Leonard Laundry

Managing Irate Customers or Employees

By Joe Curcillo —

As a manager, chances are you’ve been faced with this scenario.  It could be an angry authoritative customer on the phone with your assistant or an employee waiting outside your door – but someone is demanding your attention and help.

You recognize that how you handle the next few seconds will determine the outcome of a difficult situation so you must have the focus and knowledge necessary to take control and lead the irritated employee or customer back into your corner.

Preparedness comes by having the structure in mind that will allow your persuasive and reassuring abilities to control the situation. Maybe it was your staff, your management team or a salesman, but the buck stops with you. As you listen to the complaint pay attention to how the individual became disgruntled and match their words to the organizational structure and discipline that you have in place. Many times someone has reached your desk because someone else in the chain of command failed to listen and address their concerns.

How you manage the next few minutes will define the experience as educational, confrontational or successful.  Keep in mind that the best way to initiate control is to take the high ground. Not just the high road of virtue and doing the right thing, but the high ground as a vantage point to observe the situation as a whole. Prepare to remove yourself from the fray and look at the big picture. The best means of accomplishing this is to remember 4 rules.

  1. Do not speak until you have truly listened.

The opposite of speaking is not listening—it is waiting to speak. Listening is a separate task, and in fact is an art. If you’re waiting to speak, you are preparing to address the other person with words.

The easiest of all individuals is the one who just wants to be heard. Everyone has dealt with someone who expressed every detail of their complaint to every person in their organization. They have begun to tell their story to the receptionist and each person they encountered in route to the manager’s office.

Their repeated rehearsal of the story should be your first indication that all they need is understanding and reassurance. They want someone to listen; step up and make that person you.

  1. Do not defend, until you have heard the attack.

 Step back, and allow the speaker to talk. As you listen, do not formulate your responses, but follow the speaker with an eye towards understanding the nature of their accusations and allegations. The ability to effectively challenge someone’s argument hinges upon your understanding of their argument, not on the merits of your own.

Taking control of a situation requires you to pay attention to what is being said so that you may take all you’ve heard and use it collectively as you map out your proposed solution. Adopting the other person’s arguments in your solution will make it much more difficult for a person to logically rebuff your offer of resolution.

  1. Identify the true nature of the complaint and the complainant. 

There are many reasons why a person will complain. For customers, dissatisfaction with a product or service; for employees, dissatisfaction with protocols or fellow employees. But some complaints are born and nurtured in environments outside of your control. Taking control of these types of complaints require you to listen and explore with questions the circumstances leading the individual to your door.

Some customers are simply disappointed with the entire industry. It is necessary to set yourself apart from the herd and let the speaker know that you care.

Some employee complaints are born from a lack of clear expectations. Explore their concerns and guide them back to a more realistic path.

The most difficult of all complaints is the person who, due to their own shortcomings, has an inability to understand that their dissatisfaction stems from their inability to follow instructions or guidance. It is essential that you speak to these people as you would to a friend. There is no need to use industry jargon or million-dollar words. Make sure that your vocabulary and speech is simple enough that they can follow your directions to the letter. But do not allow yourself to come across condescending. This can be avoided by remaining social and human throughout your discussion.

  1. Focus on areas in which you and your company can improve.

 Learn. Even the most irrational or self-absorbed individuals can teach you valuable tools to improve your managerial skills. As you listen, pigeonhole some of their thoughts and complaints into the recesses of your mind.

By looking for areas of improvement in each and every conversation, you will not only actively listen, but you will enjoy the opportunity to grow and better handle your next challenging situation with an irate customer or employee.

Photo credit:  (c) CanStock Photo, Focalpoint


Joe Curcillo, The Mindshark, is a speaker, entertainer, lawyer and communications expert. As an Adjunct Professor at Widener University School of Law, Mr. Curcillo developed a hands-on course, based on the use of storytelling as a persuasive weapon. He has been a professional entertainer helping corporations and associations improve their communication techniques since 1979. For more information on bringing Joe Curcillo in for your next event, please visit www.TheMindShark.com.