Responding to Nightmare Customers

January 26, 2011

A recent NPR article about a good Samaritan taking his mugger out to dinner got us thinking about angry customers.

Yeah, the correlation might not be immediate, but check this out. Julio Diaz, a social worker, was recently mugged in the Bronx. After being robbed, Diaz offered his assailant, a teenager, his jacket and ended up buying him dinner at the local diner – WTF? You’re telling us that after being robbed at knifepoint, Diaz decided to be charitable in the extreme to his attacker, what gives?

Well it’s kind of like this – Diaz obviously had a social-good reason for doing what he did (he’s a social worker with a philanthropic bent), but his knee-jerk reaction got us thinking. Being nice to everyone, even your nastiest customer, is a good policy to follow. As Diaz himself said in the interview:

I figure, you know, if you treat people right, you can only hope that they treat you right. It’s as simple as it gets in this complicated world

The fact is, while we’d not go so far to say that we should all be finding muggers to go out and practice being nice with, from a psychological perspective, treating even angry people the right way creates a win-win situation.

The key and the really important thing to remember is that there is a base psychology for the angriest of customers. Often, counter to intuition, it’s not that they want a “fix” to their problem. It’s simply that the person at the other end wants to be heard, they want to have their emotional state acknowledged – the very reason that I’d contend the Groupon million ticket milestone is actually a good thing.

So, we’re not saying you should give your jacket to the next mugger you meet. But next time you’ve got an angry customer on he line, think about Julio Diaz, and consider the background to the call, you might just defuse a situation and make the world a better place.

Here are some strategies to get angry customers around to your way of thinking from the folks over at Customer Service Zone:

  1. Speak in a friendly manner. Do not speak in a monotone [voice] or in a way that implies that you are uninterested.
  2. When possible use the customer’s name as soon as possible and also introduce yourself if that fits the situation.
  3. Greet the person properly. Don’t look up from your paper work and say, “Yes?” or “Next.” That makes you look like part of a machine. Try, “Good morning, Mr. Smith.”
  4. Listen carefully. Show the customer you are listening by paraphrasing what was said back to the customer. This shows your interest and concern. A common error made by people is that they don’t allow the customer to finish.
  5. Don’t use the “P” word. The P word is “POLICY.” Many times an employee will explain that it is against “our policy to do” what the client wants. This infuriates many people. Even if the request is against your policy, find other words to say it. Rather than simply quoting policy, explain the purpose of the policy (eg. “Sir, we need to make sure that you are dealt with fairly and others are too.”).
  6. Never say “I only work here” or “I’m only following rules.” Again this makes you into a non-person. It may be true that you don’t make the rules, but try saying it this way: “Sir, the regulations are made by [whoever]. Perhaps you might want to talk to [so and so] and indicate that you feel the regulations are unfair. Would you like the phone number?”

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