Customer loyalty and repeat business are the cornerstones of business today. We all joke about losing some of our customers who are difficult, but the fact is that losing a customer is the absolute worst thing that could happen to a dealership. The key is to manage customer relationships and to be attentive to problems and complaints.

Regardless of the size of your dealership and the level of customer service you provide, you will have customers who are disappointed with you. It used to be that an angry or upset customer would tell nine other people about how bad a job you did or how poorly they were treated. That was before the days of the internet.

Today, if you are mistreated by a business, you can go online and spread the word to thousands of people. And, today, more and more people are listening to those reviews and deciding not to spend money with the business. The same holds true for customers who have a good experience with you. Today, that same experience is shared with thousands.


I recently needed to buy a new antenna cable for my satellite radio and went online to order it. The moment I found one on Amazon, it showed 268 other people who had rated their experience. While there were several bad experiences, most of the reviews were very positive and based upon the numbers, I placed the order and was completely satisfied.

That’s the world we live in today. It’s changed from years ago and I believe it is now easier to turn upset customers into happy or at least neutral ones.

Regardless of how long you have been in business, it’s important to understand that we all occasionally have angry or upset customers. It’s just a part of working in the retail business. The key is listen to them and let them vent and defuse so you can begin the process of working through a solution.

Letting Customers Talk

So, how do you handle an angry customer? The first thing you need to do is listen and let the customer talk. Many times, the customer doesn’t want you to fix the problem. They just want you to hear how the problem affected them.

You need to make sure that you create calmness for the situation. First, you need to slow down a little bit. The easiest way to slow down a conversation is to slow down your speech and lower your voice. This often will take the conversation from a threatening to a non-threatening conversation. Then you take time to listen, you will often find that solving the problem will be much easier.

Next, give them your undivided attention. Don’t look at the people around them, focus solely on them and their problem. Repeating things back to the customer also has a calming effect. It shows that you are truly trying to get a full grasp on the situation. 

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I always like to “co-agonize” with the customer and express to them that I would probably feel the same way. Making the customer feel like you understand them tends to take away some of the hostility — at least toward you. Keep in mind that, at this point, you are working to make them feel like a solution can be reached.

Probably the most important thing to do is to avoid throwing gas on the fire. There is nothing that will escalate a confrontation more than saying the wrong thing when a customer is at the explosion point.

It’s very important to thoughtfully choose your words and responses. One of the things that will always frustrate the customer is by saying, “You don’t understand, this is our policy.” They don’t care what your policy is, they just want you to listen to their problems.

Here are some other approaches to practice:

  • Never tell a customer to calm down, because that won’t calm them down.
  • Don’t blame it on another employee or say that you can’t do something. Again, you have to be cautious with the verbiage you use with frustrated customers.
  • Be sure to be empathetic with phrases like “Thank you so much for being patient,” or “I’m here to help you.”

Remember when I mentioned earlier about co-agonizing with them? It’s important to say “If I was treated that way, I would be upset, too.” If you can successfully help them understand that you are on their side, the situation will be less tense.

When the situation is resolved, a thank you note should be sent from the dealership owner. It should simply thank them for bringing the problem to your attention and letting them know what steps are being put into place so their situation doesn’t happen again. This will really calm things over with a frustrated customer.

The good thing is that depending on how you and your team handle the situation, you have the opportunity to move them from upset to loyal customers. That outcome is a win for them and for your dealership.


Read part 2: “Building Relationships Part 2: Building Loyal Customers.”