Five Strategies to Deal with Challenging Customers
The world of retail is crying out for sincere customer caring since, daily, it becomes more devoid of personalized, authentic help. While the influx of online shopping made in-person transactions a thing of the past, the human need for interaction is starting to re-emerge, and possibly never left the small business model. This brings renewed importance to make sure your interactions with customers, especially those “challenging” ones, are well-tuned.
You may have experienced that, no matter how friendly, polite, and accommodating you are, sometimes, nothing works with certain people. You watch as your unflappable customer-service cool flies out the window, leaving you momentarily wishing you were an automaton. Or had chosen another life path.
If you haven’t yet attained nirvana, taking the brunt of a customer’s demanding outbursts can be vexing. Plus, finding a perfect, compassionate solution that doesn’t compromise you or your business’s integrity can be tough.
Seemingly, some people simply can’t be appeased, but don’t let that stop you from trying. Although perplexing, make every effort to resolve their issues, leaving them glad they chose to shop an indie store. They are, after all, the signers of your paycheck!
Having a general blueprint to deal with challenging situations is a helpful springboard to a heartfelt, mutually beneficial conversation and, hopefully, a solution. Here are five strategies to help with problematic customers:
1 Be Authentically Compassionate
Customers see right through rote apologies, insincere attempts to appease, disingenuous desires to help. If a customer is upset for any reason, put yourself in their shoes and offer, sincerely, to help, making certain to keep your word. Even if the issue was something you had no control over (a late arrival; a factory defect); or was something you or an employee said or did (or didn’t say or do), most complaints are understandable, avoidable, and perhaps even reasonable. If you get sucked into their drama and get ruffled, nothing is irreparable. Track them down, if possible, and apologize, or at least calmly explain what happened. If all else fails, send a quick prayer of love and gratitude to alert the karma gods that at least you’re trying!
2 Vent it Out
More important than fixing the problem, angry customers just need someone to really hear them. A natural inclination is to want to stop someone expressing anger. Providing time and space to “let it out” may be all that’s needed to move toward resolution. Show respect without argument, finding a private place to do so to protect the peaceful vibe of your shop. Once they finish expressing, their anger is likely to quell. At that point, sincerely apologize for what they experienced — even if you disagree with what they’re feeling. Saying, compassionately, that “I understand how upsetting that must’ve been,” can allow the customer to feel heard, understood, supported and cared about.
3 Offer Explanations, Not Excuses
Most disheartened customers are willing to forgive situations when they logically understand them. “I appreciate your telling me about my employee’s disrespect. She’s going through some personal trauma, but that’s no excuse. I’ll talk with her today.” Offering to resolve the situation can make all the difference in maintaining customer loyalty.
4 Value Customer’s Needs
Nothing is more frustrating than asking a question or having a request only to hear “I don’t know,” with no offer to find out. Always be happy to help, above and beyond, so they know you (and employees) are doing whatever it takes, which, in itself, may appease them. Even the smallest thoughtful action can have a positive impact and possibly deliver a lifelong customer. Sometimes it’s worth it to bend the rules, and at times, bend over backwards for the sake of your business. And because you truly do care.
5 Say Yes Often
Use positive language that emphasizes solutions. With some creative thinking and flexibility, there are always options. Of course, it’s not always feasible to agree to every request, so learn to say no in a thoughtful, sincere way, offering a palatable alternative or compromise whenever possible. Your customers will be thrilled and feel special. Keep in mind that bending too much for a single request can perpetuate a feeling of entitlement and can morph into a worse situation later.
One final thought: Negative situations that land in your lap are gifts, opportunities to soul-search within. We all develop behaviors to cover up our “negative” qualities, but they’re still there, waiting in the shadows to be exposed. That challenging customer is your best teacher/wake-up call to address some denied mirrors. Dealing with customer complaints can be difficult, but what’s learned from these situations can determine whether they bring value to you and your business, or become destructive. Not only will these gifts of awareness strengthen your business, they may ultimately change your entire life.