How to Say No to an Unhappy Customer


How to Say No to an Unhappy Customer

I recently witnessed a service provider take a fairly loud and pointed verbal hammering from a customer. The customer wasn’t happy to hear that the faulty iron he was returning could not be replaced until next week. The service provider was putting away stock whilst saying the same thing over and over again, with little or no genuine concern, “I’m sorry but there’s nothing I can do about it”. The customer’s response was to stand his ground and say he would not leave without a new iron.

How we perceive this type of interaction can vary.

You may think…

  • • Gee, settle down Mr Customer. Who really needs a new iron that quickly?
  • • It’s never OK to raise your voice and make demands of a service provider.
  • • As a customer, sometimes raising your voice is the only way to get what you want.
  • • Their irons are faulty so I wonder how reliable the rest of the stock is?

The one thing that everyone will agree on was that the interaction made everyone involved – feel. Every interaction with customers must leave them feeling valued and respected. This interaction left everyone feeling some form of negativity. This is not how you want your customers or staff feeling.

Empathy is the key soft skill required when interacting with customers – the one’s in front of you and the one’s within eye or ear shot.

Empathy is our ability to “put ourselves in the other person’s shoes”. The first step to being truly empathetic, is to first remove your own shoes. When we do that, we stop judging others based on our perceptions of how we believe things should be. We remember that everyone is unique and that when we interact with customers, rarely will we know what is happening in their lives that could be fueling their thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

You may not be able to control how the customer chooses to communicate their thoughts and feelings, but what you can control is your response to it.

Next time a customer is less than lovely to you, remember these 3 steps:

  1. Empathy – Practise it daily. Not all customers will be right, but it’s of no value and can do great damage to your business, if you aim to prove them wrong. Empathy does not mean you agree with the situation; it means you understand how the situation is making the customer feel.
  2. Move – It’s normal to feel annoyed or overwhelmed by a customer’s difficult or demanding behaviour. If possible, move the conversation to a more private location. Some customers like an audience and some don’t, but both may feel less frustrated in a more private setting.
  3. Actively Listen – Avoid the urge to interrupt an upset customer. Let them talk it out. Think of it like letting steam out of a boiling kettle. Let the customer get rid of the built up pressure before you tell them what you can or cannot do. Telling an upset customer something they don’t want to hear is much easier on you and them, if they aren’t a red hot kettle.

It’s important to always feel safe at work so if any customers make you feel violated, threatened or abused you are well within your rights to terminate the conversation. Make sure your staff also know this and give them the steps to take both during and after the interaction.

So, back to the unhappy iron man.

He left without his iron and saying words to the effect of “never shopping there again.” The customer service provider then relived the event with his co-worker. Myself and 5 other customers could hear the conversation which included “grumpy old man” and “I don’t get paid enough to deal with this @#*!

Going by the look on the faces of the other customers when the customer service provider was sharing his story with his co-worker, I think they too will be sharing the story – but not in the favour of the business.

Good Service is treating customers how you want to be treated. Excellent Service is treating customers how they want to be treated.

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  • Tyson Franklin

    Great point Cate about service providers talking to fellow workers about a difficult customer, especially in earshot of other customers. It always looks bad for the business, even if the customer was in the wrong.

    • Cate Schreck

      Thanks for the comment Tyson 🙂

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