The Right Way to Deal With Difficult Customers and Situations - Customer Service
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The Right Way to Deal With Difficult Customers and Situations

By Christine Corelli

Article Date: 08-01-2010
Copyright(C) 2010 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.

In the heat of the moment, it’s important to keep your cool while putting out fires – and fuming tempers.

“Be sincere and true to your word, serious and careful in your actions; and you’ll get along.” - Confucius
And what “Confucius say” is smart. This is especially important when you are dealing with customers who are difficult or downright angry.
In the construction equipment distribution business, most of us think difficult customers and situations just “come with the territory.”   Whether dealing with them face-to-face or on the phone, part of your job is to display professionalism, resolve their problem, and make them happy. If you don’t, you just may lose them – something you can’t afford to do.
When dealing with difficult customers and situations, it is important to communicate in a professional, competent, and noncombative way. The following are seven methods and skills to assist you in this area.
1.)  Immediately shift into the “stay calm” mind-set.
When dealing with a difficult customer it’s easy to lose your cool, or become defensive –especially if they are angry and upset and you are under a great deal of stress yourself. If you do lose control, you will make the person even angrier and cause yourself even more stress. 
2.)  Remember what an angry person needs.
An angry customer needs to vent. Unfortunately, they may take their anger out on you and blame you for what happened even if it’s not your fault. Nevertheless, apologize, and let them have their say before you respond further.  This will leave you in a better position to calm them down.
3.)  Get comfortable with a verbal cushion
When a customer is unhappy or angry, diffuse the situation. Memorize the “verbal cushions” below so you can apply them when you need to “cushion” a customer’s anger and help you to handle the situation more effectively.

  • “I’m sorry. I apologize that this occurred, John.”
  • “I’m sorry. I don’t blame you for being upset, Mr. Smith.”
  • “Joe, I’m sorry. I can fully understand why you are angry.”
Here’s how a few of these might work in some situations you may face.  As you review them, note that each example applies the use of the person’s name.  This helps because stating the person’s name shows customers that you are concerned with them as individuals. In addition, take the advice of Confucius when speaking:“Be sincere and true to your word.”

  • “I’m sorry. I apologize that this occurred, John. We should have called you when the tech did the maintenance, found something wrong and proceeded to do the repair. I was out to lunch. He should have phoned me to let me know so I could ask your permission before we proceeded.”
  • “Joe, I’m very sorry. I don’t blame you for being upset. This will hold back your highway resurface project another day. The machine won’t be ready until tomorrow. Please accept my apology.”
  • “I can fully understand why you are angry and I’m very sorry, Mr. Smith. Your part didn’t come in yet. I have a team trying to get it from another source. If we don’t find one in the next hour, I’ll call the manufacturer.
    I appreciate your patience.”
Once you learn verbal cushions, you’ll agree that their use can cushion a customer’s anger. Keep in mind that in some situations you may have to take corrective action.
4.)  Do not judge or correct.
Regardless of the situation or problem, never judge or “correct” a customer. If they are angry with you, refrain from making any statements such as, “Didn’t you maintain the equipment as instructed?”  “Why did you let your mechanic try to fix something so complex?”
Rather, your job is to communicate with honesty and sincerity, solve their problem as fast as possible, and thank them for their patience and understanding. When you do, you will indeed have handled the situation well. In fact, studies have proven that solving problems the right way builds stronger business relationships and can even turn unhappy customers into loyal advocates.
5.)  Learn how to handle irate customers who completely lose control
What do you do when you encounter an angry customer who uses foul language? The most professional way to handle it would be to state, “Mr. Smith, I haven’t said or done anything to disrespect you in any way. Can we move on to letting me assist you?”
6.)  Admit when you’re wrong and overcompensate rather than lose a customer.
If you or someone in your organization made a mistake or did not handle a situation appropriately, say, “Please accept my apology, I was wrong.” Or, “You’re right. I apologize.” This displays good character.
Likewise, overcompensate when the situation calls for it. Here’s a real world example: A contractor purchased a new machine from a prominent equipment dealer organization whose website and marketing materials promise the highest level of service. They have developed a reputation for service excellence in the industry.
Unfortunately, the new machine went down three times in less than a year and needless to say, the contractor was very unhappy. The dealer vice president and the salesperson paid the contractor a visit. They apologized, stated that this should never have happened with any new machine, and they told him he would receive a brand new one the following week.
This was at quite an expense for the dealer and manufacturer, but it was the right thing to do. The result: That customer has made several purchases since, and has remained loyal. 
7.)  Be proactive in preventing problems from occurring
The very best way to handle difficult customers and situations is to prevent problems from occurring. Consider situations that can cause customer dissatisfaction. Then, think of ways to be proactive in preventing them from occurring. For example,

  • Know where to find every part, so you are prepared to put your hands on it when customers need it.
  • Have a team at the ready who are trained to locate parts when you can’t find them within 30 minutes.
  • Check and double check every sales or maintenance entry on every order, every day.
  • Keep your customers and sales people informed when a problem occurs.
  • Make sure every employee has a sense of urgency to service customers and each other exceptionally well.
  • If you send a tech out and they will be more than 10 minutes late, make sure he or she calls the customer to let them know.
  • If a customer is waiting for important information and you are held up, call to let them know it’s on the front burner and that you will call them the moment you have the answer.
  • Never make a promise you can’t keep.
  • Never make a customer wait a week before sending someone out.
  • Don’t assume your staff knows how to handle difficult customers and situations. Train them.
A Final Word on Difficult Customers and Situations
When it comes to dealing with difficult customers, remember this:  You can say and do everything right and still not be able to diffuse the situation. Don’t carry it over to your next customer or take it out on your team. Simply take Confucius’ advice: “…be careful in your actions.” Do your absolute best to avoid problems from occurring in the first place.

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Article Categories:  Management