Business Columns & Blogs

Dealing with an upset customer from a manager's perspective

For a manager to be perceived as a positive manager, they need a four to one positive to negative contact ratio. ~ Ken Blanchard

What do you do if you get a call, e-mail, or find out in conversation one of your employees has given poor customer service? Apologize for the issue and promise to look into it?

You owe it to both the customer and the employee to find out what really happened and why. Whatever the situation, the cause of the customer service issue must be found, understood and dealt with.

In situations like these, I see managers make some very common mistakes, such as automatically blaming the employee before they have done enough research into what happened. Other times, it goes the other way: the manager automatically blames the customer.

Either way, automatically placing blame is not the right way to handle customer complaints. Normally it is not just the customer or just the employee who caused the problem but a combination of both.

For example, one manager was looking into a customer complaint he initially assumed was simply the customer being a pain. The employee had recorded every time he responded to the customer's calls and e-mails, and everything looked great to the manager. After reviewing these records, the manager could not imagine how

the customer could possibly be upset with this employee. However, after a little bit more digging, the manager found that the employee had only recorded those calls and e-mails he responded to, but there were many more he never addressed at all.

This employee had been one of the manager's best staff members in the past, so he went to the employee to find out what was going on. During this talk, the manager found out the employee was going through a divorce and was not doing well emotionally. The manager recommended the employee see a counselor to help him through this tough time.

When the manager went back to the customer, he apologized again for the poor service, but rather than saying the employee was all wrong and he planned to fire him -- which was not true at all -- he explained that the employee was going through some personal issues without getting into any detail. He said that although the employee's circumstances did not pardon the bad service, it did provide some insight into the reason the service had not been up to standards. The customer appreciated the call back, was sympathetic about the employee's issue and glad that his complaint did not result in the employee being fired. Overall, the customer felt great because the manager took time to look into his problem, validated his concern and then addressed the problem with the employee.

Jerry Osteryoung, a business consultant, is a Jim Moran professor of entrepreneurship (emeritus) and professor of finance (emeritus) at Florida State University. Reach him at