Dealing diplomatically with negative customer comments – Tips for your team

There’s a lot of negativity around, isn’t there? It’s hard to avoid on the news, in social media and in conversation.

These negative comments from customers aren’t necessarily aimed at you or your business.  Much of the time it is often more general gloomy customer comments that get loaded onto us over the phone and face-to-face.

These can range from negative comments about violence in society, to the weather and even local parking problems.

The easiest response is to agree with whatever these customers say.

  • When we agree we are developing rapport with our customers and getting on the same side as them, which is good.
  • Yet at the same time we are subconsciously imprinting in the customer’s mind that being with us is a miserable experience, which is not so good.

And, each time we agree with them we are imprinting yet another doom and gloom message on our own mind.

Plus, people are more likely to buy when they are in a positive mood (they focus on the benefits rather than the flaws).  So, if you reinforce their gloomy comments you are creating the wrong atmosphere.  They are likely to see a problem in every opportunity rather than the opportunity that your product or service offers to enhance their lives or boost their business.

The question then becomes, how do you avoid getting caught up in this gloom filled trap –

  1. Without openly contradicting your customers or callers
  2. Without ignoring their comment
  3. While still establishing rapport with the person making the comment?

First, be clear in your mind that your overall intention is to make your customers’ day.  This involves helping them to feel better about themselves as a result of having phoned up or come in to see you.

Next, acknowledge your customer’s comment.  This is usually a neutral phrase that neither agrees nor disagrees with the comment.  For example,

  • “Yes it can seem that way.”
  • “Do you think so?”
  • “I’m surprised to hear that.”
  • “Sounds like you’re not in favour of...”

For example, let’s say that the customer makes a comment along the lines of “Did you see the news last night?  There’s so much violence in the world today.”

Instead of, “Oh, I know, isn’t it terrible?” you could respond with, “It can seem that way, can’t it?  Especially with reports brought instantly to us on TV and social media from every part of the world.  Still, I think we’re so fortunate to live in such a safe street/town/locality/country ourselves.”  Then move on to the purpose of their call or visit.

Point to discuss with your team

It pays to get together with your team and come up with a list of the typical negative comments you get from callers and customers.  Then share ideas on how you can all:

  1. Acknowledge a customer’s comment without getting caught up in the negativity.
  2. Come up with a positive response that doesn’t openly contradict what they have said.

There’s a lot of benefit on working on this together in a short guided discussion led by the manager or team coach.  For some people, responses naturally roll off the tongue.  For others it is learned behaviour and they need guidance to get started.  Creating helpful scripts as a team can be great for raising awareness as well as giving everyone the confidence to deal with unpleasant or gloomy comments from customers.

Record the range of preferred responses.  Once these are captured and agreed upon they become great ‘cheat sheets’ to share with new employees so that they too can learn how to deal with customer negativity.

The same process can be useful in rehearsing responses to negative comments that are work-related.  For example, when some change has been made to your processes or procedures that affect the customer or when your fees or prices are about to be increased.


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Jurek Leon is a storyteller, speaker and trainer. Subscribe to Jurek's FREE monthly 'Terrific Tips' e-newsletter at Alternatively, email