COMPLAINTS – from Sales, Lies and Naked Truths – on Amazon

by Corinne

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salesliesnew Chapter five –

There are many articles, books and blogs written on the subject of “How To Deal With Difficult People.”

The world is replete with them and I agree that sometimes the temptation when they get really nasty is to ignore them.

The flip side of the subject is to do your best to resolve the complaints.

These the people have become difficult because they think they have been wronged in some way.

They are our obligation because we represent the source of their problem.

When I was a kid just out of college, I was hired by the New York Telephone Company to be a commercial representative. This was a coveted job because it paid the exorbitant sum of $39.00 a week. It took a gazillion interviews before you were chosen.

Before you were permitted to speak to one of their customers, they put you through a rigorous training for three months. A full month was devoted to answering complaints.

One of the first principles taught was to immediately express extreme sorrow for the inconvenience.

We were to infer that of course we must be wrong. And it had to sound sincere. They had a term for this sincerity in our voice called “tone” which was graded mercilessly.

It was the exact opposite of “push one for billing – push two for technical assistance etc. etc.etc.” that we hear today.

I am soooo sorry about that. Please tell me what happened. Or, there was a mistake on your bill? Let me help you correct our records.

We were absolutely forbidden to say these two words.

“Yes, but –“

They even had “tone” contests in the role playing exercises to rate your sincerity.

I won once and all I could think is I must be the biggest phony in the class. For years afterwards when I really wanted to express sorrow to a friend, I questioned whether I sounded sad to them.

How was my tone?

We were to hear the customer out fully. Do not interrupt. Let them rant and rave until they were done.

This was based on the premise that half the job was solved when they felt they were fully heard. Only murmurs of sorrow about the problem were to be interjected here and there.

This last technique usually worked well.  Would they please, please put this terrible travesty in writing so the proper channels could be contacted?

We want to help and we need all the ammunition they can give us.

By the time the conversation was over, these people were in love with us. Finally, someone understood. Someone cared.

They did not always get what they wanted, by the way, but a lot of anger was dissipated along the way.

I am telling you – this works. t was the best training I ever got and I taught it in all my sales courses and my students came back and reported that it worked for them too.

After the three months of training, we were finally ready to take our “first call.”

Nobody slept that night. It was a huge deal. A supervisor was plugged into the side of your desk so she could monitor it. Every one of us was shaking.

My first call was written up in all the house magazines which went to employees of the national Bell system.

It was from Macy’s.

It was Christmastime and they were bringing Santa Claus into the store on the back of a small elephant.

He was jammed in the entrance between a bank of  phone booths.  He was up on his hind legs and snorting.

Santa Claus was was crying.


I started to say, “Oh, I am so sorry that –“ when my supervisor grabbed the call away from me.

It was one time when just being sorry – even with the best “tone” could not solve the complaint.

Elephants were not covered in the training curriculum.


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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Par Donahue
June 10, 2014 at 1:32 pm

Thanks for this helpful post and the hilarious story!
Many years ago, heck, last century, I was asked by the American Academy of Pediatrics to be the epresentative for the Academy from the staate of Wisconsin. We were sent to Chicago to learn, among other things, how to deal with complainers. We must have had the same teachers only ours added, When they finally finish telling their tale of woe, ask them,”What else might be wrong, or, is there any thing else. we want to know everything that has been troubling to you.”
We had to keep this up until they finally said, “No, that’s all, fix this and I’ll be happy.” By then they were and we continued to do what you advices.
Hey, it works with parents and their kids too. Probably just shows that listening is at least 1000% better than talking when problem solving.
Thanks again Corinne, I appreciate you so much! Par


June 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Dear Par –

In those times, long ago, when I worked for the telephone company, they would have been appalled by our digging into what might really be the customer’s problem.

I agree, that some of the things they were outraged over were pretty minor.

Like “I did not make a call to Texas. I don’t know anyone in Texas.”

I was pretty sure a call was made from their phone – even if it was not them. But I could not say that.

It was also a time when local calls were included but not out of state.

Then, they came out with a thing very, very new. It was called “message units” where distance from your number to another was tabulated including your state. Nobody understood that which is common today if you have minimum service.

For example, I have AT&T just for my fax machine. I have local service only. I know that I get charged if I send a fax out of about a 15 mile radius. About 10 cents and up. Not much because a fax goes through quickly.

We had a form letter for every possible complaint but on “message units.”.

One client demanded a written explanation. So I wrote it as clearly as I could and my supervisor approved it.

I did not know that client worked for the New Yorker.

He printed it (leaving out most of it so it seemed jumbled) with a tag at the end that said “WHAT DID SHE SAY?”

By the way, as a life coach, I knew behind every problem was hiding something else I was not told.

You had to guide the conversation to uncover what the real problem was.

So, you were right in your discussions about what was really bothering them – but not with a utility. We could not discuss anything personal. Listening was the technique.

By the way, very few people took us up on putting their grievances in writing. They just went away. And sometimes we did find a mistake. We corrected it immediately.

They had been heard and that was usually enough.

I love your comments. They are always so thoughtful and useful.


Andrew from SEO Advice
June 13, 2014 at 9:47 am


Normally I just apologize, listen and see how I can help them.

Sometimes, if the customer is too difficult…I let them go. Not worth the hassle!



June 18, 2014 at 1:03 pm

Dear Andrew –

I agree with you in a normal life experience. Some people just can’t be satisfied and after you have done all you can to make things right, you just have to realize you can’t be all things to all people.

In days gone by, when public service was a priority – you would get fired if you had that attitude.

Our calls were constantly monitored and graded. We never knew when.

But – whatever – even with a cry baby – listening still helps.
Corinne recently posted..COMPLAINTS – from Sales, Lies and Naked Truths – on AmazonMy Profile


June 13, 2014 at 10:26 am

Hi Corinne,

Wow this is great advice on how to handle a customer that is not so happy. Now when it comes to my hubby he would write ever detail out. And sent any documents in with it to prove his point.
Sometimes I ask him if it is really worth the time taken out of his life to do this. Of course he thinks it is. Sometimes maybe, but other times not so much is my answer to him.
I do know from being in sales myself you do have to listen and make the customer think they are right.
Lots of people need to read this book “Sales, Lies and and naked Truth” because people are losing the art of handling customers.
Have a great weekend and thank you for always sharing your honesty.
Debbie 🙂
Debbie recently posted..How My Heart Bleeds For Mothers In Today’s WorldMy Profile


June 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Dear Debbie –

Actually, it is not a bad idea to put things in writing. It beats a screaming fight.

Do you answer in writing too?

The only thing that was mystifying to me was the part on his including documentation.

My guess is you put a new Mercedes on your Visa card.

One day you have to confide in me and tell me about the “documentation.”

Sounds like an interesting story..
Corinne recently posted..COMPLAINTS – from Sales, Lies and Naked Truths – on AmazonMy Profile


Raymond Chua
June 17, 2014 at 8:04 pm

Hi Corrine,

Many problems could not be solved because there’s a need to be right where both wants to talk and no one listens.

Acknowledge their challenges and difficulties is a skill. Most people don’t want solution. They just wanna be heard.
Raymond Chua recently posted..Tuition in Johor BahruMy Profile


June 18, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Dear Raymond –

I used to facilitate a spiritual program called A Course In Miracles.

It is not a religion.

One quote I often think of from that program is –

“Would you rather be right or happy?”

Listening is where it all starts. And also not ever saying

“Yes – but”
Corinne recently posted..COMPLAINTS – from Sales, Lies and Naked Truths – on AmazonMy Profile


Naomi from businessstart-ups
June 18, 2014 at 5:58 am

Hi Corinne,

Great story and I feel it’s a good example why many people don’t last long in the ‘high pressured’ sales industry.

It’s so stressful – I takes a certain type of personality to really succeed.

Thanks for the read,
Naomi recently posted..Pros and Cons: Fixed or Hourly Rate ChargeMy Profile


June 18, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Dear Naomi –

I took a sales course at a convention given by the top salesman at GE.

He started his presentation by saying –

“We are all in sales. I can help you be a better salesman and I will do my best to do that.

But I cannot make you a top salesman. They are born with the talent. Either you have it or you don’t.”

I have found that to be true. And those with the talent handle the stress well.

Glad you enjoyed the story. True stories are always more fun that made up ones.

And who could make up that elephant story?
Corinne recently posted..COMPLAINTS – from Sales, Lies and Naked Truths – on AmazonMy Profile


Par Donahue
June 19, 2014 at 8:01 am

Corinne, So true about stories! There is a Native American Indian proverb that tells it best. I quoted it as the last paragraph in my book, “Tools for Effective Parenting”:
Tell me a fact and I’ll learn, tell me a truth and I’ll believe, but tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.


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