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Calming Upset Customers | Print |  E-mail

Last month I shared with you my nightmare with an airline and how the choice of words escalated the problem.  After talking to several frontline employees in our industry I realized that perhaps we have an opportunity to provide more training on the importance of word choice when customers complain.  While most companies do provide customer service training and some offer modules on handling upset customers we could all probably use a refresher on the subject matter of communication.  Especially since this is a critical time when customers may decide whether or not to visit your store again.

It’s easy talking to customers when everything’s going well.  But the real test is when the customer has a problem.  Below are some common mistakes employees make when confronted with an upset customer.

  1. The cashier breaks eye contact with the customer, lets the customer vent and hopes the customer goes away and they won’t have to do anything.

  2. They tell the customer “it’s store policy”.  (Always a favorite to upset the customer which is another way of saying “I can’t do anything”)

  3. Give the customer an excuse or blame it on someone else. (Which is another way of saying “it’s not my fault”)

  4. The cashier refuses to say, “I apologize” or “I’m sorry”.  Naturally, since they feel they didn’t do anything wrong they shouldn’t have to apologize.  Apologizing makes them feel like they screwed up.

Communicating when confronted with an upset customer:

  1. Show empathy. Saying “I apologize” or I’m sorry” does NOT mean you did anything wrong.  For example, if a friend told you they had the flu and didn’t feel well, you might respond by saying “I’m sorry”.  However it doesn’t mean you gave them the flu; you’re merely showing empathy and the first words the customers hears and how they sound can determine his or her thoughts on whether or not they’re being satisfied.

  2. Share how you would feel. “I hate when that happens or that’s horrible”.  Show them that you would feel the same way in that circumstance.  You want to make them feel as though you’re on their side and you do understand.

  3. Thank the customer. “Thank you for bringing this my attention”.  Thanking them is a great way to begin a recovery.  Unfortunately we often get upset when the customer tells us we’re out of coffee because we’re busy and feeling stressed.  But think of all the customers that may have never said anything and just walked out without buying coffee.  So let’s thank the customer that points out these things to us.

  4. Take Responsibility. Now fix the problem or explain what you can do for them.  All the nice words are important but the real test is fixing the problem or offering a solution.  If you’re serious about keeping customers your cashiers should be empowered and have the ability to fix problems to a certain degree.  Especially since this is a critical time for your customers.  As we said this is the time when they may decide whether or not to shop at your store again.

Nobody really enjoys when customers have problems.  And our customers can be a bit demanding and tough on some of our frontline folks.  In fairness to the customer they’re buying gas, and let’s face it, no one is real excited about having to stop and get gas!  It’s an interruption in their busy day.  As a result they can often snap a little bit quicker with our employees than they might with a waiter at a nice restaurant.  So let’s give our frontline all the tools and training we can to help prepare them for these situations.

© 2009 Employee Performance Strategies Inc.
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