The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

There are ways to turn even your most difficult customers into raving fans.

The customer is always right. For years, this fateful adage has been drilled into the heads of every employee entering into the work force. As we all know, often times the customer isn’t right and furthermore, some customers will try to use their status of being eternally “right” to take advantage of business owners and service providers. Customers have learned they can get what they want by using rude and abrasive tactics.

While the customer may not always be right, they are always the customer and they deserve to be treated properly. Without them, you have no business. There are steps you can take to insure your customers—even the most difficult ones—are dealt with correctly.

There are many reasons why some customers are so rude and difficult to deal with, according to Myra Golden, author, online columnist, video producer and motivational speaker. “When customers have been let down by their credit card, cable and cell phone companies, they bring all of that baggage to the table with them,” Golden said. “Their expectations for a good resolution are very low and they tend to take it out on you. With the troubled economy we’re in right now, customers are no longer willing to let the little things slide. Consumers are fed up with service and because every dollar counts, expect to get a fair return on their investments.”

Golden added that while it may seem unfair that customers become more defensive and stressed when the economy is stressed, it’s inevitable. However, the encounter doesn’t have to leave you feeling angry and frustrated.

Penny for Your Thoughts

Complaining customers should be viewed as golden, according to Golden. “Studies show that only one in 27 customers are going to complain, so when they take the time to voice a complaint that’s a rare customer,” she said. “Customers that complain are giving you the opportunity to fix the problem. If the problem is solved immediately, the customer will be more loyal to your business.”

What Do They Want?

The majority of angry customers want very basic things, according to Lydia Ramsey, business etiquette expert, professional speaker, corporate trainer and author of Manners That Sell: Adding The Polish That Builds Profit. “I think many of them are just looking for a friendly person,” Ramsey said. “Most of us just want somebody to look at us in the eye, smile at us, or call us by name; It’s so simple and yet, I patronize so many places during the week and that doesn’t happen.”

It’s also important to realize that angry customers want the opportunity to vent their frustrations and they want to be heard and acknowledged, added Golden. “We often tend to tip-toe around a customer’s anger and ignore it,” she said. “There is something called the communication chain and when the customer communicates verbally, they expect a response. If you don’t respond, you leave the communication chain unlinked and the customer will draw their own negative conclusions.”

Keep Your Cool

It takes two to argue, so it’s crucial that you control your own emotions to avoid the fight and the unpleasantness, stated Ramsey. “It doesn’t help anything if you get out of control, because then you become irrational,” she said. “If you stay calm and don’t come back in an aggressive manner, that lets you defuse the situation. The key is that you have to really be sincere. From time to time, I’ve noticed when talking to customer service professionals on the phone that they’ve gone through some training and they’re just reading from a script. Whether on the phone or in person, our tone and body language needs to match what we’re saying.”

Use Verbal Self-Defense

Golden studied the Japanese martial art Aikido for many years and uses it as a strategy during her customer service seminars. Somewhere we lost control of the conversation and our emotions, and the goal of martial arts is to put you back in control of the situation, according to Golden. “If a customer strikes you with force, conventional wisdom would say you should respond with force,” she said. “Never respond to force with force. Take a moment to regain your composure and think about your response. The word opponent is never used in Aikido. Your customer is not the enemy and you aren’t involved in a battle. You both want the same thing.”

Golden added that you should look at the customer as your partner allowing them to vent and feel heard and understood. “When your customer has rage, saying ‘calm down’ will never work. You need to take that customer’s intensity and reflect that back to them. Respond with something like ‘Clearly, you’re upset and getting to the bottom of this is just as important to me as it is to you.’”

Avoid the Heat

Hot words and hot phrases shouldn’t be used, as they tend to have strong emotional meanings that customers might find insulting or inflammatory. Golden reiterated never to say “calm down.” Although it may sound logical, it feels more like a paternal relationship than one between a customer and employee. “I also recommend not using ‘no’ or ‘it’s policy.’ When it comes to difficult customers, the one thing you never want to do is to reduce their choices. They already feel hopeless on some level. If you tell them there is nothing you can do, you run the risk of escalating the situation.”

My favorite is when someone says, “you’ll have to”, added Ramsey. “The customer has already trekked through the parking lot and then when they get in the store they tell them ‘Oh, you’ll have to take that to the customer service department or you’ll have to bring the receipt in with that,’” she said. “When you say ‘you have to do something’, it really rubs the customer the wrong way. It’s better to say something like ‘Can I suggest that you take that to the customer service department?’”

You don’t have to do exactly what the customer wants. In most cases, you just have to let them know that you’re listening to them. Also don’t just listen to their complaints, but learn from them, said Golden. “The sad thing that I’ve found is that most companies don’t do anything with their complaint data,” she said. “They don’t realize they are sitting on a data goldmine. Companies should look at things like what the top 10 complaints were for the quarter, look at the reports and analyze them to figure out if they are changing based on things like the economy or the season. They can even make you aware of things like if a product recall may be brewing.”

Whatever the situation, you cannot change the way a customer thinks, so don’t even try. What you can do is change the way you think about customers and you’ll find they are not so difficult after all.

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