Unhappy customers are part of running a business, though definitely an unpleasant part that most of us want to avoid.
Avoiding the angry customer won’t solve the problem, however.
Here is a step-by-step guide to dealing with an unhappy, even irate customer without losing your cool… or losing the customer.
Step 1: Stop arguing
Don’t engage in the conflict.
When people get angry, they want to fight. If they can’t fight physically, they’ll often settle for a vehement verbal sparring match.
You can’t win in this situation with your customer. Even if you “own” the argument, yell louder, and make better points, you’ve only made your customer more unhappy.
So don’t let your ego get in the midst of a pointless argument. Take a deep breath. Winning an argument does not win you a customer.
Step 2: Remind yourself of the goal
The goal isn’t to win the argument.
The goal isn’t to save as much money as possible.
The goal isn’t to get the customer out of the door as quickly as possible.
The goal is to do whatever you can to make sure that your customer gets what he or she needs.
That doesn’t mean you have to give in to unreasonable demands, break company policy, or ignore common sense in order to make your customer happy.
It does mean that your job is to figure out what, in this particular situation, your customer is really looking for.
Once you’ve figured that out, you can look at your options for how to meet that need.
Step 3: Acknowledge your customer’s pain
Do not belittle their frustration.
Do not say things like, “Well, I don’t know why you’re so upset,” or “That’s not really a big deal.”
For your customer, this is a big deal. When you invalidate their frustration, you simply cause more of it to bubble up.
Acknowledge that they have a right to be upset even if you think they are overreact. Let them know that you hear their frustration.
Step 4: Listen without defense
It’s human nature to defend ourselves against accusations.
Fight against this urge.
Let your customer tell her story without interruption. Don’t make excuses, even if they are valid.
Don’t invent reasons. Don’t give reasons that are perfectly true and good. Don’t tell your side of the story at all.
Just listen, without complaint or defense or excuse, and - if possible - with a sympathetic expression on your face.
Step 5: Repeat the issue back
Once you’ve understood the entire situation, repeat what you see as the main issue.
“You didn’t receive the product you ordered and then you couldn’t get a refund.”
“Our employee was rude to you and didn’t help you find what you needed.”
“The product didn’t match up with what you thought it would be.”
“You lost time because of technical failure on our part.”
Be as accurate as you can and rephrase as needed until your customer agrees with your statement of the issue.
Step 6: Reassure
It's a sad truth that customers often approach customer service providers expecting a battle. Past experience has trained them to expect such.
Reassure your customer that you are not here to fight them but to help them. This reassurance can defuse tension and remind your customer that you are here to serve them.
Step 7: Ask for a solution
This is a brilliant move if you can master it, and you can.
All you have to do is ask this question:
“What would be the best thing I can do to make this right for you?”
Instead of presenting a bunch of options which the customer can shoot down, you’re asking for help.
For your customers’ help.
Let them rattle on for a bit, if needed, but bring that question back until you get an answer to it.
“What will it take to make you happy?”
“What would you like me to do to fix this?”
“How can I make this better?”
Step 8: Offer options
Once they’ve told you what they think would be a good solution, turn that into an option or two that you are willing and able to provide.
For example, a customer might demand a full refund on something you simply can’t provide a refund on; so respond with an acknowledgement and then an option.
“I wish I could give you exactly what you want - a full refund - but I can’t. Here is another option: a store credit for XYZ amount.”
Step 9: Repeat steps 7 and 8 until you agree on a solution
You might have to go through these steps a few time. Be patient.
Step 10: Follow through and follow up
As quickly and courteously and thoroughly as possible, make good on what you’ve agreed to do.
Then follow up, some time in the future, with a phone call, email, or letter to your customer. This is truly “going the extra mile”; if you take the time to do so, however, you can turn an angry customer into a satisfied one.
Maintain your calm, walk through these steps, and you can turn angry customers into your company’s biggest promoters.