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BFS Capital Blog

Wronged, Wrong or Difficult Customers: What Do You Do?

March 15, 2013

We’ve all been taught that the customer is always right. It’s a long-held, sound business philosophy—or is it? More about that later…

No matter how committed your employees are or how sterling your service is, there will be times when you drop the ball and disappoint the customer. Hopefully, those times are few.  But what counts the most is not the mistake or lapse in service; it’s what you do next. How are you going to make a suitable apology to your customer?  And are there ways to use this as an opportunity to convert an unhappy customer into a loyal customer-for-life?

In an article on, contributor Chris Mittelstaedt lays out some must-do steps for any business owner who will ever face an unhappy customer (and that would be pretty much everybody).  These provide a framework for problem-solving. Mittelstaedt reminds us how important the basics can be: things like getting in touch with the customer immediately demonstrate your genuine concern and commitment to corrective action. Be very specific about the actions you’re going to take—not only with the customer directly but also in terms of changing your policy or practices, if that applies. Follow up with the customer in the coming weeks and be sure to invite them back. This probably isn’t what your customer expects; he or she will be pleasantly surprised.

Likewise, Media Partners highlights some additional rules for making amends to disappointed customers. One biggie: Listen! And don’t interrupt. It can be harder than it seems, especially if the customer veers into territory you think is unfair. But, listen anyway. One of the main beefs of customers who have made complaints to businesses is that they haven’t been heard. Other good advice: Don’t get emotional. Never say ‘No.’ Focus on a solution.

And, by the way, both sources stress that you need to actually apologize.

Then there are those customers who are just plain difficult. They may or may not have a nugget of a legitimate complaint, but they tend to be whiny and nitpicky. Your employees haven’t done anything wrong, so you definitely don’t owe them an apology or need to make amends. But how do you handle them, especially given that the problem could escalate.

Business News Daily ( suggests that some of the same tactics apply, even though you’re not making an actual apology. Here again, listening, showing empathy and keeping your emotions will all go a long way in diffusing a difficult customer. Use your best business judgment: There will be times when it just makes sense to give in on a point or two.  Be sure to thank them for bringing something to your attention.

Which leads us to the $64,000 question: Are customers ever wrong? And if so, how do you handle them?

Happiness-at-work expert and ‘Chief Happiness Officer’ Alexander Kjerulf offers a resounding YES in his excellent Top 5 reasons why ‘The customer is always right’ is wrong. Take a few minutes to read Kerjerulf’s commentary, which offers terrific insights and examples. Some of the best come from Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, who says that taking ‘The customer is always right’ position is a huge betrayal of your employees. And he’s not alone in his belief that some customers are just plain wrong.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /