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Turning around an unsatisfied customer

It’s been many years (and a completely different business ago) since I last had a genuinely annoyed and difficult customer, and I remember some long internal conversations about how to deal with the situation. Nowadays it’s easier than ever for customers to create problems, so it’s essential that we have an idea of how to tackle such a situation if it occurs.

In Nine Tips for Dealing with Angry and Difficult Customers, author and trainer Dave Kahle delivers some good advice “to make your next confrontation easier for you, better for your company, and much more satisfying to the customer.”

To begin with, unless we were the cause of the customer’s anger, it’s important not to take it personally. If we do that, we probably won’t respond effectively. Then we need to listen, empathise and apologise. Yes, it can be difficult. Yes, the customer really may be an idiot. But we want to make the issue go away with the minimum of stress and damage. The author also goes on to advise against blaming someone, pointing out that “this emphasises that you are more concerned with yourself than you are with making things right with the customer.”

So what do we do? Always ask something about the customer, says Kahle. “By asking, you show your interest in the customer, indicate that you really do want to understand, and give the customer an opportunity to describe their situation.”

If we then need to promise to do something, this must be achievable. Even better is underpromising, opening up the chance to deliver more. Kahle says: “A little something above and beyond what you promise is a great way to say that you are sorry for the previous inconvenience, and leave the customer with a good feeling about the encounter with you and your company.”

Finally, follow up to check that things are OK. This is hard, especially if the matter has been closed with a sigh of relief. But if we’ve gone most of the way to turning an angry customer into a satisfied one, why not finish the job and turn the episode into something even more positive?