It’s that moment you dread. Something went wrong and you have an angry customer on your hands. We know that even one unhappy customer can spell disaster. But it’s also important to remember that in those tense and uncomfortable moments, there is also an opportunity.

When you handle an upset customer effectively, you can demonstrate the care, concern and pro-active approach that will not only resolve the current issue, but can also lead to a stronger long-term relationship with that customer.

I recently had a situation occur that led to an important customer feeling frustrated with my company. Luckily issues like this don’t arise very frequently, but when they do, I rely on a set of skills I’ve acquired both working in customer service and being a customer myself. When I follow these guidelines, I am usually able to smooth over any situation and leave my customers with a positive impression.

Apologize Quickly
It’s not always the most pleasant item on your to-do-list, but taking care of an unhappy customer has to be a top priority. The longer the person is left feeling frustrated or angry, the worse the situation becomes. As soon as I catch wind of something going wrong or hear the slightest complaint from a customer, I move to action. With my recent situation, as soon as someone filled me in on the issue, I rearranged my day to meet the customer in-person. The first thing out of my mouth, whether it’s my fault or not, is, “I’m sorry.”

Stay Calm
It’s easy to panic when something goes wrong. You can already start to imagine what the customer was going to say and sense the frustration and disappointment. The best way to counter this emotional response is to move to a logical approach to review and fix the situation. Before I walk into a tense or uncomfortable situation, I decide on a clear plan for how I will make it right. This removes some of the stress and gives me room to focus on options for the future instead of dwelling on what caused the problem in the first place.

Practice Empathy
We know how bad a situation will be by imagining what the customer felt and experienced when things went wrong. Instead of shying away from that feeling, it pays to dig into it a little to really think through what you would want to hear and see if it happened to you. Focusing on how the customer feels will help you communicate that you understand why they are frustrated, angry or disappointed. Using vivid and descriptive language to emphasize that will go a long way. In my particular situation, I stated that I understood how frustrated my customer was and the true impact of the mistake. Hearing that you are taking the incident seriously and handling it with the highest level of attention will automatically start to put the customer at ease, because they know that you are on their side. They can let down some of their defenses and open themselves to hearing your solution.

Propose a Solution and Deliver
If the situation will take more than a single step or conversation to resolve, lay out the first steps and a timeline for taking them right away. Whether it’s a phone call, email, refund, or some other action, do something as soon as possible to show the customer that the plan to resolve the issue it moving forward. Now is the most important time to go above and beyond to make things happen quickly and efficiently for the customer. Do everything you can to make the person feel especially cared for and important. With my customer, I personally oversaw the detailed administration of resolving his issue. The fact that I didn’t hand it off to someone on my staff sent a message that this customer was important and worthy of that extra level of effort to ensure he was happy.

Say Thank You
Finally, let the customer know you appreciate the fact that they brought the issue to your attention and were willing to stick with you as you resolved it. This small gesture says that you value the relationship and opportunity to serve your customer. It demonstrates a commitment to improvement and invites the customer to be part of making things better both now and in the future.

Remembering these steps has helped me stay positive and focused, even when things don’t go exactly as planned. Every interaction with a customer is an opportunity to go beyond their expectations. So don’t run from your upset customers, embrace them. They will make you and your business stronger.