“It’s not us, it’s you.” For the most part, customer service representatives are discouraged from taking this approach when addressing misunderstandings with customers, particularly when the company is at fault. However, there are times when it’s the customer who’s in the wrong. What’s a customer service rep supposed to do when dealing with difficult customers? If the customer is always king or queen, then the world of commerce is a sort of monarchy. As monarchies are founded on the principle of non-reciprocity, what is the best way for reps to address a situation where the king or queen has ‘erred’?
Treat ‘Em Right, Even When They’re Wrong
According to Mckinsey, 70 per cent of commercial transactions are shaped by how a customer feels they are being treated. Here’s the thing: the customer doesn’t have to be right, in order to be treated right. So here are a couple of tips to help companies deal with difficult clients.
How? Be a ‘First Responder’: Paramedics are referred to as ‘first responders’, since they are the first to arrive at the scene of an accident. Their intervention at this stage is critical, as it can determine whether the victim will recover successfully in the long term or not. When an angry or misguided customer shows up, the employee who is assigned to them must go into First Responder mode. This involves the following:
- Listen: When faced with an irate customer who has a business complaint, the first thing to do is to ask them to share it with you. Don’t interrupt them if you can, even if you think they’re wrong. Once they have finished their tirade, politely rephrase/repeat what you just heard to ensure that you understood them correctly.
- Empathise: Acknowledge their frustration, if not the reason behind it. “Sir/Ma’m, I see that you’re frustrated and I completely empathise. My goal today is to help you sort this out.”
- Explain: Clearly state the company’s stand; for example if a customer wants to return something after the grace period, you can show them in writing your company’s returns policy. As you do this, demonstrate your concern for their feelings instead of becoming defensive.
- Resolve: In the hypothetical situation outlined above, you could offer to speak to a higher- up, to see if you can accommodate their request. Perhaps they were genuinely unaware of the returns policy (for example, if it’s included in the small print as opposed to clearly stated on the bill of sale). If the customer is still disgruntled, ask them for their input with regards to how the company could have avoided this misunderstanding to begin with. How could you have been more upfront about the company’s returns policy? There’s always room for improvement, however marginal. Even if this is not the case, you would at the very least have diffused a tense situation and demonstrated your willingness to take your customer seriously.
According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, the process of finding a new customer is 6 to 7 times more expensive than retaining an existing customer. All the more reason to treat customers—especially the difficult ones—like your allies (because they are.) Treat your consumers well, no matter the situation and they will return and tell others about your product because of their satisfaction from dealing with your customer service representative.