Dealing with Upset Customers: The Advanced Guide

In business, you can’t please everyone. Though everyone has to deal with a disgruntled customer at one point or another, that encounter doesn’t have to ruin your day— or theirs.

Unfortunately, a lot of the customer service advice out there is pretty trite: stay calm, listen, solve the problem, the customer is always right. That’s not bad advice. But like everything else in life, you can easily overdo it, and your customer service will become robotic, even condescending.

We think it’s time that you get the advanced course.

Go Ahead, Get Emotional

Staying calm when things are not going as planned is often sound advice. Just don’t be calm to the point of being detached and emotionless. Unless you are doing customer service on Vulcan, the person you are dealing with will want to know that they have a sympathetic ear—and maybe someone to share in their indignation.

So go ahead and let your emotions in, just a little. It’s OK to be sympathetic when their day has gone bad, annoyed when a company policy is not clear, or sorry when something is truly the company’s fault.

Yes, the Customer is Frequently Wrong

We’ve all heard the cliché “the customer is always right.” But how many employees truly believe it? In fact, they shouldn’t: The most common cause of a customer complaint stems from misinformation or the misunderstanding of a policy. (For example, think of some of the needlessly complicated return policies you see in retail.)

Just remember that, when dealing with a customer, your job is not to be right. Your job is to make the customer feel better about the ongoing relationship with the company. And like any relationship, what you need to do first is listen and understand. It doesn’t matter if they are right or wrong—it’s about how they feel.

Don’t Solve the Problem

Wait, isn’t that the goal of customer service? To take a customer who has beef with your company and solve their problem for them?

That might be the goal, but if you start that way out of the gate, you are headed for trouble. Think of how many times someone in a relationship brings up an issue, but expressly asks not to solve the problem? Sometimes issues just need to be brought into the open where they can be discussed, and where both parties can explore how they feel about them. Cutting straight to the solution can actually get in the way of that.

If you make an effort to first listen and make a connection, you’ll find that most customers actually don’t have a major issue with your company or brand. A lot of the hostility you hear is misplaced hostility from earlier in the day: they had issues at work, traffic was bad, they got a letter from the IRS, etc.

So try this strategy: before you jump to a solution, ask about their day. Using a probing question—one that can’t be answered with a simply yes or no. You’ll be amazed at what you uncover, and your customer will begin to let their guard down.

Make it Right

Suppose you do all of the above: you get emotionally involved, you ask about their day, you listen, you clarify the issue and any misunderstandings. What happens if the customer is still not satisfied?

Remember, people grow business. (That’s kind of a theme we have around here.) To let that happen, though, you sometimes have to give them what they want to make things right. Even if you feel you are in the right. And even if it means the company takes a small loss.

For example, making things right might mean going against company policy, or offering an unprecedented discount. These might seem like losses. But your company’s image is more valuable than a single transaction. Word of mouth has always been one of the most powerful tools in business; and it has been magnified tenfold with the rise of social media and online reviews. Making things right helps guarantee that every interaction with your company comes out in the best light.

Be Prepared

These guidelines can work whether you are doing customer service over the phone, over the internet, or in-person. But now matter when and how it happens, you have to be mentally prepared for the interaction. Get in the right frame of mind with some inspiring customer service quotes and advice.

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