Sensitivity in Dealing with Customers
“I am everyday people.”
Sly and the Family Stone
Customer service professionals will inevitably interact with customers who provide specific kinds of challenges. Becoming sensitive to the types of customers you will deal with and developing strategies for specific customer situations will make those difficult customer situations less challenging. This module offers examples of the types of challenging customers that you will face, along with specific approaches that can make those interactions not only less challenging, but more rewarding as well.
Customers who are Angry
Dealing with a customer who is angry requires patience and the utmost care in managing your own mood. An angry customer can discombobulate you or arouse your own anger. Here are some steps you can take when handling an angry customer:
- Don’t take it personally. Whatever reason the customer has for being angry, it probably did not involve you personally. You can own the problem, as well as the solution, without owning the blame for the situation.
- Beware of your own auto-defense mechanisms. Defensive thoughts such as I won’t be treated this way or if I don’t stand up to this person, I will fail tend to engage when you feel under attack. Remember that these types of thoughts often display distorted thinking patterns.
- Remain calm. Take deep breaths to relax and slow your own arousal levels.
- No matter how outrageous your customer’s ranting may seem, look for and note any kernels of truth in their statements. Listen actively and ask questions when appropriate to understand the real problem.
- Use a moment of silence to allow your customer to finish venting and to allow yourself to regroup
- Once you respond, express agreement with your customer about any of the truth you noted. Express empathy and offer an apology for their experience (this allows you to apologise without expressing any wrongdoing or accepting blame), and express willingness to find a solution.
Customers who are Rude
A customer who is rude to you can make it very difficult for you to do your job. Rude and abusive comments can be discombobulating. In addition to implementing the suggestions above for handling an angry customer, you may have to take additional steps to handle customers who are rude and abusive to you. Here are some suggestions:
- Remember that your role as a customer service representative is to act as a partner with the customer in resolving the customer’s issue. This helps to keep you in the Adult mode in the transaction even when the other person is operating in the Child mode.
- When a customer is being directly abusive towards you, it may become necessary to remind the customer that personal attacks aren’t helpful towards resolving the situation. However, this must be done delicately. When you point out such behaviour to the customer, make sure that you do so from a place of calm and optimism. You could remind the customer that you are dedicated to helping them resolve their issue.
- Consult with your company or supervisor regarding business policies towards customers making personal attacks. Many companies have a “three strikes, you’re out” policy. However, keep in mind that taking a step such as this may escalate the issue rather than de-escalate the issue. Applying a “three strikes, you’re out” approach must be used sparingly and with careful consideration of your immediate goal of helping customers resolve their issues.
- If you find yourself in a position where you must warn a customer about abusive language, try to do so without snapping or being curt yourself. Rather than de-escalating, snapping at a customer can put them on the defensive and encourage escalating behaviours.
Customers who Cannot be Satisfied
There are times when you will have to interact with a customer who won’t be satisfied no matter what you do. It may be impossible to find a resolution that customers who have this mindset are happy with. Nevertheless, you still must try. As with any other type of challenging customer, your first step is to remain calm and function in the Adult mode throughout the transaction. Here are some additional strategies:
- Ask the customer directly what a successful resolution would look like to them. They may or may not be able to articulate this. If what they require is something beyond your capability, you should be up front about this. For example, a customer may not be satisfied unless they receive a full year of your product at no cost. Most likely, from your position as a customer service representative, this is something you would not be able to authorise.
- If you begin to feel frustrated remember what the real problem is. Sometimes, reframing the problem may point to a viable solution that you had not previously considered.
- Offer a range of solutions that are within your purview. If they want something that you can’t deliver, offer alternatives that you can deliver.
- Occasionally what a customer is looking for in terms of resolution is something you cannot do, but your supervisor can. However, you should try to exhaust all possibilities and refrain from suggesting a supervisor as an ad hoc solution. If the customer requests a supervisor, follow your company’s policies regarding escalation procedures, but try to exhaust all possible alternatives within your power.
Eddie stormed into the car parts shop and stopped in front of Daniel, a sales associate. Eddie was red-faced and when Daniel asked how he could help Eddie, Eddie replied, “You better believe you’re going to help me. I’ve been back to the shop three times to buy this same part, and you idiots keep selling me the wrong part!”
Daniel apologised for Eddie’s experience, and Eddie replied, “Yeah, well I’m sorry all you’re all a bunch of incompetent idiots. You going to help me or are you another incompetent?”
Daniel took a deep breath, paused for a second, and then looked Eddie in the eye and smiled. Daniel said, “Well, Eddie, you’re in luck because they discontinued our incompetency training sessions before I started working here, so I’m sure we can get it right.”
Daniel’s smile and joke made Eddie smile for a second, and then he said, “A wise guy, huh? Well, just fix my problem.”
Daniel asked Eddie what vehicle he had, then re-examined the part Eddie was returning. Daniel realised that the part had been put in the wrong place, so that all the parts hanging there were the wrong ones. “Let me find the right part in the back,” Daniel said, and then found the correct part and brought it out. He compared the part with the other one and confirmed that he was giving Eddie the correct part. “If you have the car in the carpark, I can come with you and make certain that this is the right part.”
Eddie agreed and they went out to the carpark to test the new part.