You are never going to please everyone all of the time. If you’re involved in selling any kind of product or service, you already know that.
So when faced with an irate customer, rather than deciding to sit and stew about it for the rest of the day, take it as a challenge.
Use your communication skills and business know-how, and make sure it is you that comes out on top at the end of the exchange. Do it right, and you’ll retain the customer and their business, plus they might be so impressed they’ll even tell their friends about you!
When you’re dealing with a challenging customer, here are 5 ways to come out on top.
1. Keep your cool.
Easier said than done, particularly when somebody is either shouting down the telephone at you, or in your face being incredibly rude. In times like these, remember that you are the one in control and you need to bring down their frustration to a level where you can both communicate properly with each other.
Behavior breeds behavior, so the more calm, professional and polite you are, the harder the other person will find it to maintain his or her accelerated level of emotion.
2. Empathize with their frustration.
Acknowledge their frustration or annoyance, because behind it is a problem with your service or your product that you need to unpick.
So empathize with them. Start by apologizing for the situation they have found themselves in, and say that you appreciate them calling (or coming in), as you understand it is an inconvenience to do so.
If they have telephoned and have been passed from pillar to post, then acknowledge that this is not good enough. By saying that you understand how difficult-awkward-annoying this situation is, you are validating their concern. In other words, put yourselves in their shoes and take ownership of the problem.
3. Take ownership of the problem.
It is up to you to get back in the driving seat and not let your customer steer you all over the place.
Start by actively listening, take notes and record and repeat what they have told you in order to demonstrate that you understand the root of the matter.
Body language, nodding your head, making listening noises such as “I see” or “I understand” and “can I just clarify that…?” will all help the client feel that you do know what they are trying to convey.
If you are on the telephone, again, don’t leave the client talking but use listening noises and appropriate questions like, “So what you are saying is that…?” Tell them you are making notes so that you can deal with the difficulty at hand.
Whatever you do, don’t pass the buck, blame somebody else and don’t trot out the phrase “I’m sorry but that’s the policy”, because that will only get them even more worked up.
4. Set out a resolution and next steps.
Tell the individual what you are going to do next and in what order. Ensure your team knows not to keep customers holding on the phone or standing around waiting.
Give them the option of waiting, or take their details and tell them you don’t want to waste any more of their time and money, but that you will give them a call back within an optimum timescale.
Think of their problem in the same way as you would a project that you oversee, and make sure that they have your contact details if it is going to take more time to try to resolve what is at the root of their concern.
5. Involve your customer in the solution.
Give them a little bit of ownership as well because there is nothing better than being asked for your opinion, and if the customer feels that they are part of the solution they will invest more in your organization. It is hard to continue being upset when someone recognizes your experience and skills and is asking for your advice.
Ask for their feedback about what else the company can do to make the service or the product better. They may very well come up with a great idea that is simple to put into practice and you come out on top when you introduce it to the rest of the firm.
Explain that you would like to share details with your colleagues – not name, rank and serial number(!) but what happened to cause the problem, because you don’t want it to happen to anyone else.
Tell them that you have learned from the situation and will be amending processes, procedures, training updates, or whatever is relevant so that other customers will not have the same problem.
Finally, if you can, give them your contact details and your name so if the issue resurfaces, they know who to speak with without having to go through the entire process again.
Don’t forget to also share what you’ve learned with your team, and if you have a company website, put up the issue as one of the frequently asked questions or in a case study.
Who knows? You might even get a testimonial from the formerly displeased customer that you can add to the site, which would really show that you have come out on top!
This article has been edited and condensed.
David Dalli is the owner of Simply Driveways, a business in Melbourne, Australia, that specializes in high quality driveways delivered with personalized service and practical advice. With more than 20 years’ experience in the domestic concrete industry, he’s certainly seen his fair share of challenging customer encounters, and knows what it takes to come out on top every time. Connect with @SimplyDriveways on Twitter.