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The Official Baldrige Blog

Satisfying Angry Customers: Insights and Best Practices

flow chart of guest complaint management system

Graphic used with permission.


In a recent blog, “Emotional Hijacking: Why Logic Doesn’t Work with Angry Customers,” Gallup Senior Strategist of Customer Experience and Innovation John Timmerman provides considerations that organizations can use both to prevent and manage customer complaints.

Timmerman also shared with us the science behind his blog, noting “Customers experience ego depletion (inability to use rational judgment) because the amygdala (part of the brain that controls emotions) can freeze up the logical functions of the brain. This becomes more exacerbated because the amygdala is triggered by an aversion to loss such as a customer perceiving they are at the losing end of the equation. The perceived loss of not receiving fair treatment can trigger the amygdala which overrides rationale thinking and puts emotions in full control of behavioral response.”

Illuminating the futility of some responses to angry customers, Timmerman added, “The ego depletion increases as employees try to use rational responses when the customer is only tuned into an emotional channel. The fatigue of ego depletion becomes worse as the customer is handed off to other people and escalates into a full emotional hijacking.” For organizations to avoid such situations, Timmerman’s blog lays out “six rules to prevent emotional hijacking.”

Such insights complement information that the Baldrige Program makes available on national role-model organizations that have developed strong customer-focused processes—and thus reaped beneficial results in the areas of customer satisfaction and engagement (item 7.2 of the Baldrige Criteria).

For example, 2010 Baldrige Award recipient K&N Management (profile linked as PDF file) has achieved results in its restaurants that demonstrate that it has long recognized the importance of building strong customer relationships. The Texas-based small business has systematic processes for serving customers’ needs to engage them and build relationships (item 3.2 in the Baldrige Criteria). Those processes include both preventative practices and immediate and effective management of complaints if and when a customer has indicated dissatisfaction.

As the organization stated in its 2010 Baldrige Award application (publicly available on the Baldrige website), “The food service industry demands fast resolution to guest dissatisfaction.” K&N Management described its process for managing complaints in part as follows, “Most of our complaints are submitted while the guest is still in the store, thus we have implemented a process to quickly handle and satisfy guest complaints when submitted at the store level. Verbal in-store comments and complaints are largely handled by [team members] and managers who are trained and empowered to delight the guest through hospitality and quality control. In-house complaints are processed initially by [team members] by replacing product that does not satisfy the guest.”

K&N’s approach to managing complaints appears to align with scientific insights conveyed by Timmerman. To wit, its restaurant employees “are fully trained on guest delight during training and are coached to personally take ownership of any guest complaint and resolve it based on verbal and non-verbal cues from the guest.” K&N’s complaint management system is depicted in the graphic in this blog.  

“Our goal is not just to resolve the complaint and make whatever is wrong right, but to go a step further and create a delighted guest by turning a negative into a positive,” said K&N Management Co-Owner Ken Schiller recently. “Doing this builds relationships and creates long-term raving fans. Our team members know we will recognize and reward their actions in achieving this result and they will never be reprimanded for doing too much to delight a guest.

Readers: How do people in your organization address angry customers? Do you have a systematic approach for building customer relationships that creates “long-term raving fans”?

About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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Sorry to say I could read the text and found it illuminating, but could not read the graphic. Interested now in how you might respond.
Thanks, Jim. If you doubleclick on the graphic, I believe you'll be able to see a larger version (in clear detail). That works for me, at least, and I wasn't able to make the graphic larger within this blog system. At any rate, the graphic can also be seen in the downloadable PDF of K&N's 2010 application summary available online on our program's website on the Baldrige Award recipients page.
Muy importante y acual. Creo que la gráfica hay que reenviarla para verla con claridad. ¡Gracias!
De nada. Como le dije al otro, se necesita cliquear dos veces en la gráfica y así lo verá un imagen más grande. (Y lo siento, hablo sólo un poco de español.)
Does this complaint management model applies only to large corporations?
No, in fact K&N Management is considered a small business.
A very good summary of a SINGLE item of FOCUS - "THE CUSTOMER IS KING". It demonstrating the HUGE benefits derived from using any of the EXCELLENT MODELS, such as Baldridge, EFQM and the South African Excellence Model (SAEM). The PROCESS they have shared, demonstrates the power of effective CONTINUOUS PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENT AND PROMPT CORRECTIVE ACTION. It is VITAL that ALL ORGANISATIONS carry out their own "ANNUAL PERFORMANCE ASSESSMENT" with "BENCHMARKING", to ensure they remain FUNCTIONALY EFFECTIVE and demonstrate CONTINUOUS and POSTIVE PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT. The derived KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS therefrom must then form a part of their monthly Management ACTION PROGRAMS to SUSTAIN THEIR CONTINUOUS PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENT.
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