Turn Angry Customers
The first step to conquering customer complaints is to create an environment that will allow you to work through the problem with the customer, not against the customer. This is extremely important.
When customers complain, the natural reaction is to match their attitude or defend our position. The most important skill we can learn is to disconnect from the attack, criticism, dissatisfaction or anger. It is critical to remember that a complaining customer is a customer who wants to be impressed. Customers will stay with you longer when problems are solved. Loyalty comes when you prove your commitment to customer satisfaction even when things go bad. The reverse is also true. If we don't effectively address the problem and we don't show sincere empathy to the customer when things go wrong, we will lose that customer forever.
The biggest mistake we make is defending our position. Don't defend your position! This approach will not solve the problem.
Another common mistake is to assume the customer is taking advantage of you or the company. When we think this, we unconsciously treat the customer as if they have done something wrong. This alone will ruin any chance of creating a positive outcome.
Ask Questions and Listen
The best way to avoid defending yourself is to follow step two, which is ask questions. Repeat back what the customer says, keep breathing, keep calm and acknowledge the issues. Use such statements as, "Sure, I see what you're saying," or "I understand." When the opportunity presents itself, make sure the customer hears you say, "I can see how difficult this is for you," or "I would feel the same way if I were in your shoes."
There is a difference between empathy and sympathy. Empathy is sharing and understanding another person's emotions and feelings. It basically involves "putting yourself in someone else's shoes."
Comments such as, "I understand how you feel," are extremely powerful. Customers want and need service reps to identify with their position. You don't have to apologize; just offer understanding. If you have indeed been wrong, make every effort to let the customer know you are sorry and also take accountability for the situation. If you did nothing wrong, it is wise to still take full responsibility; however, you do not need to apologize or to assume guilt for the situation.
There is power in empathy. Put yourself in the customer's shoes and ask yourself how you would like to be dealt with if you were in their situation. Empathy allows you to relate to them, deal with them - not against them - to solve the problem. This is the first step to disarm their anger.
Avoid These Words and Phrases
Appropriate verbal communication is one of the most important elements in solving complaints. Even if you have empathized, you may not diffuse the situation because of the words you choose.
Never use phrases like, "It's our policy," "I can't," "I'm not allowed," or "But...," such as, "That's true, but..." Working with difficult customers is usually more about what you don't say than what you do say. It may be your policy, but when the customer hears this, they perceive that you won't help them. You may not be allowed or able to do what they want, but when you say, "I'm not allowed," you are essentially saying I won't help you. Instead, tell customers what you can do and avoid saying things you can't do. For instance, you will get much further in solving complaints if you say, "What I can do for you is..." or "here are some options available..." or "Let's see what we can do to make this work for you."
Keep a positive and helpful attitude throughout the entire discussion. An optimistic approach will pacify much of the anger and will help you feel much better in the process.
These steps can transform the outcome next time you encounter a difficult customer. Remember these customers are the exception, not the rule. Unfortunately, most employees will remember the last worst customer experience they had even after hundreds of moderate to great experiences.
Remember to listen, acknowledge the details the customer explains, restate what you hear, show empathy, provide options and stay positive! When you resolve an angry customer's concern, you build loyalty that lasts for years.
Jason Wells is the CEO of ContactPoint. Founded in 2001, ContactPoint provides sales and service training approved for credit by the Automotive Management Institute (AMI). ContactPoint's Mentor system provides training, call recording, call scoring, coaching and analytics designed to increase sales-close ratios. For more information on ContactPoint, visit www.contactpointsolutions.com.
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