Calming Upset Customers: Part 1

A critical recurring question that all retailers deal with is how to calm and re-engage an upset customer. This problem came to my attention once again while waiting in line at a local store. What might have been an easily pacified situation escalated into a very unpleasant encounter. I asked myself how this disagreement could have been resolved without losing the continuing patronage of a valued customer.

The focus of this article is calming upset customers as opposed to difficult customers. When a reasonable person gets upset it is usually a momentary lapse. However, a difficult person has a constant need for attention and uses disruptive means to achieve that end.

Kevin Houston, Crest Cleaners ~ Cocoa, FL, observes, “the most effective key to calming an upset customer is to listen. Once you have given them time to vent, I like to let them know I understand why they are upset and apologize for the issue. At that point, we need to provide a solution or present them with another option. I know this is short and simple but it works well in our business.”

A recent survey showed that customers stop buying from a particular business for the following reasons:

1% death of customer

3% moved away

5% no longer needs the service provided

9 % prefers the competition

14% product dissatisfaction

68% because an employee was inattentive, or discourteous

A supermarket survey reported that over a 12-month period, 1 out of 5 customers switched grocery stores. The main reason given was their treatment by the employee at the check-out counter.

Lauren Houston, Crest Cleaners ~ Cocoa, FL, suggests the following: “I believe listening to the customer’s concerns is very important. Coming to a mutual agreement on a solution is critical. The most important part is making sure that whatever solution you come up with has a genuine possibility of satisfying the customer. Most importantly, follow up, follow up, follow up! If you are able to get the customer to return, making sure the next visit is a positive one is huge.”

It is important to note that we want our customers to offer constructive criticism. That is how we can learn to do a better job. The last thing we want is for a customer to leave and take their business elsewhere. A customer who complains and receives a prompt answer is more likely to continue using your services. By receiving complaints courteously and responding effectively, we can insure customer loyalty.

Dave Coyle, In The Bag Cleaners ~ Wichita, KS, points out, “God gave us two ears and one mouth. When solving a problem, we make sure to use our ears and mouth in the same ratio. We work to authorize our front-line Customer Service Reps (CSR) to make things right with the client within boundaries. My entire management team carries cell phones. That way if the upset client needs to talk to someone on the management team they are readily available. The client then perceives their importance while achieving immediate satisfaction.”

Some commonly understood reasons that customers get upset are: their expectations are not met; the customer was in fact upset at someone or something else; someone at your company made a promise that was not kept; an employee argued with the customer; too much time was spent on the phone trying to resolve the problem; the integrity or honesty of the customer was being challenged.

Responses needed by upset customer from the organization include: the need to be taken seriously; being treated with respect; issues addressed in a timely manner; arranging compensation and/or restitution; the employee to be reprimanded if necessary; insuring that our response demonstrates that the customer has been listened to respectfully; everything will be done to insure that the problem won’t be repeated.

Ron Garrett, MW Cleaners ~ Houston, TX, offers, “When a customer makes a complaint, it is essentially a statement about unmet expectations. At MW Cleaners, the priority is to create customers who will be loyal for life. It is important to view a complaint as an opportunity to turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal customer, regardless of the circumstances. It is not a matter of who’s right, but what’s right for the customer. Research shows that, if a customer’s problems are solved to their satisfaction immediately, their loyalty to MW Cleaners will increase – they will be even more loyal than if the problem had never existed. Therefore, successfully handling a complaint is a sales-building activity. As we strive to create loyal customers and build sales, it is important to keep in mind these words of wisdom: ‘It is always easier to keep a customer than to replace one.’ A simple but effective way to deal with a disappointed customer is to use the L.E.A.P. model. The steps of L.E.A.P. are Listen, Empathize, Apologize and Provide a solution. We find this to be very straightforward and effective. Every CSR, in each store, is trained to apply these steps if a customer has a complaint or wants to provide feedback. Other customers may be watching to see how we handle the situation and will judge MW Cleaners by the CSR’s actions. How the CSR responds could affect the perception of the company by other customers – for positive or negative.”

Ron Garrett continued by sharing the methodology of MW Cleaner’s L.E.A.P. method on how to deal with customer concerns:

LISTEN to the Customer

• Never interrupt. Be patient. Let the customer say all they have to say. The longer you listen, without talking, the more relaxed the customer will become and the more credibility you will earn.

• Focus on the content of what the customer is saying, not how he or she is saying it.

• Show respect for the customer by maintaining appropriate eye contact, staying engaged and replying with proper responses, such as, “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am.”

• Listen with “three ears” – listen not only for what the customer is saying verbally, but also non verbally. Body language may tell you more than the customer’s actually words.

• Maintain a calm tone of voice. Even if the customer raises his or her voice, you do not need to raise yours.

• Listen for the customer’s expectations of how he/she would like to see the matter resolved. Most of the time, the customer will tell you.

• Clarify any points you do not understand. Use appropriate phrases such as, “So that I completely understand, let me repeat this back to you” or “Please forgive me, but would you mind explaining that for me again?”

EMPATHIZE with the Customer

• The definition of empathize is to understand and experience the feelings of another.

• Let the customer know that you understand and are sensitive to their feelings.

• Project a concerned and empathetic tone of voice. The customer needs to feel you understand the problem and you are going to solve it.

APOLOGIZE to the Customer

• An apology is not about who is right or who is wrong. A sincere apology lets your customers know you care that they were disappointed. Until customers feel your sincerity, they may remain defensive.

• Even if your company is not at fault, it’s OK to apologize. An apology will help to calm a customer who is very upset and re-establish trust.

• Avoid attitudes or gestures that could anger the customer or make the entire situation worse, such as arguing, rationalizing, defending, rolling your eyes, or folding your arms in front of you.

• Convey the message that your company will be working hard to prevent other problems like this in the future.

• Be courteous and caring, but make the apology and move on to problem-solving.

PROVIDE a Solution

• Focus on what the solution is, not why the problem happened. The customer wants a solution now, not excuses.

• Let the customer know you are personally going to ensure the problem is solved immediately (specifying a course of action if possible).

• If you cannot personally solve the problem, find someone who can.

• Stay engaged. Put aside other tasks, making the customer your current focus.

• Remain courteous and apologetic.

• Offer a solution and make sure the customer feels completely satisfied with it. You don’t want to waste your efforts by having the customer leave dissatisfied.

• If you are not sure of a solution that would be satisfactory, ask for the customer’s preference.

Stay tuned for Calming Upset Customers: Part 2 in next month’s issue. Included will be more commentary from Tuchman Advisory Group members.

About Ellen Tuchman Rothmann

Ellen Rothmann has 30 years of experience in sales and marketing and utilizes these skills to support and facilitate seminars for Tuchman Advisory Group (TAG). Prior to her role with TAG, she was VP of Operations for Richard Wolffer’s Auctions that specialized in sports and entertainment memorabilia. As an Account Manager for K101 – a San Francisco Bay Area radio station – she worked with small businesses to build unique and profitable advertising and promotional campaigns for her clients. Growing up in the dry cleaning business, Ellen worked in numerous capacities at Tuchman Cleaners. She also held sales positions at Apparelmaster and Tuchman Cleaner’s Home Carpet and Drapery businesses. Rothmann earned her B.A. in Marketing from Indiana University. She lives in San Francisco with her husband John, they have two sons For more information contact Ellen Tuchman Rothmann, President, Tuchman Advisory Group. e-mail: ellenrothmann@yahoo.com