Dealing with irate customers may be the most unpleasant aspect of working in sales – worse even than cold calling. Having faced enough red-faced customers blowing steam out their ears, many long-term sales professionals have reconsidered their opposition to strict gun control laws. But as John Connors and Robert Frare point out in their book Everybody Sells (Partner Selling Group, 2000), despite what they say, irate customers typically don’t really want to give you a thousand paper cuts and set you loose in a shark tank. In fact, all they want is a little understanding and to have their problems solved. To accomplish these simple goals, Connors and Frare suggest a four-step approach:
1. What’s your problem?
Begin to understand exactly what has boiled your customers’ blood by listening. Let them vent their feelings and don’t cut them short. Say, “You look upset. How can I help?” While they’re explaining, put yourself in their shoes and try to empathize with how they’re feeling. Once you feel you understand the problem, apologize and summarize what you feel are the problematic issues. Get agreement from the customers on what the problem is before you begin looking for solutions.
2. Storm your brains
Ask the customers to suggest a solution. You may have to say no, but you can always follow up by saying, “I can’t do that, but I can do this.” Make no promises you are unsure you can keep, but try to find a solution quickly – one that lets customers know they are important. Be conservative in your estimates so that when you deliver a solution the customers will not be doubly shocked and disappointed that you overpromised.
3. Fix It
Once you and the customers agree upon a proposed solution, move expeditiously. Keep them in the loop about the progress of the solution, and keep every promise you make along the way. If you do foresee any difficulties, give yourself an “out” by explaining as much as you can: “We should have this back to you by the end of business Thursday, but if it is going to take any longer I will let you know as soon as I find out.”
Once you deliver a solution you are at a critical crossroads. Follow up with customers to make sure everything went smoothly. Apologize again for any mistakes that were made. If the solution is not satisfactory, see what additionally can be done. But if they are happy, thank them for helping to solve the problem.
Every business has unhappy customers. The difference between effective and ineffective customer service lies in how you respond to those unhappy customers. Handle them poorly and you’ve got enemies for life, but handle them well and you’ll likely have customers for life.
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