Handling an Irate Customer

Excerpted and adapted from How to Succeed in Marine Retailing by Ben H. Sherwood

It is inevitable that from time to time you will have an irate customer in your store. Whatever made the customer upset may be real or perceived. Either way, how you or your personnel handle such situations can keep or lose customers.


Try not to get angry or upset with an irate customer

This can be real hard to do at times. But if you get angry with an angry customer, you will only make the situation worse.

Determine the problem

The first thing you should do is calmly ask the customer to tell you exactly what the problem is.  Once they have explained what happened, ask some more questions to help fully understand the situation that upset them. This will also give them the impression that you really care.

Don’t argue with an irate customer

Arguing, even if you are right, never convinces an upset customer that he is wrong. At best you win the battle and lose the war. In this case, losing the war means losing the customer


Once you have heard a customer’s story and gotten your questions answered, start diffusing the person’s anger by apologizing to him. Say something like, “We’re really sorry you had that problem. It must have been very upsetting to you.” Then follow up by agreeing with him by saying, “I can understand how you feel. I think I would be upset too if that happened to me.”

Ask what you can do to fix the problem for them

I remember one dealer who had a real talent for calming upset customers. He would say, “Tell me what you would like me to do to take care of this problem for you.” This usually calmed them down. He told me, “In most cases, what they would ask us to do to correct the problem was usually less than what we were willing to do.” At this point, the customer feels like maybe you sincerely want to help him and take care of the problem.

Sometimes it helps to personally take the blame

Once you have taken the blame and apologized, what else can the customer say?

Lastly, do the right thing for the customer

Fix the problem however you can. Do the right thing, and word will soon get out that your dealership is a fair and honorable place to do business.

About Ben H. Sherwood

Ben H. Sherwood is a marine industry veteran and a marketing consultant who operates Sherwood Marine Marketing in Pleasant Prairie, Wis. For more info, click About on the main menu.

3 thoughts on “Handling an Irate Customer

  1. Your advice is spot on. We have followed those rules for 30 years and have built a loyal customer base as a result.

Leave a Reply