No one likes the confrontation posed by an irate customer, but there are some specific techniques you can use to make that interaction better and more productive. We all understand the emotions involved, after all, we have probably been an irate customer our self at one point or other.
The first thing to understand is that it is usually not personal. More often than not, the customer is upset about a situation (i.e. a call back, a bill they think is too high etc.) as opposed to an individual. That being said, there are a number of things you can do to defuse an irate customer.
- Turn off your phone or put it on silent mode. Let the customer see you do this, that will tell them that they are the priority. When talking with them, give them your full attention and make eye contact.
- Let them know you are listening by nodding your head and saying okay. Periodically, restate what they have said in order to make sure there is absolute clarity. Phrases like, “So, what you are saying is…” If you are unclear about what the customer has said, ask questions. As you are listening to the customer, write down what they are saying so that you have clear and total recall later. The very fact that you are writing things down provides the customer with assurance that you truly are listening. Let the customer finish speaking before you say anything, and focus on hearing what they are saying, and not what you want to say.
- Pay attention to body language. For example, if the customer has their arms crossed, that may indicate they are feeling defensive and are probably not listening. If they will not look at you, they are probably not open to anything you have to say. Both of these are good indicators that you need to continue to listen and ask questions. Nonverbal cues are signs about how the customer is feeling, and the skilled communicator is attuned to them.
- Don’t take a side and keep the conversation on track. Don’t go on the defensive if they voice a criticism, rather you should acknowledge their comment without agreeing or disagreeing. Ask for their suggestion on how to correct the problem. Say things like, “I understand. What are some ways you think this problem could best be solved?” Don’t let the customer rabbit trail into issues that are not germane to the conversation at hand. Ask a clarifying question to get the process back on track. For example, you could say, “A minute ago, you told me the furnace was making a loud sound. Did that stop when the blower quit running?” Keep the conversation moving along without giving the customer the feeling you are railroading them. Don’t look at your watch or phone to see what time it is. When you think the customer has told you everything they needed to, ask them if you have covered all the issues together. Stay unemotional and, needless to say, don’t say or do anything that is unprofessional.
Putting yourself in your customer’s shoes and truly listening to what they have to say is the best way to show empathy for the situation. Last of all, follow up with the customer quickly on anything you have agreed to do. Nothing will undermine your efforts like not following up. Utilizing the above suggestions is much more likely to result in positive relationships with your customers, which in turn can lead to increased business.