How to Handle an Awful Customer: Put the Baby Down and Walk Away

Let me tell you a story…

Up until the past few years, I believed being an owner of a dog was equivalent to being the parent of a child. And for some business owners, they believe creating a business is comparable to creating a human life. How would you feel if I told you the latter is more accurate than the former?  It is. 

I’ve been blessed enough to own multiple breeds of dogs. I’ve created a content writing company. And I’m the step-father to two wonderful teenage boys and the proud papa of a biological baby boy. So, why is being a parent comparable to being a business owner? Because a dog never said, “fuck you, I hate you” after you just fed them. 

In this blog, we’ll show you how an excruciating moment with a child can teach us how to handle the nightmare of owning a business, the unruly customer. 

The Horrible Review

A few months ago, I bought a lawnmower from a major retailer that rhymes with Blows. It was a walk-behind, self-propelled mower that was perfect for my fairly good-sized lawn with numerous undulations. And it took two mows before it was rendered useless. I returned to the aforementioned store’s customer service department, where the clerk literally pointed to a sign with the lawnmower’s customer service number. 

Note to lawnmower buyer: If you go to a major retailer looking to purchase a major product, go to customer service and see if they have a massive sign with a specific company’s customer service number. Then don’t buy that brand. 

I got home, called the number, and they informed me I was two days outside the store’s 30-day return policy. That I would have to take my mower, in the middle of the summer, in Georgia, to an authorized service department. The damage would then be judged and determined whether or not this would be covered under warranty. I was informed four weeks later that it was not.  

The next day, I became every business owner’s worst nightmare; a pissed-off customer who went scorched Earth. 

Now, in my opinion, and many of yours, I was probably justified in my actions. Okay, I was definitely justified. But many of you also have received negative feedback that was more fiction than the truth from a customer with unreasonable expectations who gets off on drama. 

So, how do you handle this type of reviewer? How do you engage? Do you go right in and try to be empathetic? Or are you defensive? Or are you reading from a script and writing the same goddam thing to every customer who comments about your company or product?  

Note: You can guess which one I was the recipient of. 

But when we receive unwarranted negative feedback, we take it personally. And sometimes, the customer makes it personal.  Our gut instinct is to fight back. Defend what is ours at all costs. This is natural because we’ve built this, and now someone is going out of their way to destroy it. But we can’t. Why? Because if we do, they get what they want. They win.  And you know that. And it drives you nuts. And it causes you to wonder, can you handle this? 

So, what should you do?

Put the baby down and walk away. 

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.  

I Can’t Do This

I’m in love with my baby boy. I’m a 44-year-old first-time father of my own child. For decades, my priorities were drugs, Phish, writing, drugs, women, and drugs. Then, well, I made the easiest decision in my life and asked my wife to marry me.  Two years later, I’ve got a beautiful baby boy who caused my heart to discover places it hadn’t fathomed.

Until one Sunday night. Typically, when you put an infant down in a dark room with their music playing, and they’ve been showing signs of sleepiness, they’ll probably cry for a minute, wail for two minutes, moan for about three minutes, and then pass out.  And sometimes they’ll scream like they’re lit on fire. This night, it was the latter. 

When an infant is inconsolable, it’s heart-wrenching. You’re trying everything that has worked – walking around with them, rocking them, walking around while rocking them, singing to them, walking around while rocking and singing to them…And when none of this works, rage flashes. 

You take it personally. It’s weird, but you do. It’s as if this child doesn’t care about you, your sanity, or the fact you have tinnitus, and they’re screeching two inches from your ear. And when you take things personally, you want to fight back. You want to harm those who are hurting you.  You want to scream, “I can’t do this!” But you can’t. Why? Because it’s a fucking baby, and you’re a psychopath if you do anything other than…

Putting the baby down and walking away.

Put the Baby Down and Walk Away

It’s a mantra I’ve adopted into all facets of my life since the night my son screamed until my ears bled.  After I did that and took a step back, I took two deep breaths, found my wife, and asked her to stick her boob in his mouth because I was done. 

Now, when a customer loses their mind because of something you may or may not have done, my wife’s breastmilk may not satisfy what they’re screaming about. Or maybe it will because they’re some weird sicko. Whatever the case, putting the baby down and walking away is that permission to take a breath. Step away and assess and return when ready. Because, and remember this…

It’s not about being right; it’s about being ready. Ready to handle whatever they throw your way with a clearer mind and not the instinct of defense.  To not win but to calm down. And more importantly, it will prove to your customer, child, and yourself that you can handle a situation with grace and composure. Assuring you that you can, in fact, handle this. 

And if you handle this, you can handle anything. Except for me, when I’m on two hours of sleep and my lawnmower keeps shitting the bed.

Written by Keith Hannigan. Keith is the co-owner and Chief Writer at SBI Content Creation LLC. SBI Content Creation is a content writing company just outside of Atlanta, Georgia