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Gripes, Grievances and Grumbling: How to Deal with Demanding Customers

6 Oct, 2004 By: Ronelle Ingram imageSource

Gripes, Grievances and Grumbling: How to Deal with Demanding Customers

dollars and change—that’s barely enough to buy a burger at a fast food

Unbelievably, a miniscule amount of money such as that can make or break your
relationship with a customer. I was recently faced with a situation in which a
$2.34 refund request was made by a longtime client.

office manager from Beverly Hills-based Atlas Holdings had called to thank me
for prompt, first-rate service. At the end of her voice mail message she
mentioned that she had a little request.

appreciate you getting here so fast,” she said. “It really helps us. But the
president and owner of our company was working on a project when he wasted about
300 copies trying to make the machine work. He has requested a credit on our
account for the copies wasted.”

requests are constantly left on my voice mail. I can often hear the
embarrassment or fear in the voices of those who make these unreasonable pleas.

Atlas, however, has done over $100,000 of business with my company over the past
five years, the firm has always paid its bills on time, and our techs enjoy
service calls to its office—a 5,000-square-foot converted gatehouse of a Beverly
Hill’s mansion.

knew Atlas paid a low cost-per-copy service price, a mere .0078 per copy. That
was less than a $2.50 credit that was being requested. I knew I could quickly
deal with the situation.

Although the service agreement for Atlas specifically stated that it would be
responsible for all costs of all copies, including any used in the servicing of
the equipment, misuse or malfunctions, I told the apologetic office manager that
I appreciate Atlas’ business and would cover the costs being directly billed by
the leasing company.

leasing company will not issue a credit for the 300 copies,” I told her.
“However, FKM will personally reimburse Atlas for the cost of 300 copies. At
.0078 per copy; Mr. Atlas is requesting $2.34 refund. With the high expense of
creating a Purchase Order and processing a company check, may I just send you
$2.50 in cash?”

ridiculous as it sounds, it brought great relief to her and strengthened the
relationship my company has established with Atlas.

are simply times to move on quickly and there are times to take a stand. It was
worth $2.50 of my own money to make this problem go away and, at the same time,
I believe I proved a point: my company is reasonable and we take every request


The way customer grievances are handled can make the difference between being a
profitable, successful company or an unaccommodating, struggling business. Being
proactive as I was with the above mentioned issue is important for a manager.
But that was an easy situation to cope with. There are those customers that can
be demanding and difficult to deal with. Here are three suggestions for coping
with chronic complainers:


I find the easiest way to make a complaining customer happy and retain their
repeat business is to refund their money or give them something for free. The
faster a complaint is appropriately handled, the better chance of everyone
returning to doing the type of work that has the potential of generating

downside, however, is paying off the disgruntled customer is usually NOT the
best business decision. You have set yourself up to be extorted or blackmailed
by your customer in the future. You will teach your customers to find fault,
create unrest and look for loopholes in hopes of being rewarded for being a


I find billable customers always seem to complain more than our maintenance
agreement (cost-per-copy) or prepaid customers. There seems to be an adversarial
posturing from the onset of the chargeable service call. Out of
self-preservation, my staff and I have learned to overestimate the incessant
complainer. This allows us to be able to quickly give in to their demands of
lower prices or providing additional service at no additional charge.


When interacting with an unreasonable customer, I listen and listen some more. I
let the complainer have their say. When there is a pause over three seconds,
which can be an eternity, I interject, “I can understand your concern.” Normally
the customer will repeat everything three times. It’s just human nature. Three
repetitions seem to clear the soul and lessen the animosity.


When the customer does have a legitimate concern, I treat their request with
great importance and urgency. But I find that I am not always familiar with all
of my clients’ issues and am unable to immediately act on their request. In that
case, there are three things you should do to keep your customer satisfied:


I always ask the customer for a specific amount of time to look into the
situation. I promise a return call or email within a given period of time.
Asking what time the caller goes to lunch or home establishes a feeling of
caring. In addition, it gives you a comfortable time period for following-up.


If you have not managed to acquire the needed information at the appointed time
for the return call, call back or email to let the customer know you are still
working on the problem. Remember, the customer is usually more interested with
you showing them respect and concern than immediately fixing the perceived

Whenever possible, ask the customer to fax or email any pertinent information
they have. This can save you hours of hunting for the backup information. Always
preface this request with, “I will be better able to quickly track down a
solution to your situation if you can fax or email me any information you have
regarding your concern.” If they don’t have the needed information, make sure
you fax the customer the collaborating information once you have tracked it
down. Always ask for their fax number or email address, explaining you will send
them the information for their files.

Customers love the reassurance of exchanging paper work or email. It is proof
that reality is emerging from history, or that you are very organized. Always
thank the customer for helping you solve their problem.


“I agree with you,” always changes the tempo of a complainer’s conversation.
When you do realize a problem has occurred, take the full blame personally. Call
the customer before they have a chance to call you. End your conversation
restating your telephone number and reassure them if they leave a voice mail,
you will get back to them promptly.

change my voice mail greeting each day letting people know of my current
schedule. Customers feel very reassured that there is timelines attached to your
voice mail. Also, follow-up with a short note with your business card included.

your staff to be able to differentiate between the chronic complainer and the
customer who has a genuine concern that needs to be addressed in a timely
manner. A personal apology and prompt righting of a wrong can actually
strengthen the loyalty of a customer with a complaint.

the problem is identified and solved, use it as a learning situation. How can
your employees be better trained to eliminate this problem happening again? What
internal company procedures need to be changed to prevent similar situations
happening in the future?

the complaint letter, phone call or email as a guide for monitoring internal
conditions that need to be improved. Every complaint is an opportunity to
upgrade, sell a new product, service agreement or additional supplies. A
customer who takes the time to complain will stay with your company if the
grievance is handled properly.

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