With the economy continuing on a downward trend, customer service and retail jobs are becoming a better option. But dealing with irate customers is not only one of the major drawbacks to such a career, but also one of the things that contributes to high turnover rates and employee dissatisfaction.
I’ve been working in customer service off and on for over a decade, and in that time, I’ve dealt with some of the best and worst examples of customers that you can find. Some of them made my day through our interactions, while others made me want to jump over the counter and beat the holy hell out of them. But through it all, I found a number of strategies that apply not only to dealing with customers, but with people in general.
- Appeal to self-interest. People like talking about themselves and what’s going on in their lives. By asking them about this through something as innocuous as “How’s your day going?” or “How are you?”, you can connect with them on a level that’s much deeper than a superficial transaction, establishing the base for a relationship and trust. This works especially well when talking with gatekeepers.
- Never apologize. When you’re dealing with someone who has a problem with your business or product, never apologize for the situation. This may sound counter-intuitive, but if you guide them through the proper procedure and arrive at a solution that gets them what they want, you won’t have to. We often use apologies to diffuse a situation when someone is emotional or agitated, but doing so relinquishes much of our power and authority. If you calmly and respectfully deal with the issue, your customer will feel just as (if not more) appreciated.
- Use incentives sparingly. Another way around the apology problem is to offer a special bonus or incentive. It works as an unspoken apology and increases customer satisfaction – let them know that you appreciate their patronage and suggestions (if an error is discovered). However, you shouldn’t give these incentives out too freely – the reason that it works in the first place is because it is seen as something special and rare; if you dilute the incentive, customers will expect them regardless of the situation and will not grant any additional fealty (or possibly will give less) to your brand.
- Always stay calm. Sometimes, people are looking for a solution that you can’t give them, and will accept no substitutes. They will refuse all other options and suggestions, and will become increasingly irrational, despite what they see or hear you do. Stand your ground, repeat the message as necessary, and don’t waver. You can’t always make exemptions, nor can you please everyone all the time. Maintain your integrity; the argumentative person will either fold or leave.
- No one is more important than anyone else. You may have friends, regulars or special clients, but there’s no reason to give them preferential treatment over others. You don’t always know the circumstances of each and every person: one could be a powerful connector and could bring in a lot of new business; one could be a critic or secret shopper; one could be a first-timer who has a lot of brand loyalty. Don’t misplace your priorities for someone who you think is important – treat everyone with respect.
- Appeal to authority when it’s your last option. Unless you have a boss who micromanages to an extreme degree, you shouldn’t have to run to them when you encounter a problem. If you take the time to think about solutions to similar problems that you encountered in the past (some may even be identical), you can quickly find a resolution that doesn’t require running to your manager for help. By taking initiative and showing that you are attentive to customer (and corporate) needs, you not only prove your value to those you’re helping, but to your company as well.
It’s easy to want to write off solutions as unsolvable or customers as bad, cranky people. But if you take the time to think out the situation and take appropriate action, you’ll achieve better results that can lead to more business, happier customers and a better work environment.