How Best to Handle Customer Conflict

January 23rd, 2009 by | Print



There isn’t a business on earth that hasn’t had to deal with a dissatisfied customer. Unhappy customers, whether they’re right or wrong, are an expected experience. And as a solopreneur, you don’t have a customer service department to ditch them over to. So it is best to know not only how to handle them, but how to create an appropriate resolution that best benefits your business.


Smile, Listen, Apologize and Solve” is a slogan I learned when working in sales for a manufactured housing company. It’s straightforward and should be applied whether the customer is an irate Ivan or a meek Mertle.


In order to create calm for the customer and you, start with a smile (and a genuine smile – not a smarmy smirk). Most people will relax, but don’t let it throw you off if they don’t.


Listen to the customer’s complaint. You can’t understand the customer’s perception and present an appropriate resolution if you don’t listen. Plus, you need to listen before you offer a solution. If you give up a cookie cutter response first, you run the risk of making the situation worse.


Apologize, regardless whether the customer is right or wrong. If they are right, apologize for the error. If you believe that they are wrong, apologize that they feel the way they do. Again, as with smiling, make sure that you are sincere. Only apologize once. The more you apologize, the more you will justify the customer’s perception and anger.


Present the customer with a solution. Once you get past the screaming and yelling and inappropriate name calling, figuring out the right resolution takes a little thinking. Duck and cover is not a solution. The problem will not resolve itself. Provide a solution to create closure. However, before suggesting a solution, here is the sequential order of three facts to consider for creating the best resolution for your business.


1. Determine the future worth of the customer.

Don’t make the mistake of an inexperienced business owner by assuming the customer is always right or altering your attitude based upon the flack they throw up in your face. All that is important at this point in time is to quickly assess the future worth of the customer.


2. Ask the customer what they want to resolve the matter.

The customer’s response will indicate whether they are reasonable or not. This will then help you further determine the future worth of the customer. Are they making unrealistic demands? If so, chances are they are going to be more trouble than they’re worth. And if not, it becomes easy for you to give them what they want – creating a more satisfying experience for them.


3. Determine what it will cost you to resolve the matter to their liking.

Weigh the cost of the resolution against the future profits that they will bring you. If they are suggesting compensation that seems excessive, look at the bigger picture before you deny their demands.


You’re not done yet. Presenting a solution is not the final step. Once the customer has been satisfied (or you are satisfied with the extent of your solution), there are two more steps to minimize the re-occurrence of the same issue and the loss to your business.


Determine whether the customer is right or wrong. Now is the time to assess the customer’s perception. If the customer was wrong, consider what led to their perception and the possibility for other customers to come to the same conclusion. If the customer was right, giving them a solution is only a band aid. Dig down and find out the root of the problem.


Implement a corrective action. Create a corrective action to both cure the root problem and to implement a policy of how to handle similar situations in the future.


If you never have unhappy customers, chances are that you don’t have very many customers. Whether the root of their ire is linked to a bad day or to a bad experience with you, being prepared with these quick steps will only benefit you to create the best resolution for your business.


All The Best,

Doug Dolan
The Solopreneur’s Guide


2 Responses to “How Best to Handle Customer Conflict”

  1. Dan Waldron Says:

    Where did you get your blog layout from? I’d like to get one like it for my blog.

  2. Douglas Dolan Says:


    I use a WordPress theme and did a search online for free themes until I came across this one. It is called Turuncu Gemi. I modified the theme with some of my own programming, plus incorporated the plugins I wanted and grabbed photos mainly from

    Hope this helps.


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