Think Tank Thursday: Customer Service Training for Three Conflict Generators

Customer service guru Teresa Allen says that when things go wrong—and they will go wrong, because mistakes happen—being trained in how to react will go a long way in keeping intact that solid relationship you have developed with your customer.

“Customer conflict is often generated by one of three things:

  • Company Error
  • Customer Error
  • Policies and Regulations

Staff needs to be trained on how to react and respond to these specific conflict areas as each demands a different strategy.

Company Error

If your company has made an error the error should be corrected and the customer accommodated without a big explanation of how and why it happened. Often a service representative’s first response is a lengthy explanation of the how and why when all the customer wants is for you to FIX IT! After reaching a satisfactory resolution, some analytical customers will probe as to the “how could this have happened.” At that point, it is fine to give a brief explanation, being careful not to say anything that will destroy the confidence of the customer for future purchases. The reason it has to be done in this order is that now the customer can listen openly since they have reached favorable resolution.

Customer Error

At times, your customer may do something that leads to an error. An example would be a bank teller depositing money in the wrong account resulting in overdraft charges. There is a big temptation in this type of scenario to first educate the customer on how to avoid this mistake in the future. While you do want to educate, again you must FIX IT first! If you educate first, your instructions will fall on deaf ears as that is not the immediate concern of the customer. In some customer error situations such as this one, there is also some fault on the part of the company; i.e., the teller should have verified which account the deposit was for since the customer forgot to bring a deposit slip in with them. Thus there may be an education opportunity not just for the customer but also for the service representative on how to avoid this happening in the future. This is why I strongly advocate staff meetings where employees openly discuss mistakes that have happened to avoid the same customer service blunders  in the future. If one person has made a mistake, it is very likely someone else will as well. Unfortunately, some organizations run in a fear mode—fear of being caught in a mistake. This is totally unhealthy and should be avoided. Reward staff who have a low level of mistakes, do NOT punish staff for making mistakes. Often those making the least mistakes are also those offering the lowest level of service as they never ‘put themselves on the line’ for the customer!


Everyone has heard the adage—FIX the problem, don’t fix the blame. If a company policy has been violated, be careful not to waive it for a customer as you are basically training them to do it again. Yet you still have to find a resolution that is satisfactory and builds, not breaks down, the relationship. A federal or state regulation is a bit of a different animal. This is the one time where your customer service training should focus on placing the blame elsewhere. ‘Mr. Jones, I would like to be able to do that for you but unfortunately, THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT will not allow me to!’ Why this emphatic response? First, the customer is less likely to argue or negotiate with you when a law is involved. Second, if you can’t do something because a law disallows it, should your organization be diminished in the eyes of the customer because of it? No.

In my customer service conflict training, I write specific role plays for each of these scenarios and have staff act them out. Through living through these specific scenarios in a training environment, they are more likely to project confidence in an actual customer service conflict situation. Confidence is a huge asset in any such close encounter with a customer!”

Teresa Allen is a highly acclaimed customer service speaker and is the author of Common Sense Service: Close Encounters on the Front Lines. Visit her website to find more ideas on building your customer service culture. To contact Teresa call 800-797-1580 or email: