How can I turn an angry customer into a loyal customer?

I do not deal well with confrontation. My first instinct when I get a customer complaint is to ignore it and let them go. (Terrible approach, I know!) This is something I need to work on, and the best way for me to do this is to face our angriest customers. We just launched and have had our ups and downs. Instead of letting those customers go, I want to turn their experience around. What's the best way to approach them and change their mind? Thank you!

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20

Becca the good thing is that you know this is an issue for you. I do agree that for you, facing your angriest customers (and thus your fear) is a good way to go. However I suggest you do not do this with the goal of changing their minds. Rather I suggest you approach them in hopes of understanding their frustration, anger, etc. By approaching them with genuine concern you not only stand a chance of remedying the situation but also of recognizing first hand that conflict is also an opportunity. Go for it!

This is an opportunity to practice active listening skills which means asking relevant "what" questions: What did we do wrong? What could we do better? What would it feel like if we implemented your recommendations? Avoid asking the "why" and "how" questions which are often interpreted as evaluator. In the end, you must give them something that will make them feel good about your company and hope that they will refer rather than trash what you are trying to create. Best, RP

Spot on Richard.

13

When you are not comfortable when dealing with irate customers and try to avoid it then it is natural to dislike problems. When you learn to turn those unhappy customers into one of your biggest fans you might find you actually enjoy it. Some of our biggest advocates are guys who at one time were calling us everything under the sun.

When we get an unhappy customer we listen to them, empathize with them, admit our mistake and give them a sincere apology. We tell them how much the feedback helps us to improve and that even though we wish they didn't have a problem we are glad they took the time to tell us about it. We then do whatever it takes to fix the problem. Sometimes it is pretty expensive but it is far less expensive than having an unhappy customer or a customer suing you.

I did a trade show a couple of weeks ago and as I was talking to a potential customer another guy came up behind him, tapped him on the shoulder and told my prospect that if he is thinking about the kind of product we have he should buy it from us. He then added he had a problem when he bought from us and we bent over backwards to take care of it and that our customer service is fantastic. He then added once we fixed the problem our equipment worked great. Someone who has had a problem that was handled well will be your biggest fan,

10

Hi Becca

We do a lot of work with handling conflict effectively. Conflict is inherently about situations where you and another person are not on the same page. What makes it tricky for us as people is usually the emotions that go along with it. It is not unusual to avoid confrontation (we all fall into one of 5 categories, avoid, accommodate, compete, compromise or collaborate -for more information you can check out the Thomas Kilmann Conflict Model). The trick is to know where you start naturally (it sounds like you are an avoider) and start working towards being able to get to 'collaborate' with anyone in any situation.

To get to the point where conflict is easier for you (it may never be comfortable but we can make it easier to handle) there are two things to work on:

1. the skills of constructive dialogue (how do you diffuse anger and raise issues in a way that doesn't negatively impact someone or escalate an already tense situation) ,

and

2. your mental view of conflict and anger , which frankly, can be harder to tackle. Those of us that avoid or accommodate in conflict situations tend to imagine scenarios and have 'conversations with ourselves' like "this is going to be awful" or something like that. To be effective you need to work past whatever mental barrier you have to having the conversation in the first place.

In your case, it sounds like you have a good start point - you recognize the very good reasons for handling any conflict with customers, which will give you a reason to stick with it. I would start paying attention to the things you say to yourself when confronted by an angry customer so you can learn to shut those comments off.

Now we have to make handling irate or unhappy people less difficult for you so that the benefits of having the conversation outweigh the discomfort you feel having them.

Here are my top 5 tips:

1. Find a positive saying that works. When you get a complaint, you need to stop whatever is going on in your head in the first place. Picking a positive focus point can help e..g. " I am going to make this person a champion" or simply "I can do this". It will be better if the saying directly speaks to whatever drives your reason to avoid conflict . I'd need to understand more about you to help with that, but hopefully thats clear. It may sound 'fluffy' or 'mumbo jumbo' but I promise you, when you find the right phrase, it works.

2. Identify emotion as a sign of importance, not about you. All emotions are,good or bad, are signs that something is really important to someone. Think of them as indicators of how much this person really wants to share and wants help. The more angry I am, the more I need someone to help me resolve my problem. Its not anger AT YOU. Even if it might feel that way. You have the power to make someone's day when they are that irate...3. Label, empathize and offer to help. Labelling emotions helps us and, more importantly others, start to manage their emotions. So saying " I can see how frustrated you are" flags to that person that they are coming across as frustrated, and they (normally) start to come down a few notches. If you can add " I am sorry that you are so frustrated, let's see how I can help" can take it down a notch further.



4. Listen and explore. In my opinion it is rare that you can't do ANYTHING to help someone. The important part is to listen enough and explore enough to find out HOW you can help. Plus, the act of listening usually allows the person to vent, and talk through the emotion until they can get to a better place. Be aware though, it takes some people longer to vent than others! Focus on just understanding what they are trying to tell you. What is the issue? Why do they feel as strongly? You can empathize without affirming - "That does sound challenging" " I can understand how you must have been upset by that". None of those comments put the issue anywhere, they are just part of listening. Play back the issues as you understand them so that they feel heard.

5. Do what you can to help. Sometimes there isn't much you can do, but be clear about what you can. If you can't do more, explain why. Again, without specific scenarios here its hard to share suggestions, but for my business, if something we have done has caused frustration, I want to do something to set that right, even if I can't change the original issue. Don't get defensive about why something happened, that doesn't really matter. Your focus is on, 'how can I help this person walk away feeling better in a way that doesn't compromise my needs either'.

Ok, so thats really long! lol but its hard to capture the training we do in a short reply! If you want to give me call, please do. In any case, good luck and I applaud you tackling something difficult for you!

Best wishes
Jess

8

There must be something that trigger the angry customers. I would not what to change the angry customers but I would rather want to know what is the next best step to be taken to handle the angry scene. It is when the atmosphere becomes cooler, than it we can investigate where goes wrong and what to be improved as customers may not always wrong, therefore instead of changing their mind, we find ways to improve.

Easy to say than done, but keep a cool mind is a great start!

If customers got angry for nothing and we can expect their will keep doing the same, than we may consider not to serve them as the costs of serving them will be much higher.

If everything turns out to be misunderstanding, there is a chance to bring customers closer to us as resolving a misunderstanding normally will improve a relationship.

8

Becca, the angriest customers are usually more hurt than angry, so it helps to approach them as if they are an animal or child in severe distress.

So what you do is first make contact with them.

For the first 2 - 3 minutes, all YOU need to do is listen and ask questions -- in fact, during the first few sentences of the conversation, doing anything other than listening and asking questions designed to elicit more of THEIR story will only aggravate the conflict.

The purpose of this is not just to find out what exactly happened, but to ensure that the angry customer feels that their complaint has been heard. As soon as they feel that someone is actively listening to them and is "on their side", the anger subsides a good deal, and they are able to move on toward working out a mutually beneficial solution.

So, the most important thing you can do is to hear and acknowledge their anger.

You don't have to solve the problem for them instantly and on the spot - although about 80% of the time, you can and do apply an easy fix that sees everyone going away happy.

For that next 18%, it is harder work - you actually have to go investigate whatever process boondoggle has gotten them so upset and come up with two things: a fix for the situation so that it doesn't occur again, and a resolution that the customer can take away happily.

For one or two percent of the total complaints that you will ever get, there may not be a workable resolution that you can apply for that customer: in those cases, you are going to have an unhappy former customer out there, and you need to find a way using your policies and your upfront customer info to gently educate your buyers. These ones are the hardest work -- they generally require a lot more effort and complex development than the other 98 or 99%.

Thinking of angry customers in this way and approaching them in this way will ease the path for you, and ultimately, for your products and services. Your "job" isn't to solve everyone's problems as soon as or before they tell you what their problem is. YOUR job is to hear their problem and give it fair consideration -- after you've done that, you can move on to how and if you can propose a workable resolution.

8

Becca,
Dealing with angry or disappointed customers is no fun. Many business owners either take your approach or try to convince the customer that they are really right and the customer is confused. Another bad approach!

Here's the best approach I've seen. Make a sincere apology first. Own your mistake. Then, if you are not certain of what happened, ask them to tell you. Or, if you know what happened, ask them what they would like to see as a remedy. In both cases, yuou need to listen without interupting them. Remember, they will be charged with emotion so let the emotion go by and concentrate on what they are saying.

Finally, fix the problem or do whatever is possible to get close to their request. Do this becasue its the right thing to do, not becasue you think they will continue to do business with you. Sometimes, they won't. Usually, it will take some time for their emotions to cool off. After the solution is provided, contact them in 3-5 days to find out how things went. Thank them for originally deciding to do business with you and restate your apology briefly. Don't run on about it. Tell them you would be happy to have them as a continued customer but understand that it's they decision.

In 2-3 weeks, send them a certificate for something in your store. Depending on your business, this may or may not be feasible.

Rebounding from customer disappointment is not easy. It takes 3 times as much effort to fix the problem as it does to gain them as a customer in the first place. Learn from the situation and commit yourself to fixing the problem. You could even send them a note 30 days later and thank them for bringing the problem to your attention.

7

There's winning and then there's winning. I've had people walk away unhappy, worked to fix it and had them still be unhappy. However, years later, they remember the effort to make it right more clearly than they remember the problem.
For example: I had a client who agreed to my rates because he was up against the wall. The second I finished, the pressure was off and he thought he could re-negotiate. I made him a deal. He could pay me the lesser rate, and not call me again, or he could pay the full amount and have a reliable person for the next disaster. He was surprised that I didn't fight. He paid me the lesser amount and we shook hands. He didn't call me again for years. When he finally did, he paid my full rate and told me that he wasn't going to make the same mistake again.
Instead of fighting for what I was due, or giving up, I put the choices on the table. I let him decide. That's why he eventually came back. I've made a lot of money with him since then. We have lunch occasionally. I've spent time talking to his friends.

I like this as well. Sometimes all it takes is trying to make an effort to right a wrong. I like how you handled that client.

7

Hi Becca
Firstly, congratulations on facing what many people want to move away from. And there is a lot of evidence that a customer with a problem will tell a lot of other potential customers, BUT a customer with a problem that is dealt with well will tell many more about how good you are, and that creates loyalty.

So here's a few steps:
1. Let go of blame (on yourself or your customer); what (if anything) went wrong is for you and your team to review, not for discussion with the customer
2. Perception is everything; whether or not you think they got bad service, THEY think they did, so the truth in their world is that there is a problem; accept their view of the world (however unrealistic) and start from there
3. Take time to listen to their complaint (most customers will tell you this goes a long way to building a trusting relationship); do not defend; we call this separating person and problem, just get the facts and how they feel about it.
4. Establish a resolution; sometimes it's right to ask the customer (often just listening and accepting will be enough) what would put it right for them, sometimes we need to make a small gesture, other times the action is obvious, ie replacing an item post free.
5. do whatever it takes (within reason) to redress the complaint. An apology (even if don't think they deserve one) is sometimes enough; there's no room for pride in customer relationships
6.Follow up to ensure satisfaction
7. go back and review the complaints with your team, and think of them as opportunities to improve your systems, service etc. Think of complaints as a form of feedback, a market survey that was free!

Sometimes explaining that eg you're just starting and therefore there's a learning curve, will help with some customers, but mostly people aren't interested in your problems, only their own, so only mention this if you feel it will help. Even if you do, still apologise and seek to redress the situation.

If you need to call and open a conversation with an angry customer, start by acknowledging their position ("I know you weren't happy with...and we'd like to put it right...")

If you pick up a call from an angry customer, stay calm, and start with "Yes, I can understand that that is...", then seek resolution.

Most important in this is your frame of mind - it's not a personal attack, it's someone's views of their experience in their world, and you can decide what you do with it.

Would love to hear how you get on

Best wishes
Anne

This is the real answer - every business should have a complaints policy that turns a complaint from a subjective matter into an objective one. Being able to face a customer with understanding by genuinely listening to them and asking them what they want you to do about it is really important. Write things down and confirm actions required and then make sure you follow up within and agreed time frame. Once solved - always go back to the client to make sure they are happy, and to thank them for taking the time to help you and your business get better at doing the things customers expect.

Great response Anne.

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