Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dealing With An Irate Customer

image This article was written by Barry McKinley, SCORE Orange County Management Counselor

It has been said that a satisfied customer might tell three people about your company but a dissatisfied customer will tell 11 people! So for every upset customer you need to find a bunch of new ones. It is much easier and less expensive to keep and win over the irate customer.

Think of the Irate Customer like blowing up a balloon. The more pressure that is put in the balloon the bigger it gets until it finally bursts. If you don’t want that to happen, you need to find a way to release the pressure in a slow and controlled manner.

When an Irate Customer blasts us we may feel hurt, angry and dismissive. These negative feelings can short circuit communications. They exhaust our ability to process information and consider opinions. We may react defensively, but this isn’t the path to the best outcome.

Some people just aren’t reasonable. We have to accept that we cannot reach them, no matter what we do or say. They just don’t care how they affect others. These are very unhappy people and fortunately they are a small minority. The good news about these people is that those with whom they interact know their personality is what it is, and don’t place much confidence in their opinions.

Customers get upset for many reasons, but let’s focus on the most common factors. People want respect. If they don’t get it and if they feel they were lied to or devalued, watch out. Our instinctive reactions often fail us. We might calmly talk them through reasoned steps to resolution. We may stonewall or deflect their anger. Sometimes we get mad ourselves. At this point we might just as well surrender and release the balloon and let it fly everywhere with no direction!

Try dealing with the irate customer in two steps: Diffuse and Restore.

Diffuse the person’s anger by actively listening. Set aside your agenda and seek only to accurately understand and reflect on what they tell you. Ask clarifying questions. Above all, at this stage don’t offer solutions, advice, your opinion, blame or any other new information. Simply focus 100% of the conversation on their state of mind and their story. Do not move on until they confirm that you understand what they’re saying. (Be sure to eliminate any interruptions during this time and turn off your cell phone).

Restore means to give them back the respect they feel due. You’ve actually begun this in step one by actively listening which is a powerful form of respect. Now you can share new information that helps the situation, or short of that, communicates to the now not-so-angry person that you respect them by providing something of real value to them. Directing them to resources, giving helpful advice, walking them through a process, or simply and sincerely apologizing for a mistake are examples.

Treat them as you would like to be treated! Remember, they are your paycheck!