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Complaint Handling: Dealing with Customer Irritation or Conflict

A complaint is never easy to listen to but it is always important to remember that the customer is not calling to give the call-receiver a hard time but to get a resolution of some kind. Frustration therefore will builds when any kind of solution seems to be blocked or unavailable and it’s easy for things to become very “tetchy” very quickly, especially if the person listening to the complaint is not calm, fair and reasonable.

When a customer does become more irritated or frustrated (and even angry) the following steps help:

  1. Actively listen. Let the irritated customer client describe their issues without interruption and get it all “out of their system”. As they talk make noises that you are listening such as “uh huh”, “I see?”, etc.. This step is important because the more time a customer spends airing their grievances, the more time they have to become less irritated or calm down.
  2. Allow the customer to express their opinions without judgment. Allowing a customer to freely communicate their feelings however they choose (within reason) without commenting or disagreement is often a very helpful way to clam things down.
  3. Maintain personal integrity. If the customer is abusive, calmly interject something to the effect of “I appreciate your frustration with the situation. However becoming annoyed with me will not improve anything – I am here to work with you.”
  4. Be sympathetic. Make sure the customer knows that you understand their issues and resultant frustration and acknowledge any organizational mistakes that have been made.
  5. Be empathetic. When appropriate, show empathy. Empathy implies that you feel the same way as the customer and truly understand their feelings.
  6. Gently ask questions. After a customer has described his or her issue, ask about further facts and details about the situation that might provide a basis for a way of dealing with the issue acceptably.

The featured video clip is a short excerpt from the ReadyToManage, Rapid Skill Builder eLearning program, Complaint Handling: An RSB eLearning Course.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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