A few months ago, I went out to dinner with my fiancé and our kids at a local sit-down chain restaurant. We proceeded to have the worst dining experience ever — it was so bad, in fact, that I made an online complaint to the company as soon as we got home.

The very next day, I got a phone call from the store’s manager, who listened to me sympathetically, sincerely took all the blame, and offered us a free meal if we would please try their restaurant one more time. Not ones to turn down a free meal, we went back a few days later, and the service and food were both infinitely better. I went back online that evening and submitted another comment to the company, this time detailing how pleased we were with the food and service. We’ve returned to the restaurant several times since then, and it’s all because of the manager.

There’s a mantra in the service business: “The customer is always right.” The restaurant manager I dealt with embodied that mantra, and it kept him from losing my family as customers. But, being able to deal with angry customers quickly and effectively isn’t always easy, even though it’s more important than ever due to the ability of websites like Angie’s List and Yelp to quickly bring that dissatisfaction directly to the Web for everyone to see. While this issue’s cover story, “The Positives of Negative Reviews,” explores this topic in-depth, here are a few additional steps you can take to turn a dissatisfied customer into a happy customer.


Obviously, screaming right back at an angry customer won’t solve anything, and it can really harm your business. Instead, follow this five-step approach to turn dissatisfied customers around.

• Step No. 1: Stay Calm — The worst thing you can do during a disagreement with a customer is lose your cool, especially if they’re losing theirs. According to an article in Forbes magazine, there is “nothing to be gained” by responding to hostility and rudeness with more hostility and rudeness. Instead, “maintain control of yourself, even if the customer’s tirade makes you feel like yelling.”

• Tip No. 2: Acknowledge the Problem — Calmly repeat their complaints to be sure you know exactly what their concerns are and take responsibility. An article in businessknowhow.com suggests you “tell these customers that you’ll own the problem and will apply your personal effort to achieve results.”

• Step No. 3: Sympathize — Let them know you understand why they are frustrated or angry. “Respect and understanding go a long way toward smoothing things over,” the aforementioned Forbes article states.

• Step No. 4: Ask Questions — Ask for details, and listen carefully to their answers. “Use a soft, firm, and inquisitive voice,” recommends businessknowhow.com. “Ask the customer to confirm that you have restated the facts and priorities accurately, then write them down.”

• Step No. 5: Offer a Solution — Once you’re sure you fully understand their problem, offer a solution. “If the problem can’t be resolved immediately, set up a way to report your progress,” a story in Inc. magazine suggests.

Remember, don’t take it personally. Most often, people just want someone to listen to them and acknowledge their concerns. If you can do that, you can turn a dissatisfied customer into a customer for life.

Publication date: 6/15/2015 

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