Dealing with upset customers

We all want to provide exceptional service. No one ever sets out to intentionally disappoint customers. But in the real world, things go wrong and mistakes are made. Customers will often judge your level of service based on how you respond to a mistake. Do it well and they’ll probably forgive you and possibly even say positive things about your business or your ability to deal with difficulties.

The important thing to realize when dealing with an upset customer, be they internal or external, is that you must -deal with their feelings, then deal with their problem. Upset customers are liable to have strong feelings when you, your product or service lets them down and they’ll probably want to dump these feelings on you.

Here are 5 ideas that deal with the customers’ human needs:

1 – Don’t let them get to you – Stay out of it emotionally and concentrate on listening non-defensively and actively. Customers may make disparaging and emotional remarks – don’t rise to the bait.

2 – Listen – listen – listen – Look and sound like your listening. The customer wants to know that you care and that you’re interested in their problem.

3 – Stop saying sorry – Sorry is an overused word, everyone says it when something goes wrong and it’s lost its value. How often have you heard – “Sorry ’bout that, give me the details and I’ll sort this out for you”. Far better to say “I apologize for ……” And if you really need to use the sorry word, make sure to include it as part of a full sentence. “I’m sorry you haven’t received that information as promised Mr. Smith”. (It’s also good to practice to use the customer’s name in a difficult situation).

4 – Empathise – Using empathy is an effective way to deal with the customer’s feelings. Empathy isn’t about agreement, only acceptance of what the customer is saying and feeling. Basically the message is – “I understand how you feel”. Obviously this has to be a genuine response, the customer will realize if you’re insincere and they’ll feel patronized. Examples of empathy responses would be – “I can understand that you’re angry”, or “I see what you mean”. Again, these responses need to be genuine.

5 – Build rapport – Sometimes it’s useful to add another phrase to the empathy response, including yourself in the picture. “I can understand how you feel, I don’t like it either when I’m kept waiting”. This has the effect of getting on the customer’s side and builds rapport. Some customer service people get concerned with this response as they believe it’ll lead to “why don’t you do something about it then”. The majority of people won’t respond this way if they realize that you’re a reasonable and sincere person. If they do, then continue empathizing and tell the customer what you’ll do about the situation. “I’ll report this to my manager” or “I’ll do my best to ensure it doesn’t happen in the future”.

Make no mistake about it; customers, be they internal or external, are primarily driven by their emotions. It’s therefore important to use human responses in any interaction particularly when a customer is upset or angry. If customers like you and feel that you care, then they’re more likely to accept what you say and forgive your mistakes.

There is only one boss. The customer―and he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.

Travis Biggert