Discover the Cure for Cranky Customers.
By Alan Fairweather
Monday, 19th November 2012
When was the last time you had to deal with a cranky customer? It was probably an external customer but perhaps it was an internal customer, such as a member of your team, a colleague or even – your boss!.

I'm sure you always want to provide extraordinary service to both your internal and external customers. However, in the real world, things go wrong and mistakes are made.

These ‘customers' will often judge your level of service based on how you respond to a mistake. Do it well, and they'll probably forgive you and possibly say positive things about your business or your abilities to other people.

The important thing to realize when dealing with a cranky customer, be they internal or external, is that you must – deal with their feelings, then deal with their problem.

Upset customers are liable to have strong feelings when you, your product or service lets them down and they'll probably want to ‘dump' these feeling on you.

You don't deal with their feelings by concentrating on solving the problem, it takes more.

Here are 10 action ideas that deal with the cranky customers' human needs:

1 – Don't let them get to you

We often allow the customer's attitude to irritate or annoy us. This becomes obvious to them through our tone of voice and our body language. This only fuels a difficult situation. Stay out of it emotionally and concentrate on listening non-defensively and actively. Customers may make disparaging and emotional remarks – don't rise to the bait.

2 – Listen – listen – listen

Look and sound like you're listening. – When face-to-face you need to look interested, nod your head and keep good eye contact. Over the ‘phone – you need to make the occasional "Uh Hu – I See"

If the customer senses that you care and that you're interested in their problem, then they're likely to become more reasonable.

If appropriate, write down the facts. This again shows that you're listening and that you will do something about it.
Another useful listening technique is to paraphrase; to repeat back the problem to ensure your understanding, and let the customer know that you are listening.

3 – Use names

A persons name is one of the warmest sounds they hear. It says that you have recognized them as an individual. It is important not to overdo it as it may come across as patronizing to the customer. Make sure they know your name and that you'll take ownership for the problem. DON'T blame someone or something else.

4. Watch out for the customer's ego:
  • Don't interrupt
  • Don't argue
  • Don't jump in with solutions
  • Allow them to let off steam
  • Don't say, "Calm down"
5. See it from the customer's point of view

Too often we think that they're making too much fuss. We think – ‘What's the big deal; I'll fix it right away.' It is a big deal for the customer and they want you to appreciate it. You don't necessarily need to agree with them; however it's important to accept that it's a problem for them.

6. Be very aware of your body language and tone of voice

We often exacerbate a situation without realizing it. Our tone of voice and our body language can often contradict what we're saying. We may be saying ‘sorry' however our tone and our body language may be communicating our frustration and annoyance. People listen with their eyes and will set greater credence on how you say something rather than what you say.

It's also important to use a warm tone of voice when dealing with a cranky customer. This doesn't mean being ‘nicey-nicey' or behaving in a non-assertive manner.

4Hoteliers Image Library7. Words to avoid

There are certain "trigger" words that cause customers to become crankier, especially in emotionally charged situations and they should be avoided. These include:
  • Have to – as in – ‘You'll have to speak to the sales department yourself'
  • I can't or you can't – as in – ‘I can't do anything about that' or ‘You can't do that'
  • I'll try – as in – ‘I'll try and speak to finance department today'
  • But – as in – ‘I agree with what you're saying but……..'
  • Sorry – as in – ‘I'm sorry ‘bout that'
Instead of the words ‘Have to' which are very controlling type words, why not try – ‘Are you willing to…' or just a straight ‘Will you….'

‘Can't,' can be replaced with – ‘I'm unable to because….'

‘I'll try,' which is pretty wishy-washy, can be replaced with something more honest – ‘This is what I can do' or ‘This is what I'm unable to do'

‘But' is a word that contradicts what was said before it, replace it with – ‘And' or ‘However' (which is a soft ‘but')

Instead of saying ‘but' you could leave it out altogether. For example; instead of – ‘I agree with what you're saying but I can't help you' use – ‘I agree with what you're saying. The reason I'm unable to help you is……'

Sorry is an overused word, everyone says it when something goes wrong and it's lost its value. How often have you heard – ‘Sorry about that, give me the details and I'll sort this out for you.' Far better to say ‘I apologise for ……' And if you really need to use the sorry word, make sure to include it as part of a full sentence. ‘I'm sorry you haven't received that information as promised Mr Smith.' (It's also good practise to use the customers name in a difficult situation).

8 - Empathize

Using empathy is an effective way to deal with the customers feelings. Empathy isn't about agreement, only acceptance of what the customer is saying and feeling. Basically the message is – ‘I understand how you feel.'
Obviously this has to be a genuine response, the customer will realise if you're insincere and they'll feel patronised.

Examples of empathy responses would be – ‘I can understand that you're angry,' or ‘I see what you mean.'
Again, these responses need to be genuine.

9 – Build rapport

Sometimes it's useful to add another phrase to the empathy response, including yourself in the picture. – ‘I can understand how you feel, I don't like it either when I'm kept waiting.' This has the effect of getting on the customer's side and builds rapport.

Some customer service people get concerned with this response as they believe it'll lead to – ‘Why don't you do something about it then.' The majority of people won't respond this way if they realise that you're a reasonable and caring person.

If they do, then continue empathising and tell the customer what you'll do about the situation. ‘I'll report this to my manager' or ‘I'll do my best to ensure it doesn't happen in the future.'

10. Under promise – over deliver

Whatever you say to resolve a situation, don't make a rod for your own back. We are often tempted in a difficult situation to make promises that are difficult to keep.

We say things like – ‘I'll get this sorted this afternoon and phone you back.' It may be difficult to get it sorted ‘this afternoon'. It is far better to say – ‘I'll get this sorted by tomorrow lunchtime.' Then phone them back that afternoon or early the next morning and they'll think you're great.

Make no mistake about it; customers, be they internal or external, are primarily driven by their emotions. It's therefore important to use human responses in any interaction particularly when a customer is cranky, upset or angry.

If customers like you and feel that you care, then they're more likely to accept what you say and forgive your mistakes.

Alan Fairweather, "The Motivation Doctor," is an International Speaker, Best Selling Author and Sales Growth Expert. He will reveal how to – motivate your customers, motivate your team and motivate yourself!

For the past seventeen years, he's been developing the talents of Managers, Sales and Customer Service people, and turning them into consistent top performers.

Alan is a specialist in the Banking, Financial Services, Retail, Real Estate, Telecommunications, and Hospitality Industries. His inspirational and  entertaining, seminars are delivered in the UK, Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

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