Some people can be horrible to deal with. You are trying to be helpful, respectful, and patient but the more you try to appease them the more unpleasant they become. I once had a customer literally shout and chastise me over a staff incident for about an hour until she wore herself out and finally accepted my offer that I would investigate the incident and pass it onto senior management to be dealt with. I can see her face now, and it sends me to an energy draining place that leaves me deflated and beaten up. Have you experienced something like this?
Customer satisfaction is becoming harder and harder and to deliver. The contemporary customer has never been so empowered and informed, while the competitive climate of almost all industries has also elevated. Add in the time poor nature of many clientele, and it is pressure cooker that occasionally boils over and leaves us on the receiving end of some harsh critiques to put it politely. In my experience, this comes with the territory of running a business, no matter what your industry is. There are a few practical ways to turn such negative exchanges into a positive. Here are my top tips:
- Diffuse. Anger, irritation, sadness, despair… these are all strong emotions, and no matter how right or wrong you are, there is no talking to someone when they are over-ridden by these feelings. To best deal with this we need to find every bit of empathy we can muster. Seeing through the bile being spat out at you and being patient isn’t always easy, but it is an essential step to turning the situation into a positive one. Diffusing the exchange is key and using the AQUA tool is a good place to start:
A – Acknowledge – it will only elevate the problem if we dismiss the complaint.
Q – Question – showing empathy and using a few questions to get the person talking about facts is already starting to diffuse the emotion and will get the person speaking rationally.
U – Understand – show understanding by using caring body language, lots of eye contact, and simply be the authentic person you are. See yourself as a friend rather than a representative of your business. At the end of the day, you are on the same team.
A – Action – be clear and direct with what is going to happen next. Follow it up personally and instil confidence in the customer by doing what you said you would do.
- Side-by-Side. A lot of the time the real problem is forgotten and the abuse can start to be directed towards you. This is not good, nor is it productive for the customer. A great way to change the dynamic is to stand or sit next to the customer rather than directly across from them. The attention needs to be directed at the problem, both conversationally and physically. Using your notepad or the product in question, you can start to write and point to the problem and keep referring to it. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the customer is directing their energy at the problem instead of you. In fact, at times it may give you a chance to join in and direct your own emotion at the problem too! All of the sudden, everyone is working on the problem together and collaborating rather than fighting.
- Getting the complaint is a good thing. According to the retail professionals at the Australian Retailers Association HQ, Australian businesses lose 13% in sales per year due to customer dis-satisfaction. That is a huge number. Imagine the positive impact on our revenues if we avoided even half of these loses. How can we make an impact on these losses if people keep the problems to themselves and simply do not come back to shop with us? Seriously, what can we do? Absolutely nothing. By that stage, the horse has well and truly bolted. We must have ways of intervening before this and getting the truth from our patrons. Feedback forms, Net Promoter Score Surveys, Suggestion Boxes, Follow-up e-mails/phone calls/text messages are all methods to get this info. There are many many more, but my advice is to use the most personal process available to you. If you deliver a service that runs over an extended time, then be sure to check in as often as you can while being appropriate. Getting the complaint is a huge win. You can do something about it and turn things around.
- Better than getting it right in the first place. I have had a few situations as a customer where I have lodged a complaint and the way it was addressed either killed the brand off for me forever (i.e. I never went back), or it turned me into an even bigger follower than I was before. Sounds mad, but every complaint is an opportunity to create some of your best long term customers. As we discussed before, complaints are usually laden with emotion. It is all about how we feel as a valued consumer. When a complaint is received the first thought must be – how do I WOW this person? I want my complainee (is that a word!?!) to feel that they are the most valued person in the world. I want them to think that my brand is full of wonderful caring people that really do care. Now, I know, this is tough, but if you are prepared with tools, processes, and actions ready to go, then it becomes a lot easier to nail. It is also viable, because you have crunched the numbers on what resources you can afford to use over a quarter or year. No matter what, you want these customers to be raving about how special you made them feel when talking to their friends over a coffee or glass of wine.
- Be willing to fire clients. Some people are terrible to deal with and always will be. It’s not that they are terrible people, they are just not our sort of people. They don’t get us, and we don’t get them. This is ok. The reason why this is an asset is that we can draw the conclusion that this is now one less person to throw resources into. We can now concentrate on the customers that we love and that love us. I would always rather have 500 diehard fans than 10,000 marginally interested ones. We must sometimes understand that subtraction is better than addition for our client base. When we receive certain complaints, or repeated problems with an individual customer then this is a flag to fire them and move on with serving those that you love.