Chilling Out With Angry Customers
Edition: September 1999 - Vol 7 Number 09
Psychologists tell us it is natural to take a ‘fight or flight’ approach in dealing with conflict. As sales people, we can easily avoid dealing with angry customers by not returning calls or failing to provide the necessary follow-up after the sale. Another option is to engage in a nose-to-nose argument defending our product, position or situation. While your verbal sparring skills may win you the proverbial battle, they will ultimately cause you to lose the sale or worse -- the relationship -- by taking this route. If anger were fire, would you snuff it out with a pillow or throw on gasoline to drown it out? Obviously the latter would make the problem worse, yet a fight or flight response does exactly that -- makes the problem worse. Angry customers need a direct approach and they need it now. Since what comes naturally will probably not contribute to our income or continued employment, consider the following five steps to snuff out the issues that fire up your customers:
1. Apologize: ‘I am sorry’ should be the first and are the most important words you can say to someone who is angry. It lowers defenses and emotions and opens the doors of communication to gain an understanding of the situation. Your ego may scream, 'But, I did nothing wrong -- why am I apologizing?' That attitude will only separate you from getting to the real issues and distance you from the customer. Once you have discharged emotions you are able to begin to resolve the problem.
2. Offer to Help: A key outcome when customers are angry is how they are treated when they are complaining. That means you can control the results when dealing with difficult people. By offering to help, you show you are willing to take charge of the situation and assist the customer and attempt to resolve the problem on their behalf. More importantly, by offering to take action, it demonstrates you and your company care about their situation. And, today that is a rare business sentiment.
3. Seek to Understand, Empathize and Listen: Ask open-ended questions to better understand the situation and what has caused the customer to become angry. Empathize by saying, ‘This must be very upsetting’ or ‘I can understand how you feel!’ or ‘What a terrible mistake!’ and then listen. When people are upset, they want to be heard. By listening, you will begin to hear emotions begin to calm and customers will feel better understood. It is extremely important not to argue, be defensive or talk over the customer at this stage. This will only undermine your good intentions and aggravate the situation.
4. Offer a Solution: This is where your preplanning and preparation comes in. By anticipating customer problems, you can quickly and easily provide solutions and calm customer concerns at this stage. While resolving the big problems are usually handled by company policies, you should be prepared to offer solid solutions on the small stuff that happens more frequently.
5. Check Customer Satisfaction: Be sure to verify satisfaction when resolving conflict to determine if you have adequately met or exceeded customer expectations. This is often an overlooked and important part of dealing with angry customers. Go beyond customer expectations and follow-up in a few days to confirm their satisfaction. This will really set you apart from the average.
Resist the natural tendency to take flight or fight with angry customers. Know that dealing with conflict is a normal part of providing good customer service and business. The next time things heat up, use these practical ideas to help angry customers chill out and send sales soaring!
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