If you’re running a business, you’ll inevitably encounter the occasional irate customer. Whether their grievances are legitimate or not, the way you respond in the moment will determine whether they’ll continue to do business with you or not, and what kind of word-of-mouth they’ll spread when recalling the incident to friends, family, and social media contacts.
To help you make the best of a difficult situation, here are seven tips for managing an upset customer:
1. Give your customer the benefit of the doubt.
You may run a tight ship, but mistakes happen. Start by assuming your customer has a legitimate issue, whether the product or service failed to meet their expectations, or one of your employees left them feeling less than valued.
Rather than trying to gauge the validity of the complaint while they’re explaining what went wrong—which is what most small business owners do—acknowledge the fact that they have a right to be upset. While they’re venting, zero-in on how they’re expressing their anger to see if you can isolate the source of the emotion. That’s what you’ll need address in order to salvage the relationship.
2. Don’t let your own emotions get in the way.
Managing irate customers is largely a matter of prioritizing emotions. To simplify this challenging task, keep your own emotions in the background. The whole time you’re listening to the customer, you should be focusing on how they emphasize certain words or phrases. Because beyond the technical resolution to whatever problem they’ve experienced is a more complex, emotional concern.
Let’s say, for example, that you own a dry cleaning business. A customer is irate because the garment they planned to wear to an important event was returned to them with a stain on it. If all you do is take the garment and remove the stain, you’ve only partially resolved the problem. The emotional distress they experienced—fear that an important event would be ruined because of their appearance—still lingers, and it won’t abate until it’s addressed.
Apologize for the inconvenience and thank the customer for bringing the matter to your attention. Acknowledge his or her emotions to diffuse the situation, and reassure the customer that you care about their emotional distress, as well as the issue.
3. Remember, patience is a virtue.
Irate customers aren’t concerned with the passage of time. Once they get going, they tend to go on and on and on. That’s okay. When they’re at the peak of expressing their dissatisfaction, don’t attempt to interrupt them because it will only make matters worse.
Instead, wait until the customer shows signs of calming down. Then offer some reassuring comments. Reiterate your compassion and acknowledge the customer’s frustration. De-escalation is a process, so be patient and focus on managing the moment.
4. Remain calm.
Irate customers are sometimes loud, obnoxious, and abusive. Shame on them. As a business owner, your job is to stay cool under fire. That means speaking to the customer in a soft, steady voice no matter how heated they might become.
Just let them vent. When they pause, calmly communicate your response. Bear in mind that, even though the customer may not seem to care about what you’re saying, he or she came to you for a resolution. Emotions may have gotten the better of your customer in the moment, but once they settle down and remember why they contacted you, they’ll be receptive to your reassuring and reasonable tone
5. It’s your problem, too.
Regardless of who created the problem, once the customer brings it to your attention, it’s your problem, too. Referring an irate customer to someone else, or another department, will only make them feel like they’re on their own—and that will add to the resentment and frustration they feel towards your business.
Take charge of the situation by owning the problem. Even if you need to consult with someone else to get all the facts, assure the customer that you will personally see to the matter and follow-up with them directly. If you need time to look into the issue, make it a point of reassuring the customer that you will use your expertise to see the best possible outcome.
6. Fix the problem.
Beyond addressing the customer’s concern, you’ll want to implement long-term corrective measures to prevent the issue from arising in the future. Although you most likely won’t be able to guarantee that your solution to the matter will resolve all problems permanently, it may be reassuring to the customer to know you will be available to assist if they encounter other problems in the future.
Clearly convey your confidence that their specific issue has been addressed and will not reoccur. Underscore your involvement on their behalf by reiterating their original concerns and spelling out the actions you took to fix the problem.
7. Crush lemons into lemonade.
There’s value in every human interaction. If you’ve invested the time and energy to properly address the needs of an irate customer, reward yourself—and your business—by following up in 30 days. A brief thank-you for bringing the matter to your attention so you could address the issue is all it takes.
You might be amazed at how receptive the customer is to your call, email, or postcard. In many instances, he or she may not even remember the specifics of the original issue. But they will remember you coming to their aid when they needed help.
Following up shows that you’re on the ball and value their business. It says they’re important to you and, almost 100 percent of the time, your effort to reconnect will be enough to win them back or generate a referral.
Managing the occasional irate customer is part of being a business owner.
Although these encounters may sometimes be unpleasant, how you respond to them will determine whether you keep or lose customers. Follow the seven tips outlined above to keep them coming back and sharing positive word-of-mouth.
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