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Ramsey: Keeping your cool when customer gets hot

A day at work can be rewarding and satisfying, or it can be frustrating and stressful.

This time of the year as we approach the holiday season, life tends to get hectic. When things go wrong, tempers flare and people lose control.

Holding emotions in check and reacting professionally while under fire is not always easy. It is particularly difficult to be nice to people who are not being nice to you.

So what do you do to keep your cool when the customer is chewing you out?

The customer’s unhappiness may not have been caused by you. It could be that there was a problem with a product or a service delivered by someone else in your organization.

You’re getting the blame because the unhappy person found you. You just happen to be on the firing line – the person who answered the phone or the one sitting at the front desk.

When faced with angry people, there are four key steps that will help diffuse the situation.

Step 1: Apologize. “But,” you say, “it’s not my fault.” It doesn’t matter who’s to blame; apologize anyway. As a representative of your company, you have a responsibility to see that things go smoothly. Your willingness to be accountable will have a positive effect.

After all, it takes two to have an argument. If one of you refuses to be disagreeable, you can’t have a disagreement. You are not accepting blame – you are simply saying, “I’m sorry about the problem.”

You are wasting your breath unless you apologize with complete sincerity. Your tone of voice and your body language need to match your words.

Step 2: Sympathize with the irate customer. Let the person know that you identify with his feelings. Tell him that you understand the frustration of receiving a faulty product or poor service. You can appreciate why he is upset. The angry customer will feel better as soon as his reaction has been validated.

Step 3: Accept responsibility for the situation. Be accountable to the customer. Let him know that you intend to do whatever you can to make things right. You can’t help what has already happened, but you will come up with a solution to the problem or you will find the person who can.

Step 4: Take action. Decide what you can do to remedy the situation and tell the customer, i.g., “I will replace the defective or incorrect product as quickly as possible.” If the issue was poor service, deliver better service. If you can offer a bonus of some sort or waive fees, watch the tiger before you be transformed into a pussycat.

Use the acronym “ASAP” to remember these four steps for calming upset customers. Each letter stands for part of the process.

A: “Apologize.”

S: “Sympathize.”

A: “Accept responsibility.”

P: “Prepare to take action.”

Nothing will be solved if you become argumentative and reactionary; you’ll only fan the flames of the customer’s anger. Instead, diffuse the situation by being apologetic and sympathetic and by focusing on positive steps that will resolve the situation. Before you know it, your adversaries will become your allies.

 

Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her at LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs and products. More business etiquette information is available in her best-selling book Manners That Sell – Adding The Polish That Builds Profits and in Lydia

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