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Handling Angry Customers

We’ve all had the joy of being faced with an angry customer for one reason or another. Sometimes it is something your company has done to upset him; such as a late delivery, poor service, a flawed product or a billing problem. Sometimes it’s something you did or didn’t do personally; such as forgot to follow up, messed up his order or just ignored him as a customer. And sometimes it’s something in the customer’s mind or his perception that you or your company did, when in reality it was just that his expectations weren’t set correctly. Whatever the reason, you must deal with an angry customer and do it in a respectful, professional manner.

Notice that the sub-title of this article is ten tips for treating customer difficulties. It is not ten tips for treating “difficult customers”. This alone is a perception that sales people and businesses need to correct. Just because a customer is having a problem, regardless of the reason, doesn’t make him a difficult customer, by definition. It means he is a customer who is having difficulties with you or your company, or at least perceives to be having difficulties. In his mind, something is wrong and we all need to respect that and handle it to his satisfaction. With that said, I do realize that there are truly difficult customers out there who seem to take pleasure in making other people’s lives miserable. On the whole, these types of people are more the exception than the rule and are not addressed in this article. What follows are ten tips for handling customers who are angry or upset over something that happened to them as well as how to avoid some of these problems in the first place.

1. First and most importantly, do not get defensive. When someone says, “You screwed up my order!” don’t respond with, “What do you mean me? I didn’t do it. Our shipping department sent it out.” That’s not what the customer wants to hear at this point. By getting defensive, you will sound like you are passing the blame on to someone else and aren’t interested in helping solve the problem.

2. Show the customer that you understand and are empathetic to his problem. Say, “I understand. That can be very frustrating. I’m sorry you are having a problem.” This should disarm him and help to calm him down by showing that you care and are interested in helping him.

3. Show that you are listening. Most dissatisfied customers just want to know that you are listening to them and that you understand their problems. After your initial response from Tip #2, follow that up with a statement such as, “Please tell me more,” or “Can you give me more details about exactly what happened and what you were expecting?”

4. Don’t avoid upset customers or their problems. You have to address their concerns and not try running away from them. Trying to avoid their problems will only make matters worse. A common example of this is when the person who takes your call tries dumping you off on someone else by transferring you to “the department that handles these issues.” While people tend to do this under the guise of getting the customer to the “right place”, what they are really doing is pushing the problem off to someone else so they don’t have to deal with it themselves. The best response I ever got to one of my problem calls was when the receptionist refused to get off the phone until I was actually speaking with the right person who was actively solving my problem. She clearly demonstrated that she truly cared about my problem, and me.

5. Deliver what you promise, on time, and always follow-up to make sure the customer is satisfied. Don’t take anything for granted. Once you find a resolution to the customer’s problem, don’t assume someone else has carried out their responsibility. For all you know, that may be the same person that caused the problem to begin with. Check their work and make sure the customer received the service and solution that he was expecting.

6. Don’t treat this as a competition. It will cost you more in lost customers and a bad reputation to fight your dissatisfied customer and prove him wrong than if you spent the extra time or money fixing his problem in the first place. You may win the battle but you will lose the war. This, of course, assumes the customer’s request is reasonable. If you eat the entire meal in a restaurant and then complain that your steak was too rare and want a new meal or no charge, then that is not a reasonable complaint. In this case, a discount or other partial compensation would be acceptable.

7. Remember that 90% of dissatisfied customers won’t buy from you again. And each of those dissatisfied customers will tell, on average, nine other people about their negative experience with you or your company. Additionally, 96% of those dissatisfied customers will NOT tell their story to you. Therefore, when you do hear from an unhappy customer, you shouldn’t have to think twice about what it’s going to take to make him satisfied.

8. Customer satisfaction needs to be an attitude that all employees understand and practice. Employees will emulate the behavior and attitudes of their management. If a manager or the CEO doesn’t respect customers or won’t go out of his way to help, then chances are his employees won’t either. This attitude even affects who you hire and should permeate into your interviewing process. This will help to make sure that you hire the right customer-oriented people to begin with.

9. Test your own internal systems by calling up as a customer and see how long it takes to get a response and how effective your staff is at solving your problem. Listen to how your people answer the phone and how willing they are to help you. By putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, you’ll get a lot of insight into how you, your department or your entire company will treat dissatisfied customers.

10. Perform regular customer surveys to see how your customers feel about your customer service, sales people, and entire company. Typically, their perspective is very different from your own.

Bonus Tip: Build a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) culture within your business. This does not simply mean purchasing CRM technology. It means making everyone in your company understand that the customer is the most important part of your business, not your quotas or your pie charts or your expenses. Your corporate culture should be one that does everything it can to build loyalty with your customers – a non-financial preference to continue purchasing from you in spite of your competitors’ offerings or your higher prices. This level of loyalty has to be earned and having a CRM culture is the best way to create that sort of customer commitment. It’s a lot of work, but the end result is huge.

Good luck and good selling!

Russ Lombardo