Dealing with Complainers — Trainer in Government

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Deletha Lampshire is the senior trainer for the City of Grand Junction.  We citizens complain a lot.  She helps city employees handle angry people better.

L.A.S.T. — For Lasting Customer Relationships

Adapted from The Difficult Guest, Media Partners, Inc. 1996, Tukwila, WA

Fortunately, there is a very effective formula for dealing with Difficult Guests.  It’s called L.A.S.T.

Each of the steps in L.A.S.T. seems relatively simple or obvious.  But when a red-hot customer is breathing down your neck, you may feel you need to resort to Flight or Fight unless you have something easy to fall back on and remember.

The skills in this acronym will help you perform under pressure.

L Listen

A Apologize

S Solve

T Thank

Like an athlete who is trained for his or her event, you practice the four steps in the L.A.S.T. formula so they become second nature, part of the skill set you bring to your profession. When you can take these steps automatically, you’ve become a pro who can concentrate your energy on solving the particular problems of each particular customer.

L is for Listen

Listening (as you recall from Module 2) is one of the most important skills we can possess in a customer service capacity.  It is one thing to hear what someone is saying and another to “actively” listen.

KEY – Don’t Interrupt

You can’t listen when you’re talking.  If you’re interrupting, you’re probably entering “Fight” mode.  Even if you think you know where your customer is going, hear them out.  They want to vent their feelings and make sure you understand what’s going on.  The longer you listen, and listen attentively, the more you’ll learn, the more rapport you’ll establish and the cooler your upset customer will become.

Why do we even care about being an effective listener?  Effective listening can help you deal with difficult customers in two ways:

1. The more your customer expresses their disappointment, the better they’ll feel.

2. The longer you wait to respond, the more time you’ll have to check your personal baggage – to cool down and consider how you’re going to start solving their problems.

Remember:  Be patient, drop your baggage, be attentive and look and listen for meaning when you are listening to your disappointed customers.  The better you become at it, the more successful you’ll be at handling your most difficult customers.

A is for Apologize

It is hard to apologize.  Especially if something isn’t your fault.  But as a representative of the City, your Department and of your co-workers, sometimes you have to apologize on their behalf.  In fact, you even have to apologize if the problem or situation you’re dealing with is mostly the customer’s fault.

It goes with the territory.  An apology is the price you pay to win back the allegiance and good will of your customer.  To let them know you care and that you are on their side.

Why is it so hard to apologize?  Three reasons!

1.  You did nothing wrong

2.  The customer is being rude

3.  You just don’t feel like it

Be Careful!  An apology is not an admission of guilt.  An apology is simply an expression that you are personally sorry that your customer is disappointed.  This should help ease the pain when you have to apologize to your customer.

It’s not about who is right and who is wrong.  It means you can apologize and move on to problem solving.

Try these on for size:

“I’m so sorry for the inconvenience…let’s see what we can do”

“I can understand you’re upset.  We’re sorry.  Here’s what I can do.”

S is for Solve

You’ve listened to your disappointed customer.  You have let him know that you’ve heard what they have to say.  You have apologized for their disappointment.  Now it’s time to work with them to try to make things better!  It’s time to solve the problem.

In many cases, you won’t be able to solve the problem.  It may be out of your control.  The important thing to do is to demonstrate that you, personally are going to take responsibility to do whatever it takes to work with your customer and try to resolve whatever you can.

Solving is the step where you take control back from the guest.  They have vented, you’ve listened, and apologized.  Now, let’s make it right.

It’s time to focus on the what, not the why.  Who cares why this happened, let’s just fix it!  If you convince your customer that you’re willing to work together with them to solve the problem, you’re probably going to end up on a positive note, whether you achieve a perfect solution or not.

T is for Thank

Never underestimate the power of common courtesy.  Good manners and an acknowledgement, in the form of a “thank you” is a powerful gesture that meets a whole host of your customer’s needs.

What do you thank your difficult customer for?

· For bringing the problem to your attention

· Their patience in working with you to solve things

· Their patronage, which you hope you’ll continue to enjoy

· Their humor or positive attitude while you’ve worked together.

Leave your customer feeling that their problem, and your shared experience of solving it has been worth it.


Your desire to work with the customer is half the battle.  Even if you can’t solve their particular problem you can turn their disappointment around and make them happy.

Taking Over – Nicely

One of the misconceptions about using L.A.S.T. with your customers is that somehow you are humbling yourself before them, surrendering control.

Just the opposite is true.  Each of the steps in its own way turns you from a passive victim of your customer’s disappointment to an assertive solver of his or her problems.

Take Charge!!!

QUIZ – L.A.S.T. Chances

Do you think you understand L.A.S.T ?  Here’s a quick quiz to test your comprehension.

Identify the statements below that are TRUE.

_____1.  Once I understand what a customer needs, I can interject and start solving the problem.

_____2.  Good eye contact with a customer is important.

_____3.  Hearing and listening are the same thing.

_____4.  Your tone of voice is not as important as the words themselves.

_____5.  Apologize only if you’re at fault.

_____6.  Apologies humble you in front of your customers.

_____7.  The customer wants to be heard out.

_____8.  Solving is as much working with the customer as it is getting their problem solved.

_____9.  Customers appreciate prompt action more than promises.

____10.  There’s no need to thank a customer who has just chewed you out.

____11.  Disappointed customers can actually be turned into happy customers.

____12.  Once you’ve solved their problems, disappointed customers will immediately change their tune.

____13.  L.A.S.T. is only useful with really angry customers.

____14.  It’s helpful to summarize the actions you’re going to take to solve the problem.

____15.  When you use L.A.S.T., you surrender control of the situation.

L.A.S.T. Review

Listen Gives space and “turf” to your customers, but cools them down.  They realize you are giving them two valuable things: your time and your attention.

Apologize Brings you closer, humanizes you.  The customer begins to perceive you as a human being willing to help, not just a cog in the machine.

Solve You’re now part of the solution, not just a part of the problem.  You assert yourself and take action.  You’re back in control.

Thank You let the customer know he actually did you a favor by complaining – you thank them for helping you make your service better.