The Green Monster: A Case Study of Handling Customer Complaints

Our friend Tom owns a waste management company called Green Monster Recycling and Disposal. All his trucks are green and his recycling program emphasizes being green. He has a thriving business in a small Middle Tennessee community. You can imagine the challenges of satisfying hundreds of customers a week. He has great stories about what his crews find in trash cans, strange questions customers ask, and reasons why a bill has not been paid.

In spite of his great concern to satisfy each customer, he gets about 5 – 8 complaint calls a week. He told me that after six years he has a system that works for him in dealing with the difficulty of communicating with a dissatisfied client. Whatever the complaint, as soon as they voice their complaint, he follows with a three-part response:
“I understand how this is upsetting to you.”
“I apologize for this inconvenience.”
“What can I do to resolve the problem?”

Tom said this has been the best way he has found to defuse the customer’s anger. Even though the customer may be at fault, this approach calms the person and allows him or her to listen to whatever Tom has to say. By asking what they want him to do, the customer is placed in a position to help solve the problem and gives Tom time to think.

We all have our own methods for dealing with the difficult person, and this one I believe has real merit. Defusing the situation with humility and understanding can go a long way in developing a good relationship with difficult people, whether co-workers, friends, or (no surprise here!) family.


Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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