Business bureau offers tips for handling unruly customers
April 29, 2001
Occasionally, every business has to deal with an unruly customer; it’s part of doing business. No matter how carefully you explain your position, there is one customer in a thousand who will misunderstand and take great offense.
When you are facing an unruly customer, try to maintain a clear mental difference between you and your role. Keep in mind that the complaint is not made against you personally, but rather against the policy, the product, or the service the customer has received. If you make the issue a personal one, you will become emotionally involved and that is not productive.
Remain calm. If you continue to maintain a reasonable demeanor and a relatively quiet tone, an argumentative person will often tone down accordingly. People tend to modulate their tone in kind. Remember, just because the customer is upset, does not mean that he is either wrong or right. It can sometimes be a challenge to wade through the emotional message and get to the basic issue, but until you find the core of the problem, you can’t resolve it.
Consider taking loud or verbally abusive customers into an office or other enclosure that offers privacy where he or she can vent without disturbing other customers or employees. Once the customer is calm, you can begin to decide what can be done about the problem. Sometimes you can ease a complainant by making a comment like, “I understand,” or “If that had happened to me, I would be upset too,” or even simply “What can I do to help?” You are not necessarily agreeing with their position, only with their right to be angry or upset.
Throw the ball in the customer’s court. Ask them what they would like to have done to resolve the problem. Your willingness to listen to what they want will make you appear cooperative and helpful, even if you ultimately cannot meet their expectations. Repeat what you believe the customer has said to be sure that you are able to clearly represent their case with no misunderstandings.
Don’t make promises you can’t keep. While you are discussing a possible resolution, remember not to make promises you are not prepared or authorized to keep. Nothing is worse than not delivering on a promise designed to resolve a complaint. You can spend hours rebuilding a customer’s trust, then lose the effort by not returning a phone call or not having a delivery truck show up on time. And, if you ever have to break a promise, let the customer know as soon as possible and be prepared to offer an alternative that will still resolve the problem.
To avoid confusion, have a clear understanding of what you have agreed upon with the customer. Reviewing the conversation gives both of you a chance to correct any misunderstanding and confirm what the other expects. If possible, try to have some form of record signed by both of you detailing the final resolution and giving closure to the conflict.