Customer complaints and conflict – focus on the emotions first

customer complaints

Customer complaints and conflict – focus on the emotions first

One of the most challenging aspects of handling customer complaints is when you are trying to communicate a positive solution but it seems the customer just doesn’t want to listen. You’ve actually solved the problem, but you just can’t seem to get that through to them.

This can be frustrating – so you get frustrated – and this just makes the position worse. Does this ever happen to you?

It can happen to anyone, but can particularly be a problem for skilled problem solvers: technicians, professionals, or anyone with a cool, analytical mind.

In handling customer complaints, people often focus on finding a solution, on problem solving, BEFORE they have met a clients emotional needs – with the result that the client is too emotional to be receptive.

Customer complaints: emotions first

 To ensure this doesn’t happen to you, follow this EESy formula:

  • Emotions – manage your own emotions first
  • Emotions – then manage or meet your customer’s emotional needs
  • Solution – then, and only then, you can move onto discussing and communicating solutions.


So, you start with yourself.

Different people have different strategies for staying cool. Understanding your personal ‘triggers’ can help, as can the understanding that it’s not about you (so there’s really no value in fighting a battle to defend yourself). From diet and exercise and personal stress management to NLP techniques, there are a range of options. Find out what works for you, so that you don’t become part of the problem, and can move towards being part of the solution.

Then, you focus on meeting your customer’s emotional needs.

And there can be quite a few. In a complaint/conflict situation, customers might need:

  • to feel they are be listened to
  • to feel that they are respected
  • to be agreed with
  • to be right
  • validation that its ok to feel and think as they do
  • to feel they can trust you and that you are on their side
  • to feel you completely understand them


The more you can meet their emotional needs, the more receptive they are likely to be to your attempts to frame a response or solution. If you fail to meet their emotional needs, if you fail to win their trust and respect, why would they listen to you?  If they are still in angry/frustrated mode, they may either dismiss or view anything you say with a negative bias. Rapport plays a part here too. The more positive rapport you can build, the more customers will feel respected, and want to trust you.

Language is vitally important here. The right words will help you meet the customer’s emotional needs. Learn to use positive respectful language at all times.

Only when you have successfully managed both your own and the customer’s emotions should you then move forward to problem solving and finding a solution. And that bit’s easy!

Click here to learn more about how CX Training can help your team manage customer complaints.

Or register now for our Customer Experience Leadership workshop, Brisbane, 16 November, 8.30am-12pm