The Three A’s – How to Respond to an Upset Customer

Let’s face it. Sometimes it feels like unsatisfied customers are inevitable. With rating services like Yelp, and social media being such an important word-of-mouth platform, there is little room for error when responding to angry customers.

Michael McCollough and Sundar Bharadwaj (customer satisfaction gurus behind “The Recovery Paradox”) describe a phenomenon called “the service recovery paradox”. It refers to situations where satisfaction of recovered customers actually exceeds that of customers who have not encountered any problems.

An awesome service recovery leads to a higher overall satisfaction level which generates more positive customer buzz than a mistake-free experience would have. In other words, an upset customer is an opportunity.

While using the “Three A’s” of customer service, you will learn to fix people first, and then fix the problem. Each A represents a different step in the formula. Keep in mind, all three A’s must be used for the best outcome.

A – Acknowledge

Acknowledge the issue.

Example: “It’s embarrassing to hear that one of our employees treated you like that”

By repeating the issue in your own words, you are able to establish the catalyst that caused the customer’s dissatisfaction. You are essentially pin-pointing the “problem” to resolve. Your point is to make sure that your customer feels understood.

This step is arguably the most important, because you want to be absolutely clear that you aren’t missing the point. There is nothing worse than solving a problem, and then finding out afterwards that you were solving the wrong one – or only part of it.

Words to use while acknowledging:

“I understand that..”

“I hear that..”

“If i’m understanding you correctly..”

A – Align

Align with the customer, agreeing and empathizing that their emotions are valid

Example: “I can definitely understand being upset about this. Personally, I would feel the same way so I’m glad you said something.”

Sometimes, when customers are irate, it’s easy to perceive them as being overdramatic or petty. However, there is a strong chance that these emotions are grounded fairly. This step is to convey that the customer’s emotions are valid and worthy of attention.

Don’t communicate like a robot. Nothing adds fuel to a customer’s fire quicker than when they feel like employees are robotically going through the motions, and don’t genuinely care about their feelings. Alignment is tricky – you want to come off as genuine and casual, NOT phoney. You want to break the barrier of employee/customer conversation, and make it more of a human/human conversation.

A – Assure

Assure the customer that you will take the necessary steps to resolving the issue to their satisfaction.

Example: “I’m going to get in touch with the store manager immediately to make sure that this never happens again.”

Now, we fix the problem (or at least communicate that you’re one step closer to doing so). With this step, we want to make sure that the customer knows that their issue will be taken care of, or investigated.

Let’s face it, not all problems can be solved immediately. Especially when other people, or internal processes are involved. The focus of this step is to make it very clear that you will do everything in your power to come to a satisfying and thorough resolution.



The more practice you have using the three A’s, the more natural and seamless it will become. A good way to practice is by responding to emails because you will have more time to consider your response.

You’ll notice that the more you use this formula, the clearer your communication will become. The three A’s is a fantastic way of establishing and maintaining rapport while solving problems that involve high-tense emotions.

At Space Chimp we place a strong emphasis on the importance of establishing and maintaining healthy relationships with our clients. We know that communication is key.

Pro tip: You’ll also notice that you can use this formula in your personal life as well while communicating with friends and family.

What are some ways you provide awesome customer service?

Recent Posts