Contrary to popular belief, the customer is not always right. However, right or wrong, the customer is always the customer. Here is an eight-step service recovery procedure Service Roundtable has recommended to contractors for years. Teach this to your CSRs, dispatchers and plumbers as the way to handle upset customers and recover when the company or an employee has made a mistake.


1. Listen

When a customer is upset, do not argue. Do not interrupt. Let the customer vent. Let the customer get it all off his or her chest. Just blowing off steam will actually let the steam out of many upset customers. Some people just need to rage, then they are fine.

The exception is when the customer starts using foul, abusive or threatening language. This is the point where it is appropriate to calmly interrupt. Let the customer know you are willing to listen and work out the issue, but only if things can be kept civil. Most will calm down a little. Some will become more enraged. Cease the conversation with the latter for the moment, documenting the language and informing the customer that you are happy to continue when he as calmed down and things can be kept civil.


2. Clarify

After the customer has vented, repeat the root issue back. Start by saying, “Let me make sure I understand…” Then, cover the essence of the customer’s problem and again agreement you have a handle on the situation.

Do not stop with the initial explanation. Probe to find out if something else is wrong. Try to uncover the root cause of the problem, which may be something unrelated to the company performance.


3. Empathize

Legitimize the customer’s feelings. You do not necessarily need to agree with the customer, just acknowledge how he feels. Say something like, “From what you’ve told me, I understand why you are upset. If I were looking at things from your perspective, I might be upset as well.”

You are not accepting blame, merely acknowledging the customer’s right to be angry or upset. This disarms people who are braced for a fight and helps to calm the situation.


4. Apologize

Tell the customer you are truly sorry the company is not living up to his expectations. This is true, even if the customer has unrealistic expectations. You are not accepting blame, but expressing regret over the situation. For some, this alone is enough. The anger evaporates as the person’s disgruntlement is accepted.


5. Reassure

Now, it is time to begin turning things around and moving toward resolution. Reassure the customer that you will personally handle this and do everything you can to resolve the situation to his satisfaction.


6. Solve

Find out what the customer considers fair. In most cases, people want less than you are prepared to deliver to make a problem go away, especially in this day of online reviews. If a customer cannot come up with a solution, present one. Ask the customer if the solution will be acceptable.

If the customer comes up with an unreasonable request, do not reject it outright. Tell the customer what you can do and gain agreement that it would be acceptable. Say, “Here is what I can do —Will this be acceptable?”


7. Give

When the customer proposes a solution that you consider fair, say so. Then, offer something extra to make up for the customer’s inconvenience. The “extra” does not need to be a lot. It could, for example, be something as simple as a gift certificate with your company. The point is, the customer has already agreed that a solution is acceptable and now you are going above and beyond. This is one way to turn an angry customer into one of your best future fans.


8. Follow through

When you get things wrong the first time, it is doubly important that you get things right the second time. Make sure you follow through — personally. Whoever intercepts the customer first should take ownership of the problem through to resolution. Think about your own customer service experiences. Do not make the customer explain the same problem over and over again.


Dealing with the unscrupulous

Sometimes a customer will try to hold you hostage with reviews or otherwise take advantage of you. While it might be legitimate to get your back up and stand your ground, ask yourself what is best for the company. It is usually best to pay the customer off within reason (e.g., give the customer a full refund). At the very least, you have a legitimate counter story to add to social media and review sites if you are slandered. Then, flag the customer in your computer system so you never take another call from him.

For price objections, some contractors give customers a one-time price adjustment. The customer has the right to tell you what the price should be with the understanding that, going forward, the price is the price if the customer chooses to do business with you.

Cover the costs of service recovery by adding a one to two percent service recovery contra account and building the cost into your pricing. In essence, you are spreading the cost of dealing with customer problems across all calls. It ensures that the money is set aside and available when necessary, so you do not have to fret it. Move on from the upset customer and focus on delighting future customers.