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Inc.com columnist Justin Bariso answers questions about how to handle workplace and management problems using emotional intelligence. (Note: Some names have been changed.)
A reader asks:
How do you deal with angry or irate customers, and/or prevent others from getting angry in the first place?
· A product they are waiting for is not ready in time due to factors outside of our control (being short-staffed, extremely busy)
· How to deal with customer that is being unreasonable
· How to best promote a product (required by the company) without coming across as pushy
Thanks in advance for your help.
Customer Service Representative
Great questions. The key to using emotional intelligence when dealing with customers is to utilize the following qualities:
Transparency: People know when you’re avoiding their question or giving them the runaround. And they hate it.
So, be as honest and direct as you can. At the same time, try to give them something positive to take away: a discount, a giveaway, or at least some hope.
Empathy: Before responding, put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Strive to relate, not to their problem, but to their feelings.
In other words, you could care less about a customer’s specific problem. But when’s the last time you desperately needed something and it didn’t arrive? Or you paid for an expensive product and it didn’t work as advertised?
Now, think: What could someone say or do that would help you feel better about the situation? How would you want them to speak to you? Use the answers to those questions to inform what you say and do.
Now, to address your specific situations:
Situation 1: The product they’re waiting for is not ready in time due to factors outside of our control (being short-staffed, extremely busy).
Try this: Be direct, and relate to their feelings. You can say something like: “I understand your frustration; I would be frustrated too.”
Be transparent as to when the product will actually be ready–don’t make false promises. If you don’t know, or if more time is needed, suggest they call back, or offer to take their contact information so you can provide an update as soon as possible.
Finally, provide something positive to assuage them–a discount off a future product, a freebie, etc.
Situation 2: How to deal with a customer that’s being unreasonable.
Try this: This is one of the most challenging scenarios, and one you have to think through to define your strategy.
When I have an unreasonable customer, I have no problem encouraging them to do business elsewhere (again, after making reasonable attempts to satisfy them). The investment of time and emotional resources are often not worth trying to satisfy such a person. Better to lose one out of 50 customers–especially if that customer is taking 10 times the time and effort to deal with.
In contrast, if 10 (or more) out of 50 customers have problems, then they’re likely not being unreasonable. In that case, you probably have an issue with the product, service, or terms your company is offering.
Situation 3: How to best promote a product (required by the company) without coming across as pushy.
Try this: Focus on discovering the needs of the customer, and be as helpful as possible. Do whatever you can to actually solve their problems and fill their needs. If this product solves a specific need, your helpfulness will often move them to purchase it.
And if it doesn’t fill a need, you’ve established trust and goodwill. So they’ll be more willing to buy something else, or come back to your company in the future.
In my experience of managing department stores for 26 years, I always enjoyed the challenge of turning an angry customer into an advocate. Even though that inner confrontational voice wants to spar with an angry customer, anger only fuels more anger. Also, to prevent your associates from also fueling the customer’s anger they need to learn from your approach. It’s a matter of “do as I say and as I do”.
In the mystery shopping world we are sometimes asked by clients if our mystery shoppers could be more confrontational, to evaluate how associates handle the situation. That approach can quickly turn a mystery shopping program into a “gotcha” program. Give us a call, we’re here to help.
BY JUSTIN BARISO AND CARL PHILLIPS