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"Let them be the grump, you be the ray of sunshine that is taking care of their problem. Be pleasant. Their problem may be insignificant to you or may appear to be irrational, but it is serious to your customers.

Respect that concern and behave accordingly. My words to you are simple: The customer is not always right—but they are always the customer..." Borck Henderson 

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by Borck Henderson

Dealing with Unhappy Customer

Why is this an opportunity and not a headache?
Here's why: irritate one customer and they'll tell a hundred people about their bad experience, but deal with them correctly and they will become a loyal and happy customer.

That's why it is so important to maintain warm positive relations with your customers—after all, they're handing you money every month—treat them and their money with the respect they deserve.

They may be upset because of billing charges they weren't expecting, or the product or service wasn't what they were expecting, or delivery was later than promised, or they misunderstood your procedures and practices, or sometimes it is a genuine error on your part, and there are also times when it is simply a figment of the customers imagination.

Whichever it is, how you and your staff deal with the situation will make the difference between a loyal and satisfied customer, and a customer who leaves you for the competition.
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The absolute first thing
to remember in dealing with a customer's complaint is to listen. Don't interrupt, just let them talk. We all want to think that people are paying attention to our needs, so pay attention and let them talk their frustrations out.

Often, just letting them vent their frustrations is enough to defuse an angry customer. Sometimes, if you let them talk and explain their frustration, they end up actually switching sides and start defending you.

Ask questions.
Questions help you
get to the real problem and not just the one they called you with. There are times, when dealing with intricate or complicated matters, that the customer's frustration is more with themselves for not understanding what's going on than it is with you.

By asking questions you accomplish two things:
(1) you are able to clarify the areas of concern, and insure that you are both talking about the same thing, and

(2) you demonstrate that you care about the customer and the problem.

Validate their frustrations.
Let them know that you understand why they are frustrated, and that you care about eliminating their frustration.

Don't ever try to make excuses. Always acknowledge how upsetting the situation can be and assure your customers that you want to provide them relief as quickly as possible.


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Seek resolution.
Ask them how
they would like the situation resolved. They may not want what you think they want. Yes, it is true that sometimes what they want is unrealistic, but try to accommodate their desires as much as possible.

Doing a little extra to resolve the situation will go a long way towards satisfying the customer and winning their continued support.

Pause before speaking.
Always pause before
you respond, that pause indicates that you are thinking about what they have said and that you are formulating an appropriate response, not just rattling off some stock answer that you tell everyone.

In reality, you may be responding with a stock answer, but the customer needs to feel that the answer was unique and special for them. They need—and deserve—to be treated like an individual and not some number.

Don't pass the buck.
Whoever gets the irate customer
first should have as much authority as possible to resolve customer disputes.

No one wants to be on hold while you "talk with your supervisor," or "see what you can do," or be passed around. Let their first point of contact be their last, no matter how far down the chain of command that person might be.

Handling and resolving customer complaints should be one of the first things any new employee learns. If you can't trust your employees to make intelligent and sensitive decisions then why did you hire them in the first place?

Act quickly.
No one wants to wait hours or even days for some sort of resolution. When you make the customer wait, you are adding to the frustration and the problem, not resolving it.



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And finally, smile.
Let them be the grump, you be the ray of sunshine that is taking care of their problem. Be pleasant.

Their problem may be insignificant to you or may appear to be irrational, but it is serious to your customers. Respect that concern and behave accordingly.

Now, in defense of those who have had the totally irrational customer complaint:
I understand you completely. Sometimes the customer is completely and irrevocably wrong, and no amount of special treatment or consideration is due them.

Unfortunately, there are those who—even after having reality explained to them—want you to give them some sort of credit on their account, and may even throw out the old saying, "The customer is always right."

At this point you have two choices.
First, you can give in and give them some sort of credit or adjustment to their bill, but I fear that no matter what you do, you will never be able to make them happy.

Second, you can decide that no matter how much this customer is paying you, it simply isn't worth the grief and hassle of putting up with this much hostility, and stop doing business with them.

My words to you are simple:
The customer is not always right—but
they are always the customer.


Dealing with the Unhappy Customer by Brock Henderson [February 22, 2002]  Copyright, 2002, INT Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from