Angry customers are nightmares for businesses. If you’ve ever had to deal with one (chances are, you have), you’ll know that handling them is not a task for the faint-hearted. Unless your psyche is made of high-grade steel, you might collapse into an emotional heap as the irate customer’s verbal tantrums batter your professional resolve; or worse, you might loose it, and engage the complainant in an extended shouting match, countering all their furiously made points with equally furious responses.
You probably wish the day of the offended client’s call or visit never comes; but it will, because your business is run by a human (or humans), and it’s not going to please everyone every time. So, brace yourself.
But you don’t have to stammer through sessions with infuriated customers or return their temperamental outbursts. There are things you can do to diffuse the tension, manage the situation, and bring it to a peaceful, mutually agreeable end. Here, we’ll explain these steps in detail. You’ll do well to keep them in mind when facing another challenging customer.
- Stay calm
When it becomes clear that a visitor or caller is complaining about some product or service, you should immediately take hold of yourself. The second-long window of opportunity for you to calm down could eventually determine how the whole interraction will develop. Stop, take a deep breath, and tell yourself that you are in control of your reaction.
It might turn out to be a complaint that is justified, and one that you can handle if you keep your cool (most of these exchanges fall into this category). However, it could also be the case that the customer’s misgivings are not fair. This second sort is more difficult to deal with, and could stir up a strong feeling of righteous indignation within you. You may be in the right, but you should also be determined not to let it drive you into berating your customer. Just stay calm. This is part of your job. Avoid sarcasm, reject the urge to make veiled come-backs, and eschew faked politeness.
- Listen carefully to what your customer is saying
At least two things are involved in listening here: not interrupting the speaker, and making careful notes about what exactly his/her grievances are. There’s also the important part of not appearing to be disinterested in what the customer is saying- in your looks and physical mannerisms in the case of a face-to-face meeting, or your general tone in the case of a call. Of course, tone applies in text correspondences with customers (emails, social media, forums, website’s comment section) as well.
The customer might want to vent their frustration with your service (rightfully or not); they might even calmly but forthrightly point out what they think is wrong with the products you offer them, or they may simply demand to speak with your boss. Worst of all, it might be a call from a person who just wants to tell you that he has lost faith in your brand, is done with it forever, and will never come back. Whatever the nature of the customer’s address to you, be sure to note the reasons for their dissatisfaction and rage.
Don’t speak until the customer is done with remonstrating.
- Sympathize with them, and apologize
Here’s where your talking begins.
First, do this: put yourself in their shoes, and imagine their pain. Think about all the minutes (or hours) that late delivery of the smartphone they ordered for took out of their time, and how it ruined their entire schedule. Imagine that it was you who bought a carton of powdered milk worth several thousand naira, only to discover that all the tins were filled with lumpy, improperly processed milk (manufacturer’s fault, but customers know you, not the careless factory workers). How would you feel? How would you expect the seller at fault to respond? Even if you can’t understand why they’re so worked up, find reasons to sympathize with them.
Next, frame your response in ways that recognize their complaint. Thank them for their patience in reporting your company’s failings to you, and apologize to them for the faults they have reported. For example, if the customer has expressed displeasure over the time it took to deliver the fried rice he ordered, begin with a response like, “we’re very sorry that the food you requested for wasn’t delivered to you at the time you wanted. We understand that you are angry about this, and we appreciate the fact that you have reported it to us. We will work to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Additional tip: Address the person by their name. For instance, instead of saying “sir, we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you…”, say “Mr. Kayode, [i.e. name of the complainant] we apologize for [state specific problem, and its consequence] …”. You can apply your discretion in determining when you should address the customer by name and when not to. In most cases, using their name personalizes your response and makes you come off as truly concerned about them. The nouns ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ may also be understood by some customers as an indication of your respect for them; for others, it’s a sign that you’re just an insincere robot.
- Offer solutions, and let the customer choose the one they prefer
It’s not enough to say you’re “on top of the situation”. Present specific solutions, and let the customer decide which one suits them best. If it’s a problem with a single, clear-cut solution, tell the customer that you (or your company) will effect it as soon as possible (the quicker the better). Sometimes, customers could tell you, right off the bat, what they want done to remedy the situation. If it’s a sound and implementable idea, you should confirm that you’ll do as they say.
Again, thank your customer for the chance they’ve given you to put things right, and assure them of your commitment to providing them with the quality of service they desire.
- Take action as quickly as possible
Fix whatever issues have been raised by complainants. The sort of action to be taken will depend on the nature of the problem reported by the customer. Some will require just a little adjustment; for others, an apology would do. There are occasions in which the proper response would be a sweeping change in the way your business works. If it’s in your hands, deal with it. If not, suggest your ideas for reform to the persons in charge.
Keep in touch with customers whose grievances you have listened to. If need be, inform them when the problems they spoke about are fixed. When they’re in on the efforts you’re making to attend to their discontentment, their ire and disdain will be replaced with satisfaction, and possibly even stronger loyalty to your brand.