How to Diffuse a Critical Situation With a Key Account Customer

Regardless of how good of a key account manager you are, chances are high that, at some point, you will have an unhappy customer on your hands. Issues happen. Some things are simply out of your control. This is why being prepared to deal with a key customer’s issue ahead of time is well advised. The heat of the moment is not the best time to come up with a strategic plan to diffuse the situation.

Though you can rarely anticipate the exact nature of a customer’s problem, you can plan for how you will handle it. If you keep some general guidelines in mind, you will be able to handle difficult situations with grace and dignity.

Here are five steps to keep in mind:

  1. Stay Calm

First and foremost, remain calm. It is quite possible your customer will be angry or irritable, so adding fuel to the fire is never a great place to start. It is your job to separate your personal emotions from the situation and focus on your customer and the issue at hand.

Your tone of voice is a very important part of communicating a calm demeanor. Keep your voice steady and your tone soft. Even if a customer becomes irate or aggressive, keep your cool and don’t get defensive. Remember that this is probably not about you, but rather something to do with your product or service.

  1. Listen

Utilize your best listening skills, whether face to face or in person. Know the difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is passively acknowledging a sound, but listening is an active choice and requires your full concentration. If you are already thinking about how you will respond to their statement, you are not listening.

Paraphrase what you heard them say, especially when it seems like a sticking point. As they are talking, write down what they are saying. This does a couple of things. It not only shows that you are listening to what they are saying, but it will also help you later when you are away from the meeting and analyzing what went wrong.

Listening does not only involve words; active listening is paying attention to their non-verbal cues to see if you can pick up any additional clues as to the root of the problem. It’s important not to interrupt your customer; let them say everything they need to say. Sometimes being heard is all they need to diffuse a heated situation.

When they finish speaking, repeat back to them again what you believe their concerns to be, ask them for validation, and see if you missed anything important.

  1. Own the Problem

It is imperative as a key account manager that you are prepared to own the problem when it occurs, regardless of whose fault it is. That part comes with the job. Own it and apologize with grace. Never blame the customer for the issue.

  1. Make Things Right

When things go wrong, it’s important to show a sincere interest and willingness to make things right. Let your customer know exactly what you plan to do to remedy the situation. They want to know that you are advocating for them and that their grievances are not going unheard.

The key here is to be realistic with the customer about what you can do to help them. Don’t promise more than you can deliver, but also be mindful of what the customer expects you to do to make things right.

  1. Follow Up

Once you have agreed upon a solution, stay in touch with the customer. Let them know when you have followed through on your promises and make sure they are happy with the outcome. This reassures them that they are your top priority and will help to close the loop on the entire ordeal.

Being a key account manager is not the job for everyone. It requires more than the ability to simply sell a product or even manage an account. It requires the ability to maintain relationships and act with humility and dignity, even in the wake of customer dissatisfaction. But if you can successfully handle customers’ problems with ease, you can further strengthen your relationships with your most valuable accounts.


CEO at Kapta
Alex Raymond is the CEO of Kapta.