Dealing with Angry Customers

How you handle mistakes and improve service could mean the difference between losing customers and keeping their business

If you sell almost any type of product, then you already know that despite your best efforts at managing service and inventory, clients will be displeased from time to time. But don't simply accept ongoing dissatisfaction as an inevitable part of doing business. Instead, work at improving how you deal with customers whose experience has been less than satisfactory. It could mean the difference between losing customers permanently or keeping them satisfied—maybe even more committed to doing business with you. Here are seven keys.

1. Always acknowledge the customer's problem. Say something like, "I'm sorry for the trouble you have gone through—I would be upset, too."

2. Ask the customer what you can do to make her feel better. "Is there something I can do to improve the experience you've had with our company/product/service?"

3. Tell your customer that you want to record all the details of the mistake so you can share it with everyone within your company to prevent it from happening again. "Would you mind if I document everything you say, so that I can share it with others? I want to make sure this problem never comes up again."

4. If the customer has been getting the runaround, and you are still not the person who has the answer, tell the customer that you will find out and call her back.

Also give the customer an idea of when you will return with the answer: "I apologize that you have been passed on to so many people within our company. Although I do not have the answer to your question, I will find the answer so you don't have to be passed on again. What phone number would you like me to call when I find out? I will get back to you by tomorrow with the information."

5. If you can, provide the customer with your name and contact number so that he may call you in the future if issues arise. People love to have a name and phone number on file; it makes them feel in control.

6. Never say "It's our policy." All policies should be somewhat flexible in times of crisis. An angry customer does not want to hear about company policy.

7. Never blame your company or someone else in your company. Always keep a united front: "I apologize for the experience you have had. Your experience is rare, and I will do my best to make sure you leave happy."

Take this example, near verbatim, of poor customer service my wife, Vanessa, recently experienced. Then read on for my script that uses the keys to show how the exchange could have been improved:

Vanessa: Hi, I'm curious if the XYZ stroller has come in?

Owner: The what model?

Vanessa: Four weeks ago, one of your employees said this model would be available in your store.

Owner: She was wrong. That stroller comes out next year.

Vanessa: But she specifically told me you would have it.

Owner: Well, she was wrong.

Vanessa (disappointed): You should inform your staff better about new merchandise so this doesn't happen. Now I have to start shopping from scratch.

Owner: We don't have what you want and there's nothing I can do.

Vanessa: You know, I could have shopped at your store for another stroller, but after this conversation, I won't now.

Owner: Fine.

Now, the improved version:

Vanessa: Hi, I'm curious if the XYZ stroller has come in?

Owner: I'm sorry, we don't carry that model.

Vanessa: Four weeks ago, one of your employees said this model would be available in your store.

Owner: I apologize for the information you received, but that particular model will not be available for another year. Can I document this conversation so I can share it with my staff? This mistake cannot happen again. What can I do to improve the experience you have had with our store? This rarely happens and I want to keep you as a customer.

Vanessa (disappointed, but completely disarmed): Well, I do have another stroller in mind.

Owner: Perfect! Please come in and I'll show it to you personally. If you choose to buy it, I will give you 10% off the retail price. I'll give you my direct number so you can call me when you plan to come in. In the meantime, I'm going to address this conversation at our next staff meeting. I look forward to meeting you.

Vanessa: Thank you. I'll come in tomorrow!

In person or over the phone, your customers want to be treated with respect. You won't always be successful at converting every angry customer, but by using effective communication skills, you stand a much better chance.

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