Handling upset customers Twice in the past week I have witnessed a confrontation between a customer and a stores salesperson. Both turned ugly with the customers storming out of the store. Not good! This caused me to reflect on a situation that I allowed to get out of hand when we owned our showroom business. Without going into all the details (suffice it to say in my opinion the customer was wrong), but standing up to him and having a verbal confrontation was not the way to handle the situation. So, I just said the customer was wrong, but the way I handled it also was wrong. I know the bad PR he shared with friends and family caused us some future business and it didn’t do our reputation any good. This upsetting experience caused me to do a couple things. First, I put a poster up in our lunchroom that read “Remember, the customer is always right…even when they’re wrong.” Yes, even when they’re wrong…they are right! Next, I put together a list of how to deal with upset customers and made it an important roleplaying part of our monthly sales-training exercises. I also included this in the sales-training books I wrote for ASA and NKBA. Despite obnoxious behavior, loud shouting, pointing fingers, clenching fists, red faces and all that goes with the frustration of an angry client, try to remember they are telling you they are very unhappy, feeling let down, ignored, disrespected, unappreciated and yes, even unloved! A small percentage of customers may get rude or angry for a variety of reasons — some justified and some not. Handling angry customers can be one of the most challenging aspects of a showroom consultant/manager’s job. Whether they confront you face to face, or you speak with them over the phone, chances are you’re going to be met with frustration, the abovementioned anger and very little patience. How you respond can make the difference between a customer who ends up feeling satisfied (in many cases even happy) with the resolution and one who vows never to patronize your business again. Here are some tips I believe will help you cope with a tense situation and hopefully end up resolving it to everyone’s satisfaction. Remain calm: When a customer starts yelling or being otherwise rude there is nothing to be gained by responding in a similar manner. In fact, that will probably escalate the hostility. Instead, put on your best customer-service attitude and maintain control of yourself. Never use sarcasm or obviously “faked” politeness. Behaving like that will only fuel the customer’s rage and make the situation a whole lot worse. Don’t take it personally: Remember, the customer is not angry with you, they are displeased with the performance of your product or the quality of the service you provided. Your personal feelings are beside the point. Put your best listening skills to work: Listen actively to what the customer is saying. The first thing an angry customer wants to do is “vent.” For this to happen, they need someone to listen to them — and you are that person. If possible, try to have this verbal exchange in a private place. Give the customer your undivided attention. Look at the speaker and listen intently to what they are saying. Listening patiently can defuse a situation as long as the customer feels acknowledged in his or her complaint. Hear them out! Body language and eye contact can be very important here. Stand or sit up straight. Don’t cross your arms. Show them how closely you’re paying attention to their problem. Actively sympathize with the customer: After the customer vents, they want to know you understand where they are coming from and how they feel. Express sympathy and your concern for their unpleasant experience. Respect and understanding go a long way toward smoothing things over. Repeat the customer’s concerns: Once the customer is done venting, make sure you know exactly what they’re upset about. If you still are not clear what the problem is, repeat what you think the customer is upset about and/or ask questions to help clarify. Repeating the problem back will let them know you are listening and also will confirm you understand the problem that needs to be fixed. Apologize: Whether the customer’s complaint is valid or not is really irrelevant. If you want them to remain a customer and say good things about your company, you need to express an apology for the problem they are having (or perceive to be having). A simple, straightforward statement is often all that is needed. “I’m sorry you’re not happy with our products. Let’s see what we can do to make things right.” If necessary, get your manager involved: Sometimes, if the situation is getting out of hand, or the customer demands to see the owner/ manager/supervisor, it may be best to follow the wishes of the customer. However, if it’s possible to avoid doing this, please do. Find a possible solution (or solutions): Once you understand why the customer is unhappy, it’s time to offer a solution. Ask the customer what they think should be done or put forward your own fair and realistic answer to the problem. In most cases, that’s all the customer’s looking for and this may result in providing some degree of satisfaction. Ask the customer for feedback: Are they comfortable/happy with the solution you have proposed? If yes, move forward. If not, ask them what would make them happy. Many times you will find out what they want to have happen is a lot less than you thought it might be. Always let the customer know you will do everything in your power to make things right. Take immediate action: Tell your customer what you will be doing to ensure the problem will be resolved. Give the customer your contact information so they can reach out to you with any other questions or concerns. This may be the most important step of all these suggestions — doing what you say you’re going to do and doing it in a timely manner. Collect your thoughts and calm down: After the situation has been resolved and the customer is on their way (or the phone conversation has ended), it’s helpful for you to take your own “timeout.” Even if you have handled the situation in the most professional way possible, it’s still a stressful experience. Rather than let that stress linger inside you, take a short walk, treat yourself to a snack or find someone to talk with that can make you laugh. You’ll be ready to once again to meet your next client or tackle your next quote. Follow up with the customer: Give your customer a call once the problem has been resolved. Ask the customer if they are happy with the outcome and that everything is going well. You could even go the extra mile and send a handwritten apology and thank them for their business. It’s my experience when you resolve a tough issue for an unhappy client that you will have someone that might well sing your praises to other people. They can go from being very upset to becoming one of your biggest fans. And remember, the customer always is right… even when they’re wrong! Good selling!
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