Calming Those Difficult Customers

Business Proverbs
by Steve Marr

Sooner or later we all will face that dreaded creature: the angry customer. When you come right down to it, a furious customer may be your worst nightmare. The secret is to develop an effective technique to managing those tough situations BEFORE you need it! This will enable you to make the best of a tricky situation.

Realize that some customers are justly angry-somehow your organization messed up-and you need to make the situation right. Others are just plain angry people, blaming you for a bad circumstance that was not your or the company's fault. Either way, having guidelines in place will help determine the basis for the anger and the best response.

#1-control your own temper, regardless of the provocation. King Solomon observed, "He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick tempered exalts folly" (Proverbs 14:29 NASB). Joining a temper tantrum is like pouring gasoline on to a fire. Keep your cool, but don't accept abuse. I have had customers swear at me and I calmly said that we could resolve the problem but that I would not accept swearing. Usually the person starts to calm down.

#2-ask the customer to define the problem. Careful listening will help you sort out the facts from the bad feelings. Ask questions to insure you understand the situation. Repeat back to the customer what you heard so you can agree on the facts. After you believe you understand the situation, decide if you or your company messed up. If so, promptly accept responsibility and then ask how the situation can be made right.

#3-accept responsibility and make it right. For example, if a size-12 dress was ordered and a size-16 was delivered, offer to pay expedited shipping. Insure that your customer is not asked to bear the consequences of your problem. Apologize for the company and yourself if necessary. An "I'm sorry" goes a long way toward mending the relationship.

#4-clarify and go the extra mile. If the reality of the facts demonstrates that the situation is not your fault, begin to clarify the circumstances. Empathize with the customer's predicament and allow his or her feelings to be expressed, but explain your position. If a size-12 dress is on the order form but the customer needed a size-14, show the order form, then endeavor to do your utmost to satisfy your customer. A simple "tough luck" will not win repeat business. Going the extra mile to help will win future loyalty and business.

#5-discuss what you can and cannot do. But if your offer is not acceptable, ask what the customer would like. If you can agree, then great. At times, however, nothing may seem to work. I heard of a man who tried to return a snow blower in May for a full refund after using the equipment all winter because, he said, "I just don't like it." Calmly holding your line and denying the request may be your only option. Clearly and kindly convey what you can and cannot do. You may need to accept receiving anger as the price of holding a perfectly reasonable boundary.

#6-offer compassion if that's all you can do. When the circumstances affect the customer, but was not your fault or responsibility, clarify the facts that caused the situation and look for ways to accommodate if possible. A dress, special ordered for a cancelled wedding is unfortunate, but a store can't absorb the loss on merchandise that can't be resold. Even though you can't fix the situation, allow their feeling to be appropriately vented. Compassion works wonders.

The key to avoiding anger is to properly manage customer's expectations. Never promise more than you can deliver and be quick with a heads up. When delivery schedules are 2-4 weeks, quote four weeks for delivery. Develop a system of being clear and communicating effectively with each customer, take good notes and develop written procedure as much as possible. King Solomon said "through presumption comes nothing but strife" and those words are equally true today.

Your effective strategies for heading off difficult customers will calm your day and help build your business.

Steve Marr is a business/ministry consultant and author of the book Business Proverbs. His daily radio feature, "Business Proverbs" is heard on 1,000 radio stations. He is the former CEO of the fourth largest import-export firm in the United States. Website: www.businessproverbs.org

Steve Marr is a business/ministry consultant and author of the book Business Proverbs. His daily radio feature, "Business Proverbs" is heard on 1,000 radio stations. He is the former CEO of the fourth largest import-export firm in the United States. Website: www.businessproverbs.org

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