How to Find the “Up” in “Upset Customers”

By Malcolm Fleschner

If Dante had written about salespeople, he surely would have populated at least one circle of hell with irate customers. But unpleasant as dealing with dissatisfied customers may be, the reward of turning a client’s frown upside down makes it well worth the effort. In Everybody Sells (Partner Selling Group, 2000), authors John Connors and Robert Frare suggest a five-step plan for playing the angles on all that anger.

Nothing personal
Tough as it may be, understand that no matter what the customer says (or what names he or she calls you), the ire is most likely not personal. Customers merely want their problems solved. Restrain the impulse to yell back and focus on remaining calm and working out a solution that will placate the customer.

Listen, understand and repeat
It’s important to customers that you understand why they are unhappy. Listen attentively as if this were your best friend pouring out his or her heart to you, don’t interrupt and consider the problem from the other person’s perspective. Finally, confirm that you understand the issues involved by repeating back the customer’s concerns.

Generate solutions
Once you understand the customer’s problem, discuss possible solutions. If the customer asks for something you can’t offer, suggest an alternative by saying, “I can’t do that, but I can do this.” If anything, underpromise what you can deliver so that later you can possibly produce beyond what’s expected.

Quick fix
If you and the customer agree on a solution, explain precisely what you’re going to do and then get right on it. It’s always important to keep promises, but that’s particularly true in this situation. Keep the customer updated on your progress, and if any stumbling blocks arise, let the customer know immediately and inform them what it means for the solution.

Follow up
Once you’ve delivered on your promises, follow up to make sure the customer is pleased with the result. If not, find out if there’s anything else you can do. Also, remember to thank the customer for bringing the problem to your attention as well as for helping you come up with a solution. Position yourself correctly in the follow-up stage and you can turn once unhappy customers into your greatest source of return business.