Train Your Employees in the 4 C's for Handling Irate Customers
Business owners and employees alike face special challenges when it comes to dealing with customers who are unhappy with your service, your products, your lack of attention, or a myriad of other things. How you handle those customers can have a direct impact on your business. If you don’t handle customers well, they will leave you.
Their patronage (and their money) become even more important when you remember that it will cost you 10 times more to attract new customers than it will to retain the ones you already have. Losing customers because of an inability to resolve their complaints means you are backsliding in the number of customers who do business with you – and in present and future revenue (in addition to the high cost of attracting new customers).
It is imperative to train employees to deal with irate customers. When confronted by complaining customers, employees must exhibit what I call the four C’s:
To deal successfully with customer complaints, employees must take the following steps:
- Listen carefully. Let customers tell their stories; make eye contact as they do so. Pay attention to what they have to say. Sometimes that is all an irate customer really wants: someone to show interest in what they have experienced and what they need.
- Put yourself in the customer’s place. Be empathetic. How would you feel if you had experienced a similar problem? When you put yourself in the customer’s shoes you can better understand their state of mind, what they might be willing to accept, and what you can do to turn the encounter around.
- Ask questions. When you do this, it lets customers know that you care about them and their problems. Asking questions builds a dialogue you can build on. Questions should be open-ended, not ones that can be answered with a simple “Yes” or “No.” This has a calming effect on customers and reduces the chance of the situation escalating. (As a side note, this also works when you are dealing with an unhappy boss, co-worker, spouse, family member, or friend.)
- Suggest alternatives. As you are asking questions, you can begin to formulate suggestions that will address the customer’s concerns. If the customer rejects a suggestion, don’t defend it. Instead, offer other steps you can take to remedy the situation. This gives customers a choice and lets them know you sincerely care about their problem.
- Apologize. Say you’re sorry. Own the problem, even if you weren’t directly responsible for it. This puts you in a good position to act in a manner that customers will perceive to be in their best interest. Saying “I’m sorry” carries a lot of weight in difficult situations because it illustrates your ownership of the problem and will help you to move past the emotion of the moment and on to practical solutions.
- Solve the problem. Use everything you have learned during your conversation with the customer to solve their problem quickly and efficiently. At this point, you want to see the situation resolved as much (if not more!) than the customer does.
- Take care of yourself. Once you have solved the customer’s problem, it’s time for you and your employee take care of yourselves. Dealing with an irate customer is stressful. Decompress by taking a break or going for a short walk to clear your head – and train your employees to do the same.
Then congratulate yourself for a job well done!
John Tschohl is a professional speaker, trainer, and consultant. He is president and founder of Service Quality Institute, with operations in more than 40 countries. He is considered one of the foremost authorities on service strategy, success, empowerment, and customer service. His monthly strategic newsletter is available online at no charge. He also can be reached on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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