Simmer Down

By Adriana Puckett

Your product or service is top-notch, your customer service is stellar and the orders are rolling in. But sooner or later, it’s going to happen…a customer feels slighted, dwells on the imaginary or real infraction and builds up enough steam to resemble a pressure cooker. How are you going to handle this irate customer without losing his business – and your cool?

First, says Roger Dawson, author of Secrets of Power Negotiating for Salespeople: Inside Secrets from a Master Negotiator (Career Press, 1999), let the person vent (hopefully in a closed office). Then follow Dawson’s three-step strategy:

1. What’s on your list
In hostage situations, the first thing the police ask the terrorist is, “What do you want?” Dawson says, “Do this even when you’re sure that you won’t like what you’re about to hear.” Besides, you may be surprised; the customer’s demands may not be that outrageous after all.

2. Magnifying glass ready?
Here is where your honed questioning skills come into play. Do not make assumptions or jump to conclusions, but play detective and sniff out every possible detail about what happened. “The more you probe for information, the more things will come to the service that affect the negotiations,” says Dawson. In other words, the more you know, the better position you are in to negotiate.

3. Let’s make a deal
Now you have to honestly evaluate what you can or should concede to the customer. But this doesn’t have to break the bank or bend the rules. Dawson says, “In a hostage situation, for example, the perpetrator may be willing to release six hostages in return for a chicken sandwich and a bottle of beer. Similarly, that angry buyer may be willing to overlook a serious problem in return for your personal assurance that it will never happen again.”