During the customer service training sessions I deliver to the staffs of small-to-medium sized businesses, we exchange war stories about handling customer complaints. Screaming, swearing, panicking, accusing, and abusing – these stories have everything.
We cut through all those negative emotions and discuss how to act constructively when receiving a complaint, no matter how escalated the customer. The overarching guideline is to “PIC Your Battles”: Patience, Importance, and Compassion. Let’s take those one at a time!
The most important tool in handling an upset or angry person is mindset. Stay calm and patient. They are not angry at you personally. They are angry at their situation. Hear them out, allowing them to vent while you stay cool and calm.
You might be thinking, “Stay cool and calm? While I’m being screamed at?” Yes, I know it’s far easier said than done, but a simple technique will help immensely. Focus on the facts (not their emotions) by taking thorough notes during the conversation – capture every last detail of what the customer’s problem is. Your concentration on that task is sure to lessen the impact of any insults or anger.
Take time to fully understand their situation by asking questions. Open-ended questions are preferred because they leave room for any answer, and this prevents the customer from feeling backed into a corner by your questions. Plus you’ll get more details, which is most helpful when a solution isn’t clear or simple.
It’s natural to want to be quiet and passive when speaking with somebody very angry. However, it’s better to maintain your energy and transition from a service-oriented energy to one of urgency. Tell them that you are going to help find some kind of solution and be very emphatic when you speak. Use this as an opportunity to educate them as this can clear up many escalated situations. Usually the anger is a result of a lack of understanding and communication.
One associate described this to me as shifting into a mode where you become an advocate. I love that word. Instead of combatting the complaint, you become an advocate to resolve the situation quickly. Play back the customer’s words by reading your notes to them, and communicate the specific steps you have committed to.
Instead of combatting the complaint, become an advocate to resolve the situation quickly.
Once the situation has been assessed, provide a sincere statement of understanding. It doesn’t have to be an apology; try to deliver an authentic statement showing that you understand their feelings and can see where they might be coming from. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes and try to show the customer that their feelings are justified. Examples:
- “Oh, no! That doesn’t sound good at all! I’m going to get to the bottom of this for you right away.”
- “I’m really sorry about that! Let me clarify some things and we can work together to find a solution.”
- “You’re absolutely right – this is not a great situation. I’m here to help you, so let me see what I can do.”
Bob Dukiet, my college basketball coach, would describe “PIC” as having the mindset of a surgeon. When a skilled surgeon encounters adversity, they don’t freak out and throw their scalpel in the air, shouting at everyone as the patient’s condition worsens. They calmly, emphatically, and quickly work to find the best solution. And so should you!
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