The Psychology of a Complainer (and How to Deal With Them)

We've all seen one -- that customer who makes a big, awkward scene in the middle of a store or restaurant because of a bad experience. Customers complain for a variety of reasons, and the psychology behind their thought processes ranges drastically. Some customers have been legitimately wronged, while others are just having a bad day; some customers are loud and aggressive, while others are passive and quiet.

Even the best businesses will get complaints, and the better you know how your customers think, the better you will be at resolving their issues. Here are four types of customers you can expect to walk through the front door.

The Social Media Scorcher

Not all customers complain on the spot. In fact, most will sit quietly without a word until they can go home and unleash on social media and review sites like Yelp. This is especially damaging to a business because it doesn't give employees or management the opportunity to fix a customer service situation while the angry customer is still in the building. The right combination of scathing complaints and social media can send a simple grievance into a viral storm.

Look for the subtle signs of unhappiness from the social media scorcher (aka nonverbal body language). Did the customer suddenly go quiet? Did he or she have a sudden change in demeanor? These are all signs that something may have gone wrong, and that you should strive to improve the situation before your customer leaves.

The Repeat Caller

Imagine calling a store or business to air a complaint. That in itself is not very enjoyable. Now, imagine calling back to the same business, only to speak to a new person who knows nothing of the details you already explained to someone else. That's infuriating.

If your business does not have a system to log customer calls and complaints, regardless of whom that caller is speaking to, then the scenario above is bound to happen continually. Use software to track which customers are calling and what they're saying, so they can pick up where they left off with any employee.

The Big Spender

Loyal customers provide a company's best form of advertising (word of mouth) and a steady stream of revenue, but those same customers often feel entitled to special treatment, creating potential confrontation. Many businesses will offer VIP services to repeat customers to show their appreciation, but what is the limit on special treatment?

Know (and clearly define) the line between accommodation and giving in, because big spenders will push management's buttons until they get what they feel they're entitled to.

Just a Bad Day

Not every grievance starts at your business. Some customers are just having an awful day, and whatever happened at your business is simply the last straw. Bad day customers will usually go on about more than just their current issue when they snap, so it's important to understand the difference between a legitimate issue and a poor attitude.

The key here is to just listen. Let the customer air his or her laundry and wait until it's all out of the system, and then address the issue. Cutting him or her off when you think you're ready to solve the problem will only make it worse.