How to Move Customers from Frustration to Satisfaction


Share on LinkedIn

It’s more severe than you probably think. The 2020 National Customer Rage Survey found that, when complaining, 58 percent of customers got no or limited satisfaction. It doesn’t take much to imagine that those 58 percent leave the company or will the next time anything like this happens. Even worse, those 58 percent likely left in a state of rage, never to return.

Here’s an excellent example of a complaint that could have been handled entirely differently:

Two friends checked into a Wichita Falls, Texas, hotel for an overnight stay when driving between Phoenix and Houston. The reservation was paid for in advance — a good thing since they arrived around 10 p.m. Upon receiving the key, they walked into the room advertised as clean, modern, and accompanied by a complimentary breakfast. This sounded like an excellent deal, and all for a little more than one hundred dollars!

Unfortunately, the room was not as advertised! The toilet wouldn’t flush. The floor rug crunched when walking on it. When the women pulled the sheets back, bed bugs were visible. The hotel door wouldn’t lock. They could only anticipate what that breakfast must be like. Nothing in the room matched the description provided in the hotel’s online marketing. The women returned to the front desk and told the young man standing behind it that the room was unacceptable. They described the problems they’d just discovered.

“Sorry, ma’am,” said the desk clerk. “That was our last room.” The women asked for someone to immediately fix the toilet.

“Sorry, ma’am. Our housekeeping crew doesn’t arrive until 9 a.m. tomorrow. You’ll have to wait.”

“And where can we find a toilet that works?” was my friend’s logical question. “Do you have a staff toilet we can use?”

“Yes, but it hasn’t been cleaned for several weeks.”

They asked, “So, what are we expected to do? Walk across the street and use the McDonald’s toilet?”

The clerk actually said, “Well, that’s your choice.”

After using the McDonald’s restroom, they slept on top of the bedspread, covering it with towels as best they could to avoid the bedbugs.

Of course, my friends asked for a refund. It was denied. The corporate service representative also rejected a request for a refund, saying they had, after all, slept in the room. That’s true as, sadly, they had little choice. The only compensation they were offered was 200 reward points. They weren’t Reward Members, however, and would never become members!

How could this have been handled in a way that the hotel chain could show empathy, regain trust, and provide a chance that these customers might return? Even in situations as bad as this, it can happen.

Here’s what organizations must do, instead, when a customer complains:

1. Empower employees to fix the situation. Organizations must empower employees to respond effectively when facing a customer with a legitimate complaint. In this case, knowing the room’s condition, it would mean arranging for a room in a nearby hotel and checking to ensure that room was in good shape!

2. Provide appropriate compensation. Don’t just offer a voucher or, in this case, reward points for customers to return when it’s clear they’ll never come back.

3. Avoid scripted responses to complaints. Offering only a scripted apology for an intolerable situation is useless. It only invites the rage that the National Customer Rage study refers to.

4. Address the emotion first, then the problem. Show empathy for the customer’s situation. Explain that you understand why they’re upset and that you would be, too. Then state how you are going to take care of the issue. Fixing the problem without providing any human connection still will leave the customer upset and unsatisfied.

5. Ensure to address the issue internally. After appropriately resolving the customer’s complaint, make sure that the issue is addressed inside the organization so that it doesn’t happen again.

The most important thing that complaint handlers need to remember is that it isn’t what gets resolved but rather how it gets resolved that matters to customers. When complaints are handled well, they transform into experiences more positively remembered than if no complaint were made. They ensure that the customer will want to return and do business with you.

Check in with the customer the following day. Apologize again. Make sure your solution was the right one for them — and then offer the 200 reward points. In doing so, there’s a strong chance you’ll keep that customer. After all, you’re in business to satisfy your customers.

Jannelle Barlow, Ph.D.
Janelle Barlow, PhD, is an award-winning speaker, trainer, consultant and author who translates research into practical tools to improve customer service and complaint handling. She works with Customer Service Representatives, managers, and entire companies, both nationally and internationally, to help them recover and retain customer loyalty. She has recently released the third edition of her bestseller (more than 275,000 copies sold to date), A Complaint Is a Gift: How to Learn from Critical Feedback and Recover Customer Loyalty (BK Publishing, Nov.8, 2022). Learn more at AComplaintIsAGift.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here