How to Respond When a Customer Is Making a Scene

Author: Katie Truesdell Date: April 16, 2014

An angry patron can become a strong ally.

Goodfella’s Brick Oven Pizza in Staten Island, N.Y., is known for great customer service; just check out the restaurant’s Yelp reviews. But no small business is flawless, says co-owner Marc Cosentino. In his 22 years operating the pizza shop, he’s faced screaming, cursing and insulting customers.

A customer once came to the store to “straighten him out” after Cosentino hung up the phone on the man’s screaming wife, which Cosentino immediately acknowledged was wrong and apologized for. At that moment, Cosentino treated the customer calmly, fairly and empathetically. His response earned him customer respect and repeat business.

“When the customer is in your face, you have one of your greatest opportunities to win an undying loyal fan,” says Joe McCullum, owner of Eagles’ Wings Business Coaching in Hamden, Conn. Here are three tips for diffusing a customer’s anger and gaining a loyal fan.

Let them vent—and listen carefully. 

Remain calm, make eye contact and ask what happened. Consider taking notes, advises Jennifer Martin, owner of Zest Business Consulting in San Francisco. This shows you care about the details and are paying attention, she says.

“If done with care and permitted to take as long as it takes, this will usually disarm most people because they’re not used to being acknowledged,” Cosentino says.

Stay in public view for this conversation, suggests Clifton Eason, an instructor at Samford University’s Brock School of Business in Birmingham, Ala. This, he says, demonstrates your willingness to acknowledge and understand the situation without shying away from it, which can be a great testimony to other customers. That reputation will last longer than the original incident.

Don’t defend yourself. 

The customer may not always be right, but getting defensive will just make the customer more frustrated, says Martin.

This isn’t the time to educate the customer on their misunderstanding, McCullum adds. Instead, admit you would be upset, too.

Find a solution together. 

Randi Busse, founder and president of Workforce Development Group, Inc. in Melville, N.Y., says to apologize, express thanks for alerting you to the problem and ask how you can correct it. Then, get the customer’s contact information and follow up in a few days to ensure all is well.

“When customers feel valued and respected and their issues are resolved, they are often more loyal to the company than they were before the screw-up,” Busse says.

READ NEXT: An Opposing View – Why You Should Never Apologize to Customers

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