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Dealing with angry customers

By Phil Stella

Of utmost importance when dealing with angry customers is having a well-defined policy in place that senior management had helped create and signed off on and that everyone who touches customers understands, embraces, and follows consistently. Periodic re-training or review can be helpful.

Components of that policy should include:

  • Talk less and listen more. And listen to the customer’s words, the tone of voice, and, when in person, the body language delivering those words.
  • Tell less and ask more. Ask good, focused questions. Take notes.
  • Empathize with customers.  Indicate that you recognize they’re upset and acknowledge their feelings. Be careful not to sound like you agree with them. And don’t try to sympathize if you can’t.
  • Strive to understand first. Then, make sure you’re understood.
  • Err on the side of over-communicating.
  • Communicate with “uncommon courtesy.”
  • Summarize what you’re hearing often to validate your understanding.
  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. If you can give those customers what they need to keep them happy, do. If you can’t, explain why briefly but focus on what you can do. If you can’t make them happy, at least try to get them satisfied with the process and your courtesy.
  • Follow up in writing whenever you can to minimize, “I think I understand what I thought I heard you say, but I’m not sure if what I thought you heard you say is what you really meant.

Keep in mind the paradox of customer complaints. Until tested, the concept of “excellent customer service” is a vague philosophical theory and ideal expectation. Once a customer has a problem and complains about it, how quickly and how well you deal with it and strive to make him or her happy again will do wonders to repair the initial damage. And oft-repeated studies indicate that customer loyalty can even increase after the successful solution of a problem.

So, how do you deal with angry customers? Courteously, quickly, and consistently!

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, which empowers business leaders to communicate confidently. A popular trainer and executive coach on workplace communications and sales presentations, he is on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative. He can be reached at (440) 449-0356.

 

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