Your company’s most vital asset is its customers, so you need to make sure you’re dealing with your customers properly. But, sometimes it can be challenging to build those relationships.
The key is to make each customer feel welcome and helped.
1- Listen actively to customers
Sometimes, customers just need to know that you’re listening. Let your client tell you their story. Resist the temptation to try to solve the situation right away, or to jump to conclusions about what happened.
Start the dialogue with a neutral statement, such as, “Let’s go over what happened,” or “Please tell me why you’re upset.” This subtly creates a partnership between you and your customer and lets them know that you’re ready to listen.
Here’s an example of reflective listening being used with a customer.
Client: “I’m really frustrated because I bought these shoes for my daughter, but they are small for her. I would like to exchange them for a larger size, but you do not have them in stock.”
Manager: “So, what I’m hearing is that your daughter wears one size more than the shoes you have bought. Is that correct? Tell me more, so I can better understand.”
Never promise you’ll fix the situation —because you might not be able to. Your goal is to make your customer feel heard and appreciated.
Let the client vent about the situation if at all possible, but don’t allow threats or physical violence.
2- Build rapport through empathy
Once you’re sure that you understand your client’s concerns, be empathic. Show that you understand and care about why they’re upset. Don’t engage in fault-finding or laying blame.
When something goes wrong, apologize. Deal with the problem immediately and let the customer know what you have done.
For example, you could say, “I can understand why you’re upset. I would be too. I’m really sorry that we didn’t get the cakes to you on time, especially since it’s caused problems at the party you organized.”
3- Present a Solution
There are two ways to do this.
A) Telling them how you’d like to correct the situation.
For instance, you could say, “I know you need these curtains by tomorrow to show to your own customers. I will call our wholesale sellers to see if they have those models in stock, and, if they do, I’ll drop them off at your offices tomorrow no later than 10 a.m.”
B) Ask them to identify what will make thempleased.
For example, “If my solution doesn’t work for you, I would like to know what will satisfy you. If it’s under my reach I’ll get it done, and if it’s not possible, we can work out another solution together.”
4- Communicate what you can and can’t to about their situation
Tell the customer what you can do for them, for example, issue a refund, a credit note, a free service, or connect them to the manufacturer.
If you can’t solve the problem, never say: “There’s nothing I can do.” That statement is like adding fuel to the fire.
In these cases you can say, I wish I could do that for you. At this moment, that is beyond my authority but I will ask the general manager. May I have a way to contact you so I can get back with an update?
Always, let them know about the changes that you’ll make as a result of their complaint. Also, make sure to let them know that you’re very grateful they alerted you about this problem.
5- Stay calm and be discreet
Being tactful and discreet is crucial when dealing with difficult customers.
If the customer is swearing or being verbally abusive, take a deep breath and continue as if you didn’t hear them. Don’t take it personally. Remember that you’re interacting with a human.
Difficult as it is sometimes, it is important to stay calm. Reacting in kind will not solve anything, and it will usually escalate the situation. Instead, remind the customer that you are there to help them and are their best immediate chance of resolving the situation.
6- Break the big problem into several smaller ones
Take one big problem and break it down to more manageable parts. Smaller problems are easier to handle and let us deal —step by step— with the big issue at hand.
For example, a customer of the bank you work for repeatedly has a reason why he can’t set up and get started using his online bank account.
At his next calling, ask technical support employees to help him break down each of the steps he needs to take to get things moving (how to create a password to log in and use some strategy so it won’t be forgotten, how to make wire transfers, recognize the difference between login password and transaction password).
Simply seeing each task chunked can make it easier for your customer to digest what’s left to do.
7- Try a reconciliation but don’t be overwhelmed
If the situation reaches a point where the customer crosses the line and becomes rude and unfair, you’ll need to make a judgment call: Will you tolerate someone who’s being aggressive, or you’ll end the discussion?
Choosing the latter would mean that they’ll never shop with you again, but keeping a problematic customer can be just as bad.
Here are some examples of how to ask customers to leave.
– I apologize, but if you continue to use this language, I will be forced to ask you to leave the store.
– Mr. Smith, I have not been rude to you, so there is no need to be rude to me. Please, take a breath. If you calm down, I will be able to help you, but if you continue to threaten me I must notify the authorities.
If things escalate, call the authorities.
Remember, a bad customer can hurt morale and make the working environment uncomfortable. Just as bad, a manager that won’t stand up to the customer and support his/her employees can have a negative impact as well.
“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” — Bill Gates
Dealing: A business relation or transaction.
“Charles showed tact in dealing with difficult customers.”
Actively: In a deliberate and positive way.
“Actively trading really means actively waiting.”
Overwhelmed: Completely overcome or overpowered by thought or feeling.
“Caroline was overwhelmed by the amount of work he had to do.”
“I cold-called them yesterday, and they want to set up a face-to-face meeting next week.”
“Don’t worry about your order. I’ll sort it all out for you.”
” Ok, you want 200 pounds of this product. Let me just note that down.”
“ I met with John yesterday about placing an order, so I’m going to follow up with him today to make sure I have the right amounts.”
Sitting on the fence: To delay making a decision.
Take it with a grain of salt: To listen to a story or an explanation with considerable doubt, because you think it is unlikely to be true.
That’s the last straw: My patience has run out.
Get out of hand: Get out of control.
A blessing in disguise: A good thing that initially seemed bad.
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