No matter how well you tend to your car, it may still break down on you unexpectedly. The same holds true with customer service. When faced with a dissatisfied, unhappy or angry customer, take a deep breath and remember what Microsoft founder Bill Gates once advised: “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Whether the customer is wrong or right, focus on discovering hidden lessons; then your response, written or otherwise, will evoke sincerity, curiosity, humility and an eagerness to work with your customer as a business partner, both on the pressing matter and beyond.

Respond quickly, because a lag in response may further aggravate your customer's unhappiness. The simple courtesy of a response will defuse frustration and dissuade your customer from escalating her complaint and audience by using online social media or website "megaphones."

Reassure your unhappy customer. State that you are aware of her displeasure and are promptly investigating the complaint. Express your concern and offer a sincere apology. State also your desire to learn more about the issue, especially if details were not disclosed at the onset, as well as your eagerness to resolve the issue quickly. Set a date for a phone call or face-to-face meeting.

Research the issue from a customer service perspective in the meantime. Get the viewpoints of employees, team members or anyone else who may have been involved inh the unhappy situation. Adopt an objective, fact-finding approach rather than an accusatory tone that could further inflame the situation. Your goals are simply to get a handle on the facts in order to prevent an issue from recurring in the future and to determine a reasonable resolution to your customer’s pressing issue.

Speak to you unhappy customer. Allow her to vent her frustration or discontent unhurriedly and without interruption. When she has calmed down sufficiently, turn the discussion to resolving the issue. Propose a specific solution that would relieve her displeasure quickly and meaningfully. Continue the discussion until you both agree on a course of action, and then establish a time frame for its implementation.

Document the unfortunate issue, your follow-up discussions and final agreement in a formal letter. Maintain a professional, humble and grateful tone. Apologize again for the inconvenience and dissatisfaction caused by the issue. Thank your customer for her candor and feedback, which are essential to improving your product or service. If applicable, describe the measures that you are instituting to prevent the same issue from happening again. Express your hope and optimism for a stronger relationship between you and the customer.


Respond initially to your unhappy customer by using a medium that facilitates speed, such as a phone call or email. Use a formal letter for follow-up correspondence to emphasize the matter’s significance. Adopt a block or semi-block format on your letters.

When you offer your apology, accept full responsibility. Making excuses or shifting blame may backfire or make matters worse.

Aim for a reasonable and rational solution that will please your unhappy customer so much that she might use online media to express her satisfaction. Do not, however, propose solutions that you cannot deliver or implement on the schedule upon which you agreed.

Furnish a copy of your letters to individuals who were involved in a customer service issue. This will keep them informed of the measures you are taking to correct the situation. This is also a great way for your customer service team to learn what to avoid in the future and how to respond elegantly and effectively to customer complaints.