How to Deal With Upset Customers, Delicately

Setting proper expectations is one way to mitigate complaints.

We’ve all heard the saying, “the customer is always right.” While some may argue about the validity of that statement, one thing is not debatable: Companies cannot exist without customers. I’m sure you appreciate that and go to great lengths not only to keep your customers, but to keep them happy.

When it comes to dealing with an upset customer, it’s sort of the way my wife always tells me, “Look, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”

Still, despite all of your good intentions and effort, it is inevitable that you will have upset customers. “Right” or “wrong,” it doesn’t matter, and debating with an upset customer is generally a losing proposition for both sides.

Understand When to Stay Silent & Just Listen
Here are some of the common complaints our dealers have shared with me over the years:

  • Customer believes monthly monitoring fees entitle them to free service
  • Customer doesn’t fully understand what was included in the purchase and feels they are due more equipment
  • Customer believes the alarm company should not only pay for the alarm permit, but for the fines as well
  • Poor workmanship (crooked keypads, sensors, etc.)         
  • Installer/technician didn’t clean after himself/herself
  • Inadequate instructions on how to use the system
  • Missing or late for appointments

Again, right or wrong, it doesn’t matter. As another saying goes, “perception is reality,” which means if they “believe” there’s a problem, there is a problem. It’s always best to respect your customers and give validity to their complaint. This involves listening. Speaking from personal experience, the hardest thing for many of us to do is to just shut up and listen – especially when you disagree with someone.

Listening to the customer is a crucial part of resolving their issues. Not only because it’s the only way to fully understand their issue and whether it’s valid, but also because venting and being heard is often a part of successful conflict resolution. During this process, it is always best to be patient, understanding, and empathetic … and listen.

Giving the customer a simple “win” is often an easy way to fix a problem and save a relationship. The alternative might be losing your customer to your own stubbornness and desire to be right. 

Saying anything during the venting process is as tantamount to the situation as blurting out, “You’re wrong!” When your customer is done venting, try telling them that you understand how they feel. Then show them that you’re listening by repeating their issue back to them and confirming that there are no other issues.

Learn to Compromise & Set Proper Expectations
Many times, it will be difficult to determine who is right and who is wrong. It’s important to be understanding and make it clear that your objective is to work together to find a resolution, which means it might be necessary to compromise.

Compromising is not an admission of guilt but rather a statement to the customer that they are important and that you are working in good faith to bring a resolution. Giving the customer a simple (and inexpensive) “win” is often an easy way to fix a problem and save a relationship. The alternative might be losing your customer to your own stubbornness and desire to be right.

If you find that the customer is right (and the company is at fault), your representative should apologize for the issue and do whatever it takes to make it right. Never try to lie or cover things up!

One of the best ways to avoid many problems down the road is to set good expectations up front. Here’s how I would set good expectations for the corresponding common issues I mentioned earlier:

  • Explain what a customer’s monthly monitoring rate “does” and “does not” include, and why
  • Thoroughly explain work orders and contracts and ask customers if they have any questions
  • Before getting the contract signed, explain alarm permitting requirements, the customer’s obligations, and leave written instructions
  • Train your technicians on proper installation, perform surprise inspections, institute quality control processes (such as customer comment cards and follow-up calls)
  • Penalize technicians for not cleaning up
  • Ensure all customers are properly trained; have them demonstrate to your technicians that they know how to arm and disarm the system
  • Call to confirm appointments, when running late, and when you’re on your way

Ultimately, the best way of not having to deal with upset customers is to be conscientious, truly care about them, and perform quality work with honesty and integrity. However, if you do find the occasional customer that’s hard to please, these tips should be helpful. I’ve found that satisfying a previously upset customer can turn that person into a raving fan and potential source of referrals. My wife also likes to tell me, “Happy wife, happy life,” and I think that translates well to the customer experience.

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About the Author


Mark Matlock is Senior Vice President at United Central Control, a division of Lydia Security Monitoring Inc.

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