Focus: to be part of the solution, not part of the problem
None of us get it right all the time. Part of the human experience is dealing with upset or disappointed people. Sometimes this is because of a misunderstanding, or because we didn’t deliver quality service to our customers. As we are emotional beings dealing with upset, disappointed or difficult customers can be challenging. Our job is to treat each person as a human being – with dignity and respect, and to solve the problem in a calm and professional way.
Step by step process to deal with difficult customers
Step 1: Pause
Pausing allows the customer to vent their feelings. Avoid the temptation to try interrupt a customer and specifically avoid asking them to “calm down” as it is often counterproductive, specially if they have been trying to solve the problem for a while. Anything we say at this point will often only serve to increase their frustration. Angry or difficult customers want to be heard first, before we share our ideas.
Step 2: Acknowledge
Acknowledging their story and feelings is a chance for us to show empathy and to demonstrate that we are taking them seriously. See the experience from their perspective. Hopefully you got into customer service because you like people, ensure your communication demonstrates that sense of caring. Your actions at this point have a direct impact on their regard for you and your organisation.
Step 3: Clarify
Clarification helps us understand the detail, and to make sure that we fully understand the issues. This step needs to be handled with tact and patience. Asking open questions helps us clarify the details of what is wrong, and how it can be resolved. Consider explaining to the customer why you need to ask these extra questions as they may have explained this all before!
Step 4: Respond
Once you have diffused the emotion, demonstrated empathy and understanding, clarified the issue in detail, we are ready to respond. Make sure your response is positive and appropriate focused on the actions you can take – not promises that are impossible to fulfil. Don’t over promise. Follow through is essential to ensure a happy customer, if you say you’re going to do something ensure you do it. A lack of follow through will create really difficult customers and create a PR nightmare as they are likely to tell every person they see about your inefficiency.
- Action speaks louder than words. Customers have zero interest in company policy, the want to know what you can do for them. Don’t waste time telling them what you can’t do, instead explain what you can do and offer this as a choice for the customer. Under promise and over deliver. Do something immediately and follow through.
- Tone matters! Be aware of your tone, use a tone that demonstrates that you are taking the customer’s issue seriously. You may want to adjusting your tone when you are presenting the solution options to an upbeat and positive tone. Good news delivered with the wrong tone can still sound like bad news.
To manage difficult customers with ease remember to clarify what they really want vs what they ask for. The two are not always the same. Clarity leads to more contentment.
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