6 Steps for Turning Around Upset Customers


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This article was first published on the ICMI blog on May 22, 2017. Click here to read the original.

When I was at Phone.com, shortly after implementing our first customer satisfaction survey, we established early on that we were going to respond to any customers who were dissatisfied with our service. In fact, this was something our CEO was extremely passionate about — which I always thought was really cool. Customers were dissatisfied for a wide range of reasons like issues with the support they received, or lack thereof, and issues with the product itself.

As we committed to respond to complaints and try to turn them around, we quickly learned that this was no small task — but a necessary one nonetheless. This is called closing the loop and it’s a powerful loyalty-building practice, and an even more power catalyst for improving your customer experience. Let me walk you through the process.

Step 1- You need a feedback mechanism

Before you can close the loop, you need to first open a loop. A great way to do this is with a survey. Here’s a summary of some of the popular survey methods to consider. What I care more about is that you have a way to determine when your customers are unhappy and you ask them to share why they’re unhappy. Ultimately though, unhappy customers show up in a variety of places like escalated calls, complaints via social media, and review sites.

On a sidenote, have you ever reviewed an interaction while doing quality assurance and realized before you reached the end of the interaction that the customer got some seriously bad information? I’ve picked up the phone and called a customer before I finished listening to a call. It’s a great idea to empower your quality assurance team to do the same.

Engaged employees who believe in your mission, take upset customers personally and feel a sense of responsibility for making things right.

Step 2- Read the comments

When customers respond, read the comments. Remind yourself that when customers care enough to submit negative feedback they are one of two things:

  1. They’re really upset and want someone to know about it.
  2. They haven’t fully given up on your company and are holding onto hope that somehow you’ll respond and make it right.

Both of these require our greatest customer service super power: Empathy. With this in mind, it’s time to get to the bottom of the issue and save them as a customer.

Step 3- Research the situation

Whenever possible, research everything you can on the situation. Listen to calls, read through email and chat transcripts, read internal notes, and speak with the agent(s) that worked with the customer. In some cases, you can learn enough in your research to fix the problem before contacting them. In others, it simply pays to be prepared going into the conversation.

Step 4- Contact the customer

I recommend contacting the customer on a live support channel, like phone, wherever possible. Time is of the essence! The fact that you’re calling them, when so many companies don’t even read their feedback, already shows that you’re different — you care! When they answer, the two things you should be most prepared to do is empathize and listen. It’s ok to apologize for the shortcomings of the previous interactions while you’re at it.

Once it’s your turn to talk, thank them profusely for caring enough to share feedback and then clearly state that, regardless of what happened in the past, the buck stops with you and you’re committed to finding a solution. That shot of confidence from someone who’s empowered to make things right serves to put customers at ease and begins the process of restoring any trust that was damaged.

Step 5- Follow up

Out of that initial conversation, you may have a variety of items to follow up on. This might involve working with engineering to fix a bug, or addressing a quality issue with your frontline team, or sorting out a complex billing problem, or compensating the customer for the trouble. This process is simple:

  • Clearly set expectations of what you’re going to do.
  • Take ownership of completing the tasks
  • Follow up when it’s complete.

For issues that can’t be fixed immediately, work with the other departments in your organization to make the improvements. Keep the customer in the loop on the issue, even if it’s six months before you’re actually able to fix it.

Step 6- Make yourself available

I know I’m going to get a cringe from a few support folks when I say this, but it can go a long way when you tell customers how they can get back in touch with you in the future. This might mean giving them your work email or a direct phone number.

While I realize that giving customers license to contact you directly instead of going through proper support channels doesn’t scale well, I’ve found that most customers only contact me directly when it’s absolutely necessary. I recently explored the fact that when customers have “a person” at a company with a name and a face that they can count on, their peace of mind in doing business with that company increases significantly.

Bonus- Send a Thank You note

At the end of this process, seal the experience with a thank you note. Create a Customer Appreciation Station (stolen from Zappos) where your team can use premade thank you cards or create their own. When the customer receives a note a couple days later in the mail, it serves to reinforce the most recent good experience.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article and have worked in customer service for any length of time, chances are none of this is rocket science. I’ve personally followed this process at least a thousand times. I wish I could say I restored the customer every time. Sometimes they want something we simply can’t provide — and that’s ok. Going through this process anyway let’s the customer go with dignity and leaves the door open for them to return in the future.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jeremy Watkin
Jeremy Watkin is the Director of Customer Support and CX at NumberBarn. He has more than 20 years of experience as a contact center professional leading highly engaged customer service teams. Jeremy is frequently recognized as a thought leader for his writing and speaking on a variety of topics including quality management, outsourcing, customer experience, contact center technology, and more. When not working he's spending quality time with his wife Alicia and their three boys, running with his dog, or dreaming of native trout rising for a size 16 elk hair caddis.


  1. In my career, I have dealt with many unhappy customers, especially early on when started working with people for the first time. Most of them were unhappy due to my previous employers company policies, others were just impatient and had unrealistic expectations about what is physically possible and what – not, and, of course, there was this part that gave negative feedback due to the fact that I was not prepared to handle specific situations adequately. Even though I have learned my lessons over the years and made many unhappy customers happy ones, I still find that most of the success depends on the company policies. The tips shared in the article are great and probably some of the essentials one should master when working with clients. The author was lucky to be in a company whose CEO is passionate about focusing on dissatisfied customers.

  2. This is a very fair point, Daniel! It’s so important as leaders to empower our agents to be able to solve problems. When policies don’t align well with what our customers want/need, that causes significant stress on customers and agents.


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