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PORTER: Listen, commit to unhappy customers

Unhappy customers. Everybody has them. But how do you respond to them today? What can you do to let them know that they’ve been heard? And how do you respond to angry customers before being judged quickly on social media?

There are proven tools and techniques for responding to unhappy customers today, and I want to share three tips that experts say are effective.

Listening. Empathizing with Customers. Committing to try and resolve the problem. Each of these is worth reviewing, and I’ve included a discussion of each below. You will see a difference in how your customers respond when they encounter problems with your products or services.

 

Listen

Because responding to an important customer’s problems today often means a voice-to-voice phone conversation, my first tip is to just listen.

You didn’t get to this point in the customer relationship by merely encountering a few bumps. Things are pretty serious by now and the angry customer usually has a list they

want to review. Let them get through their list. Assure them you are taking note of all of their points. Believe me, you will buy some goodwill from the customer by just listening.

In my new book, “Hire for Attitude, Train for Skills,” I include feedback on the listening trait from a top employee I interviewed named Alli. As Alli notes. listening is all about sincerity.

Alli even has a great name for sincerity, which she terms “genuosity.” Great name, and it gets to the heart of listening. Most importantly, it’s letting that unhappy customer know you mean what you say. You really do want to resolve their problem with your product or service and you’re sincere about it.

 

Empathize

As I am sure you’ve encountered, I always seem to run into that customer service representative who wants to give me a reason why I’m having a problem with their product. If I’d only use the product this way, they intone, I’d be perfectly happy.

A more effective way to get the emotional level down is to show empathy. To be sympathetic. To show some understanding.

Early in my career, I can still recall an in-house workshop I attended led by a psychologist who did research into business behaviors including unhappy customers. After revealing what he’d found out about responding to angry customers, he had us all do some role playing to improve our customer skills especially in the area of empathy.

Two phrases that resonate with customers are the following:

“You know, I can see why that would be a problem” or “if that happened to me, I’d be upset too.”

Please try these phrases — or something close to them — on the next upset customer you encounter. You will see another drop in the emotional level of the conversation. Everyone feels better having someone sympathize with them when there’s a problem.

 

 

Commitment

One of the top attitude traits I’ve uncovered in my research is accountability. Making commitments to customers is essentially about accountability. And every encounter with an angry customer should include a promise to follow up on that conversation.

Making a commitment is also about owning the problem, another facet of the accountability trait. And one story I tell in my book is about a global insurance company manager who praised a supplier for owning the problem until it was resolved. That’s customer commitment.

In this 24/7 world, we can’t magically fix every unhappy customer’s problems. But we can get engaged and listen to that customer. And we can sympathize with them and assure them we are trying to meet their expectations. Plus, we’ve taken the emotional level down a notch.

 

William Porter has published books on customer experience and employee engagement and speaks regularly at business schools. Contact him at bpwilliamaporter@gmail.com.

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