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    Have you ever been in a situation where you bought a product, and when you went to use it, it did not work? Or it was missing a part? Then when you tried to complain you found yourself on hold, or talking to a customer service representative who does not have the authority to resolve the issue? Or worse you never received a response at all? Customers are left feeling angry and helpless in these situations. So what can a customer do to get their complaint acknowledged and resolved?

    Before you call or email the company, you must first remember to remain calm. You, as the client, are less likely to resolve your complaint if you begin yelling at the customer service representative or using all caps in an email. Regina Lewis from USA Today suggests, “Be business-like and think of yourself in the third person, almost like you are handling a matter on behalf of someone else.” By remaining business-like, you take the emotion out of the problem and address the issue at hand.

    Another step suggested by Tom Barlow a contributor for Forbes is to “think through what outcome will make you happy: a refund? A replacement? An apology? An upgrade? And get your facts straight: Know your rights by reviewing warranties and the policies of the company in question”. Before filing a complaint, it is important to recognize what you can realistically achieve so that you can resolve it successfully. If you have unrealistic expectations then you are most likely not going to reach the results you want.

    Once you call, what should you do if the customer service representative does not have the authority to provide a resolution? Tom Barlow advises, “ If you aren’t getting anywhere with the phone rep, escalate: Ask to talk to a supervisor, and keep on reaching up the chain until you’re put in touch with someone with the power to grant your request.” It is essential to speak with someone who has the decision- making authority to resolve the issue. Businesses do not want to risk losing you as a customer. One dissatisfied customer could share their negative experience with others, which could be harmful to the company. For this reason, resolution is best for all parties involved.

    If you have escalated your issue to someone with authority and still are not receiving results, there are other options available to you. The Internet has become a great place to voice dissatisfaction, and if done properly, you can see results. Kimberly Palmer, a senior editor for U.S. News Money, explains “the general public can be a receptive audience, especially when you are complaining about a common cause.” To complain properly using online forums you must post something that will elicit a response from the company, this does not mean slandering the company. If you are posting negative comments, you are less likely to see your goals met. It could also backfire and make YOU appear immature or irrational.

    There are additional outlets available for you and other customers filing complaints other than the Internet. One organization that was previously featured on The Texas Conflict Coach is the Council of Better Business Bureau. The BBB is a company that focuses on building an improved connection between companies and purchasers. Kimberly Palmer suggests the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which “makes complaints public in a database, so customers can easily search to see if other people have faced similar problems and how those problems were resolved”. These organizations act as supporters for the client who is not being heard and can assist in getting an issue fixed.

    Finally, remember to say “thank you”, to anyone who assists you in getting your problem solved. As pointed out by Regina Lewis, a simple “thank you” is often overlooked, but could have an impact on getting your complaint resolved quickly.

    Abigail Clark

    Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

    Negotiation and Conflict Management Program



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  • ecommerce_472With the internet being as prevalent as it is today, most people have either bought or sold items online. Some people rely on the internet as their main method of shopping, while others use online resources to compare competing prices before physically heading to the store. No matter how you use the internet for business, conflict is an underlying issue that is definitely going to be included in transactions. It is important for you to understand that these types of conflicts are unique because of the distance and anonymity between the seller and buyer. Usually, the individuals conducting business do not know each other and most likely will never meet. There is in a sense a virtual disconnect between seller and buyer; however, disputes between the two remain very real. Language barriers and cultural differences on both sides of the transaction create an even more complex situation.

    So how have websites like eBay, a major online shopping platform, been so successful in establishing smooth transactions and customer confidence? The reason for these successes is primarily due to a trust-based feedback system. After each transaction, both the seller and buyer leave feedback remarks about each other. That way, a new customer can choose a vendor and read about the experiences of previous customers. Additionally, this motivates sellers to conduct legitimate and appropriate business because a negative review might deter a future buyer. This method has created a safe and organized business environment amongst strangers that other marketplaces like Craigslist cannot offer. However, even with this structure, conflicts are bound to arise.

    On a previous Texas Conflict Coach® radio show, Colin Rule, current CEO of Modria, an online dispute resolution company and former eBay and PayPal’s director of online dispute resolution spoke about some of the issues he noticed when dealing with online disputes. During his time with eBay, he created a page with advice on how to deal with conflicts. Interestingly, when the strategies were localized for the Italian eBay site, many believed that the tips were written in a patronizing way. Instead of directly changing the advice, the importance was on rephrasing it in a culturally acceptable way. Cultural standards and social boundaries are often overlooked during online disputes. Another strategy towards preventing online disputes that Rule mentioned while on the show was the significance of creating a personal or conversational relationship with the users. It is easy to skip over traditional conversational norms when dealing online with a person you will never meet. Rule mentions that being polite and conducting online interactions more similarly to face-to-face interactions has better results in resolving disputes.

    However, when online disputes cannot be resolved through the use of a feedback system or personal negotiation, a neutral third-party is most beneficial. Centers like Youstice, featured on a previous show, and Modria provide the resources for turning online disputes into resolutions. These types of sites provide quick results and allow the customer to feel like their disputes are more personalized. The issue of a language barrier is overcome with the help of Youstice because their system automatically translates disputes and interactions into the corresponding language. eBay currently uses a similar third-party dispute resolution center in order to reduce hurried negative feedback posts, create customer trust and resolve online disputes in a timely and fair manner.

    If you are interested in learning more about online conflicts and dispute resolution, visit this resource and also check out Online Dispute Resolution for Business (Jossey-Bass, 2003) written by Colin Rule.

    John Wagner

    Student Intern

    Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

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  • toonvectors-10370-140

    We have all heard the phrase, “the customer is always right”, it has been an expression used since the early 20th century in businesses across America. The concept behind the phrase was to give customers the feeling that their needs and desires come first and foremost. But is this the right way to do business? What if the client is, in fact, wrong?

    I have worked as a waitress in the food industry, and I can say from experience that there are many situations when the customer is not right. The client’s satisfaction is important, especially for a waitress working for tips. These incidents can be difficult especially if the customer requests to speak to a manager. But what should employers do in these situations? Do they back their employees? Or do they side with their clients?

    According to a blog article on Huff Post Business, Gordan Bethune the former CEO of Continental Airlines believes having your employee’s back is more important than the customers. Bethune explains, “You can’t treat your employees like serfs. You have to value them…If they think that you won’t support them when a customer is out of line, even the smallest problem can cause resentment”. Resentment in the workplace is problematic for business. Employees, who do not trust their employers, will not work hard for them.

    When conflicts arise between customers and employees, employers may find it difficult to navigate because while standing behind their employee is important, customer satisfaction is necessary for a business to grow. There are several general tools that the employee and employer can use when working with troublesome customers to move from conflict to resolution.

    Lee Jay Berman founder of the American Institute of Mediation (AIM) suggests that the essential first step to resolving any conflict is to keep your cool. The moment people get angry they are no longer listening or hearing what is being said to them. If the customer is dissatisfied with the product or service they may get angry, it is important not to react in the same fashion, or the capacity to move forward will be lost.

    The second step towards resolution suggested by Mind Tools is to listen actively to what the other person is saying. To actively listen means that one person is listening to what the other is saying, rather than thinking about what they will say next. When dealing with dissatisfied customers, it is important that they feel that their grievance is being heard. If they do not feel this way, they may become angrier.

    The next step to solve the issue, apologize. Even if the customer is in the wrong, apologize for the inconvenience, the mistake, etc. Just acknowledging their grievance with an apology can assist in cooling tensions.The final step towards resolution is figuring out a solution. The employer must find a solution that satisfies the customer, but also preserves their establishment’s integrity.

    While these are general tools that can be used to resolve a conflict between an employer/employee and a client, not every situation warrants a resolution. The phrase “the customer is always right”, implies to the customer that even if they are wrong, they are still right, which is not the case in every situation. Employers need to recognize that the quality of the customer is better than the quantity. As Alexander Kjerulf explains in the Huff Blog Business, “Most businesses think that “the more customers the better.” But some customers are just bad for business.” It is important that the employer can recognize the difference between the customer worth saving, and the customer worth letting go.

    While the customers are what make the business prosperous, some customers can cause more problems. In situations where the customer is not right, employers must support their employees in order for them to feel valued. It is essential that employees know how to handle conflicts with dissatisfied customers efficiently, so that they can resolve and move forward. But, it is also essential for employers to know when a customer is more harm than good for their business.


    Abigail Clark

    Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

    Negotiation and Conflict Management Program



    Leave a Reply


Welcome to Texas Conflict Coach®. I am your host Pattie Porter, conflict resolution expert, mediator, conflict coach, facilitator and speaker. - Read More

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