Most business owners out there have the good sense to avoid upsetting their customers on purpose. For one thing, an unhappy customer isn’t likely to stay a customer for very much longer. And for another, we know how quickly bad publicity can spread.

Still, sometimes we make our customers mad. Maybe it’s our short temper after a stressful day; maybe it’s a defective product we didn’t anticipate; or maybe committed the cardinal sin of overpromising. The fact is, it doesn’t really matter why the customer is angry, because as a small business owner it is always our job to find a satisfactory solution.

Finding your way out of a bad situation can sometimes feel like trying to diffuse a ticking time bomb. However, there are some basic principles that can be used in every situation to help both you and the customer find your way back to your respective happy places. Here are eight steps for diffusing an angry customer.

1. Listen.

Let the customer have a good rant. Your natural inclination might be to interrupt the customer with excuses, but that’s not what a good listener does.

2. Understand.

If you don’t understand what the customer’s problem is, you can’t help them. Ask questions to get a clear picture of what went wrong and why.

3. Empathize.

You’re a customer too sometimes, and you know what it’s like to be the angry customer. Validate the customer’s feelings; don’t make him feel like he’s being unreasonable or you’ll just increase the tension.

4. Repeat the problem.

In your own words, repeat what the customer is telling you. This demonstrates that you really are listening and gives the customer a chance to clarify any misunderstandings.

5. Investigate.

If the problem and solution aren’t obvious, let the customer know you plan to investigate the issue in order to find the best resolution. Let the customer know you’re giving yourself a deadline for getting back in touch, and get back to them as swiftly as humanly possible.

6. Suggest remedies.

Once you have a handle on the situation, explain the available solutions. If you can offer a couple of choices and let the customer pick his favorite — even better!

7. Explain any limitations.

If the solutions you suggest aren’t satisfying the customer, explain in what ways you are limited and ask for assistance in coming up with something else that will make the situation right.

8. Thank the customer.

That’s right, say thank you. Let the customer know that their feedback is useful and helpful. After all, if no one ever takes the time to bring problems to your attention, you could lose a lot more than just one unhappy customer.

Each situation is as unique as the customer, so there are no cookie-cutter solutions to all of your customer service problems. However, you can use this 8-step framework to guide you through the process and work toward a workable remedy.

Do you have any additional tips for turning angry customers into happy ones?