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Automotive Service Management Newsletter
Vol 2, No 3, May 2008

Tips for Handling Upset Customers

Handling upset customers will always be a challenge for in anyone in retail. So I want to offer some new perspectives and reminders of what needs to happen when we are confronted by an upset customer.

First, we need to know that this customer is threatened by something we did or we are doing to them so the customer goes into their "fight or flight" mode. This person is scared. This customer feels their needs are not being met, promises have not been kept, that they are being ripped off in some manner or that the staff does not care.

Think about this, we all do it. To get scared in these types of situations is a natural human response to any situation where we feel we have not been treated fairly. We try to gain control over the situation by being upset to communicate to the staff employee that I don't like what is going on and you need to change how you are treating with me. The upset can be presented in anger, making the situation personal by placing blame on the individual they are dealing with or both.

The employee dealing with the customer can either feel threatened and can attack back or can realize they are dealing with someone that needs a lot of attention, care and patience. It may not be easy because once a customer feels threatened it can be hard to gain their trust. Even after the situation is resolved, the customer may still go somewhere else with their business.

So, my goal with working with an upset customer is to find a way to take this scared person and make them feel safe so they will relax so we can get this situation handled. It is kind of like rescuing a drowning person, once they are on their back with the head above water while you pull the person into the shore, that person relaxes and lets you get them to safety.

Second, don't take it personal, the customer is mad at the situation and you are their main contact. In America, we are taught to kill the messenger, so let them vent and get it out of their system. If necessary, move them to a remote office to quiet down the person.

However, if you know that you are the main problem that caused this whole situation to explode, then apologize and assure them that you are going to get it fixed or get the customer to someone that can handle their situation to their satisfaction.

Third, never tell them you "understand" how they feel, you don't, it's not your money or situation. Many times that is only throwing gasoline on the fire. However, if you tell the customer that you agree with how they feel, that you would feel the same way if that happened to you and you don't blame them for being upset, that can go a long way to quickly help quiet down the customer so you can see how to handle the situation.

Forth, body language is critical. Maintain a concerned facial expression with good eye contact. Use a calm, tone of voice, lower it if necessary to get them to lower their voice. Listen carefully and state back your understanding of what happened and what is needed from the customer's point of view to resolve the situation. Never consider anything they request as unreasonable because you will blow them off mentally and they will see it in your face and hear it in your tone of voice. You never know what you may be able to do for them. Keep all options open.

Finally, only focus on what you can do, never stating what you can't do, especially in relation to their requests. If you choose to give them something, be careful. Many times a customer will take your good will and never return as a way to get even. Any discounts or free services should be used on the next visit, especially so you can have another chance to regain their trust.

One of the toughest things about handling upset customers is that some employees, even with training still can't handle these upset folks. They just don't have the ability and skills to take a step back, listen and handle the situation. They tend to take it personally, get confrontational or just shut down. This is also how they handle live in general.

All employees are "empowered" to facilitate the customer to a solution, even if it means connecting the customer to another person who is better equipped to handle the situation. However, if the employee is not given a plan on how to handle the situation or how to connect the customer to a solution, then that employee can complicate the issue by telling the customer there is nothing that can be done. Trust me, the customer will find someone to assist them, but the downside will be that the customer will probably never return again due to the hassle of how the situation was handled.

Remember, at least the customer is still there. They could leave without trying to resolve the situation and never return. So this is the employee's one last chance to recover a customer for future business.

© Copyright, 2008, J. Daniel Emmanuel

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