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Photo Credit: Dave Tisch Tischhauser

5 Ways to Deal With Unhappy Customers

AFT&C’s CPO Halloween Contest winner Dave Tisch Tischhauser
Dealing with unhappy customers

Do you want to put your customer service skills to the test? Try working Memorial Day weekend in a busy swimming pool supply store. It’s hot, there are lines literally out the door, and everybody is having a party on Saturday! Then it happens. Entering your store is an unhappy customer.

I was lucky enough to get my start in the industry working in retail pool supplies. I can tell you from first-hand experience that in this environment your customer service skills have to be NEXT LEVEL STUFF. There is absolutely nothing like having an irate customer screaming at you from across the store. Knocking over signs and berating your staff, as sixty other patrons mill about a two-thousand square foot brick and mortar. Hating life because they feel that thirty minutes is too long to wait in a water test line just shy of a dozen people deep.

Trained with an egg timer

When I ran my store up on Long Island, I would teach my water test staff to analyze water and prescribe chemical doses with an egg-timer. I had a part-time employee whose only job was to delivered cold bottled drinking water to those waiting in a line that extended out of the door and onto the sidewalk. With two dedicated water test employees at all times and three minutes per test, the twentieth customer in each line would still be facing a sixty-minute wait… – Rudy Stankowitz, President/CEO of Aquatic Facility Training & Consultants

Reaching out to a Retail Guru

I have been out of the retail pool supply game for nearly eighteen years at this point. Wanting to put together a piece on “diffusing the irate retail customer” I decided to reach out to one of my CPO Certification students, Erin Thibodeau of Pace Pool & Spa Service. Erin was recently awarded Pleatco Filtration’s Outstanding Service Award. She received this for her retail customer service skills in Pleatco’s 2016 Nationwide Perfect Pool Guy/Gal Search at the International Pool & Spa show in New Orleans. Erin, who currently serves as the manager of Pace Pool’s Pace Florida retail pool supply location, reminds us of Berlin EA. & Fowkes WC.’s customer service model LEARN (1983).

What Pleatco’s Outstanding Service Gal said
Erin Thibodeau, Pace Pool & Spa Service

‘Can’t win ‘em all’ is what they say. It is statistically impossible to please every customer that walks through the door. Whether they’re unhappy with the results of a product, are confused by varying opinions, or simply feel mistreated. A dissatisfied customer can make or break the day. Your response to the situation can affect not only your relationship with that customer but with any others that are witness to the debacle occurring in your storefront.

How exactly do you react to a displeased patron? You L.E.A.R.N.
Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Respond. Negotiate. (Berlin EA. & Fowkes, WC. – 1983).

While discussing automatic cleaners with one customer, it struck a chord with another who chose to voice their opinion quite prominently.  “I wouldn’t buy one if I were you. That piece of junk never has worked right. I bought one online a year ago, and it hardly moves around or does anything.” I was not going to allow one customer’s bad experience put a damper on that of another. A few key questions and carefully listening to the replies, it was determined that the customer’s online purchase was for a completely different cleaner than the one being currently discussed. “That sounds like a frustrating ordeal,” I said “to spend several hundred dollars on an item and not have it perform as you’d expect. I’m sorry you had that experience. Let me explain the differences in the systems and also the advantages of purchasing through our company versus the internet….”


Someone unhappy or frustrated will more than likely be willing to give you an earful about their situation. Why are they mad? What happened and what steps were taken that procured a less than desirable outcome? What was the expectation, and how did we fail to meet it?  We are often too quick to react. Take time to hear what is being said. Listen with intent and let the customer have their moment to spout off.


Compassion goes a long way for someone upset or discouraged. “I’m so sorry you’re having a difficult time. It sounds like you’ve been working hard on this issue.” Instead of greeting their anger with hostility, a soft tone and a sense of understanding can quickly diffuse a situation rather than causing it to escalate. Remember, it’s not just this customer, there are onlookers as well. Your goal is to come to a resolution, and adding fuel to the fire will get you nowhere fast.


Even though you didn’t make the product, or personally offend them, say you’re sorry. Maybe the result of their issue was due to their own negligence or misuse of the merchandise, say you’re sorry.  I am sorry you feel this way and or the confusing information you received. I understand the frustration you are experiencing. Give them a sense of validation. That their concerns are real and that you do feel bad for having not met the desired outcome, whatever it may be.


Now that you’ve heard the problem, felt compassion for the situation, and apologized for your role in the circumstance, it’s a problem-solving time. What will you do to fix it? Is the customer due a refund? Can you reach out to a manufacturer’s representative to gain clarity on the use of the product? Is this a warrantable item? What are you going to DO about the situation? The active response is required. The customer has come to you with a complaint. You must react to it in a means they find favorable.


Some customers cannot be pleased. Once they have it in their mind that you or a product have done them wrong, even returning any monies spent, an offer of assistance outside the shop and/or an elaborate apology. Some folks just aren’t accepting of the circumstances. It’s ok to negotiate the parting of ways. Sometimes a company/customer relationship must end.

The variance here is that you have now supplied every ample possibility to resolve and assuage the situation. Hopefully, the steps you have taken are realized, and that relationship is salvaged. Those bystanders have seen your willingness and eagerness to work through a tricky scenario and the extent you have gone to make one customer happy. Even if the end result means one less customer, you have gained the trust and respect of those who witnessed your brilliant customer service tactics.

Handling customers en masse is no easy feat, especially when one among them is quite displeased. In those difficult times, take a moment and L.E.A.R.N. How you handle the circumstances will be far more memorable than the complaint itself. Let your actions speak louder than your words, and as the old adage says, “the customer’s always right.”

Similar Article: How Can a Homeowner Tell if a Pool Person Has Had Any Training? ?‍?

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