Your Business

How to Handle Conflict Between Employees and Customers

By Rieva Lesonsky

Personality conflicts happen in every business, and if you’re like most small-business owners, you’ve gotten pretty good at handling conflicts between your employees. But what about when an employee and a customer aren’t getting along?

Conflicts between customers and employees can cause lasting problems for your business. Even a one-time incident can spur a customer to give your company a poor review on social media, causing a ripple effect of negative publicity. Ongoing conflicts, such as an account manager who just doesn’t “click” with a client she’s assigned to, can frustrate both customers and employees and eventually lead them to leave your business.

How can you handle customer-employee conflicts? Here are some suggestions.

For a one-time conflict

  • Take charge. If an employee is getting angry with a customer (or vice versa) and you sense that the situation is escalating, step in to take charge. Your presence as a neutral party will enable both people involved to cool off a little bit. Depending on the level of conflict, you may want to have the employee leave the area while you talk to the customer.
  • Find out what happened. Ask for the customer’s side of the story. Apologize for any problems and remedy the situation. If warranted, have the employee apologize as well.
  • Talk to the employee. Find out the employee’s version of the situation (away from the customer if necessary). Then talk to the worker about your customer service policies and what he or she should do differently next time.

Sometimes you’ll find the customer is at fault. In this case, it’s important to stand up for your employee. Without being rude to the customer, explain the situation and what you can do to defuse his or her anger.

For an ongoing conflict

Ongoing conflicts between customers and employees can be dangerous because often, the first time you find out about them is when the customer announces they’ll no longer be patronizing your business. Prevent this with a proactive attitude:

  • Check in. Keep your finger on the pulse of customer/employee relationships by checking in with your key customers on a regular basis to find out how happy they are with the service they’re receiving and the employee/s they work with.
  • Expect honesty. Employees should feel comfortable telling you if they aren’t getting along with a customer. Let them know that your goal is to match the right employees with the right customers and that it’s important for you to know about personality conflicts in order do that.
  • Pay attention to transitions. Transitions—such as when a project for a customer first gets underway or when a longtime customer is switched to a new account rep after the old one quits—are touchy times. Be sure to check in with both employees and customers more frequently during transition stages.

By monitoring employee-customer relationships regularly, you can keep everything running smoothly.

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