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Candace D'Agnolo

5 Steps to Defuse Conflict with Customers

How to respond to customer issues without making things worse?




EVER HAD A customer who wants her money back on a destroyed plush dog toy because “you said it was indestructible”? In your head, your response is something like, “Yeah right, crazy lady. You obviously weren’t listening because I would never say that!” Or how about an angry customer getting visibly upset saying, “I’m two hours late for my grooming appointment, but you told me I could walk in at any time. It even says so on your website! You have to wash my dog! I have guests coming tomorrow. You’re ruining our entire weekend!” How do you respond to these customer issues without making things worse?

Whether you believe the customer is always right or not, you still must do all you can to make sure the customer leaves satisfied and feels her problem was properly resolved. Follow my five-step process and move from a defensive, stand-your-ground approach to a “the-customer-is-always-right” mindset.


Whether they are coming at you calm, with anger or just plain sass, listen, listen, listen. Let them vent without interruption. If they aren’t saying much, ask questions like, “Tell me more” or “What were you hoping for?” By using this technique, you 1. allow the customer to get it off his chest, and 2. are better able to understand his needs so you can offer the best solution.


Empathizing with their situation and expressing a genuine understanding of their frustration might be the most important part of helping unsatisfied customers. Make sure you don’t miss this opportunity to connect. Say things like, “I can understand how disappointing this is,” or “I would be just as frustrated. I really feel what you’re going through.” Then repeat the problem they’ve shared with you. By doing this, you’re validating that you’ve heard their concerns and that you understand their problem.


Instead of offering what you think is the best solution, ask them what they want. I spent years giving a huge discount or a full refund because I feared that bad Yelp review. But the simple questions, “How can I make this right?” or “What do you think is a reasonable solution?” puts the ball in their court. Sometimes they may ask for something you can’t possibly do, but in most cases their request is reasonable. When you solve the problem with the customer’s idea, you know they’ll be satisfied. Even better, you let the customer know you really care and thus deepen customer loyalty.


If you can do what they are asking, that’s the best result. Get excited and tell them you can absolutely meet their request. If you can’t, politely say, “While I can’t give you X, I really do want to help you, so here’s what I can do …” Provide a thoughtful solution, one that truly helps them. So, back to our customer with the dog who has guests coming … if you can’t give that the dog a bath, give her a free bottle of bath spritz or wipes and a fresh bandana to hold the dog over. Then tell her that for the inconvenience you’ll squeeze the dog in for your first available appointment with a 15 percent discount.



You can always do more — surprise, delight, and give them a cherry on top. Rather than think you’re rewarding a complaining customer, recognize the situation as a marketing opportunity where you’re converting bad situations into loyal customers who will likely share their experience. Remember, 92 percent of consumers trust word of mouth over other forms of advertising. So give them an additional perk like a future discount or a gift that complements their needs. Approach this situation from an abundance mindset and create a win-win situation.

As a business owner, you must transition mindsets, from “But I’m right!” to “I truly care about my customer.” Your customers must be happy. Focus on loyalty investment rather than a one-time margin hit. You will spend a lot more to get a new customer than making this one happy.

Candace D’Agnolo owns successful pet business Dogaholics and offers business consulting at Pet Boss Nation. For help creating a customized 90-day plan to tackle all your business goals, download a free worksheet, at Contact her at

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