How to Manage Awkward Conversations With Clients

Jaimy Ford by Jaimy Ford on August 1, 2013
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Social media makes it possible for customers to share their opinions of your business with just a few keystrokes, and people are more likely to rant about negative experiences than rave about positive ones.

As a small-business owner, you are especially vulnerable to bad publicity. And when a disgruntled customer lights up Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter with complaints about your products or services, you can’t afford to handle the situation poorly.

Fortunately, the most uncomfortable interactions with customers may prove to be your greatest opportunities for building customer loyalty. Here’s what to say in a few common — albeit totally awkward — situations.

When a Customer’s Credit Card Doesn’t Clear

Having a card declined can be very embarrassing to the customer, especially if other people are within earshot. Casually — and quietly, if others are present — say, “I’m not sure why, but our system declined your card. You may want to contact your provider to check on it. What other form of payment would you like to use?”

This response suggests that you don’t doubt a customer’s ability to pay and that the problem must be with the card. If they don’t have another form of payment, say: “I’ll hold your items. When you resolve the issue with your provider, we’ll complete your purchase.”

If you have already provided a service, for example, a meal in your restaurant, the situation can be a bit trickier. If the customer is a regular whom you trust, you could say, “I know you are good for it. Just bring us the money later.” If you are uncomfortable with that, say, “This kind of thing happens. I’ll just need to hold onto a form of I.D. until you can come back and pay.” People who intended to pay will be fine with that. As a last resort, if the customer can’t pay and refuses to leave identification, you may need to contact the police. While you want to provide great customer service, you can’t let people take advantage of you. 

When a Customer’s Check Bounces

Sometimes the issue is with the bank, not the customer. Save a little hassle and customer embarrassment by running the check a second time.

If that doesn’t work, call the customer via phone to politely say, “I’m calling to let you know that our bank returned your check #1003, dated July 20, 2013, in the amount of $188.73. Do you want to pay your balance by credit card now?” If the person can’t pay at that time, say, “Please send us a payment in the form of cash or cashier’s check within one week from today so that we can clear up your account.”

If you refrain from saying “Your check bounced” or “Your check didn’t clear,” you will be less likely to draw a defensive reaction.

When a Discount Isn’t Available

Politely explain why you can’t accept a coupon or offer a discount — and try to provide an alternative solution. Some examples:

“We can’t cut the price on that product because we have already deeply discounted it. However, I do have a similar product that is priced lower. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the more expensive one has, but I’ve received great feedback on it.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t accept this coupon because it expired last month. We do have a sale on a similar product if you would like to consider that brand instead.”

When a Customer Is Irate About Poor Service

Whatever the circumstances may be, when a customer is furious, you need to minimize the damage. Repair the relationship by calmly saying: “I’m sorry that you had a bad experience. What can I do to restore your faith in our ability to provide you with outstanding service?”

If the customer’s requests are reasonable, meet them. If not, explain what you can do for the person, instead of focusing on what you can’t do. Conclude with, “I will ensure that you receive only the best service going forward.” Then make sure you fulfill your promise.

Jaimy Ford

Jaimy Ford is a business writer and editor. She writes subscription newsletters, training tools and blogs that focus on professional development, leadership, productivity and more. Her goal in everything she writes is to provide actionable advice that you can put to use immediately.

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