Handling Customer Complaints: The LAAF Method

The LAAF model is an effective, easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach to dealing with customer complaints.


Complaining customers are golden and will become more loyal, if you respond fast and appropriately. They are golden because they told you about a problem (Many customers don’t), and how you or your company can improve.

Here is an overview of the LAAF model, which will help you solve your customer’s problems, reduce your stress and build greater customer loyalty.


Even though it may feel like all we do is listen to customers complain, this involves a very different type of listening. The LAAF model involves a type of active listening that requires not only attention, but intention. An intention to sincerely understand the customer’s complaint, the trouble we have caused them by failing to meet their expectations, and how we can make things right.

Effective listening will allow us to demonstrate the empathy and understanding that will show customers we genuinely care about them and how sorry we are for the mistake. Start by suggesting to the customer that he tells you about his concern. Too many companies have employees start by asking for their name and account number. After you get the customer talking, wait for a pause or the end of sentence to ask for the appropriate information.

Excellent listening:

  • Requires attention.
  • A sincere intention to understand.
  • Demonstrates empathy, understanding and concern.
  • Shows your customer that you care.


A key missing step in handling complaints is often simply to apologize sincerely. Often, it is tough for team members and team leaders to apologize to customers, because they are handling a complaint about something that wasn’t their “fault”. When handling a customer complaint, we must take full responsibility for the mistake and deliver a sincere and genuine apology for the mistake. Again, this step will help us reinforce how much we appreciate the customer’s business by demonstrating empathy and support. A very effective and easy way to do that is to maintain eye contact when handling complaints.

For example, if there is a pricing complaint, a customer may come to the service counter and share her complaint. In many cases, while the customer is still sharing her dissatisfaction and frustration, we are often already working on the problem, processing a refund, etc. and may actually be making the problem worse, she may think she is being ignored. On the phone set up a point of contact in your work area to focus on and make sure you use verbal question like: “I see..”, “Tell me more… “, or ask a question or two. An apology can be simply state such as, “I am sorry that happened. I am sure it was frustrating. I apologize.”

When apologizing it is helpful to:

  • Take responsibility for the mistake you probably didn’t cause but you “own” because you work there.
  • Deliver a sincere, genuine apology for the mistake or problem.
  • Demonstrate empathy and support.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • On the phone have a point of contact in your work area that you look at and use non-verbal cues.
  • Acknowledge

As important as apologizing is to this process, “Acknowledge” is equally as important. Acknowledging the complaint allows you take credit for being a good listener. It is important that we acknowledge the inconvenience we may have caused them. For example, picture a mother who is shopping for her 7 year old’s birthday party with a house full of kids. She is at the store buying toys, gifts and, of course, a birthday cake. After she gets home and her guests are getting ready to sing “Happy Birthday,” she realizes she has left the candles on the bag carousel.

This problem is much bigger than just getting her candles. She may feel like she has ruined the party. In this scenario, by acknowledging that it was our mistake, even when it wasn’t, will ease the customer’s stress and make her appreciate that we are accountable and we are there for her.

  • Acknowledge the inconvenience the problem may have caused.
  • Acknowledge that it was our mistake and accept full responsibility.
  • Be accountable.


Lastly, once we have actively listened, apologized for the mistake and acknowledged the inconvenience it may have caused, we must now find a friendly FIX! Whenever a customer complains you have two problems: how it affects the customer (frustration, anger, embarrassment, inconvenience) and the issue itself (poor quality, no follow-through, error, long lines).

A friendly fix means you take care each area. You see, you can give a refund but if you don’t deal with the customer’s inconvenience you still have an unhappy customer. Few people with customer service responsibilities ever learn this. Which is why the acknowledge and apology steps are so important.

We must quickly take action and provide an acceptable and agreeable solution for the customer. As we learned “If you are going to make a mistake, make it in favor of the customer.” The “Fix” itself is very important in responding to customer complaints. However, the steps leading up to the “Fix” can dramatically impact how the customer feels about that experience.

We can provide the best “Fix” in the business, but if we don’t take the time to actively listen, fully understand the inconvenience we’ve caused, take full responsibility, apologize and then take appropriate action, we run the risk of fracturing that relationship and losing the customer.

Key points:

  • Find a Friendly Fix.
  • Take action.
  • Provide an acceptable, agreeable solution.
  • Compensate the customer for the inconvenience.

To summarize, the LAAF model is an effective, easy-to-follow, step-by-step approach to dealing with customer complaints. This process allows us to effectively respond to the customer’s need by demonstrating the empathy, understanding and accountability necessary to effectively handle complaints. It also helps diffuse anger in particularly heated discussions with angry customers.

And finally, it helps strengthen relationships with our customers in an effort to build a loyal customer base. The payoff for you is it makes your job easier and more enjoyable because you can keep helping customers even when they are complaining. And, you will feel good about how you do it because it works.

About the Author

Rick Conlow is CEO & Senior Partner of WCW Partners, a performance improvement company. Based in Minneapolis/ST. Paul, Minnesota, WCW work with clients in a variety of industries worldwide to help them excel in sales, service and leadership, facilitating business growth and vitality. Rick is author of Excellence in Management, Excellence in Supervision and Returning to Learning.

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