Have you ever noticed that no matter how hard you try to please and provide good customer service, there are people who seem determined to be difficult? These people get downright cranky or out-and-out angry. Trying to soothe an irate customer is challenging, especially when so many people feel entitled to act as rude as they possibly can.
Let me suggest a process that I learned from a fellow speaker, Judy Hoffman, the author of Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat: Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis. She also produced an audio program, “Dealing with Angry People,” where she outlines a method for “taking the heat.” She uses the acronym “HEAT” for handling troublesome encounters and diffusing tense situations.
H stands for “Hear.” That one thing we seldom do. We don’t hear because we fail to listen. Some people are hard of hearing; others are hard of listening. We don’t pay attention to what the customer is saying because we are either too busy thinking of what we are going to say next or because we assume that we know what the problem is before hearing the person out.
Listen. Don’t interrupt. Let the person finish the tirade before you jump in. You’ll be amazed at what you can hear when you keep your mouth shut.
E is for “Empathize.” The dictionary definition of “empathy” is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Let your customers know that you understand how they feel and why. Recently I was with friends at a local restaurant. We had reservations, but the table we had requested was not available and would not be for some time. Even though we all behaved like polite adults, the hostess took the initiative to say that she wouldn’t blame us if we had gotten upset. She acknowledged that she herself would have been unhappy. Good call on her part.
A is for “Apologize.” Offer an apology even if the problem is not your fault. It is easier for some people to say they are sorry than it is for others. Don’t pull a third-grader and try to blame someone else. Often all the angry person wants is to hear the words, “I’m sorry.” Taking the high road and apologizing, even when you didn’t do it, can calm even the most irate customer.
T is for “Taking action.” Once you’ve heard the person out, empathized with the situation, offered an apology, let your customer know what you will do about the situation and do it. Even if your action is to take the issue to a higher level for resolution or compensation, act without delay and let the customer know how you are handling the problem.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to remain angry or have an argument with someone who won’t fight back. If you resist the urge to become defensive and confrontational, your unhappy customer will soon lose steam and begin to calm down. Your cool headedness can diffuse a hot situation when you remember to “take the heat.”
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.