknowledge why they are upset, and find a solution to the problem.  Don’t forget, they aren’t mad at you but rather the situation. I promise, it will help you make the right decisions.


And as we wrap up this episode I want you to know, that I realize being a local small business owner can be a lonely gig at times. But you don’t have to do it alone. Just know, I’m always here for you.

By the way, If you like what we are taking about, then make sure to subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss an episode, if you love the podcast and what we are talking about, then please leave a 5 star review so other local small business owners know this is a podcast that they can’t miss.

Meanwhile, I wish you the best in your business and remember: Great Customer Service, coupled with Great business practices will set you on the path to Great Profits!

Bye for now…..



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Two Great Books to Help You With Your Small Business:

Highly Recommend all Local Small Business Owners Read the eMyth by Micheal Gerber. You will learn some critical things about running your business.


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