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Handling unruly customers Featured

10:48am EDT October 23, 2001
No one likes to do it, but if you know how, the job can be less painful.

Occasionally, every business has to deal with an unruly customer. It is part of doing business.

No matter how carefully you explain your position, there is one customer in 1,000 who will misunderstand and take great offense.

If your establishment is facing an unruly customer, try to maintain a clear mental difference between you and your role. Keep in mind that the complaint is not made against you personally, but rather against the policy, the product or the service the customer has received.

If you make the issue a personal one, you will become emotionally involved. That is not productive.

Try to remain calm. If you continue to maintain a reasonable demeanor and a relatively quiet tone, an argumentative person will sometimes tone down accordingly. People tend to modulate their tone in kind.

Remember, just because the customer is upset does not mean he or she is wrong. It can sometimes be a challenge to wade through the emotional message and get to the basic issues. Until you find the core of the problem, you cannot resolve it.

Consider taking loud or verbally abusive customers into an office or other enclosure that offers privacy where he or she can vent without disturbing other customers or employees. Once the customer is calm, then decide what can be done about the problem.

Sometimes it helps to agree a little. Saying, "I understand," or "If that had happened to me, I would be upset, too," or even simply, "What can I do to help?" doesn't mean you are necessarily agreeing with the complainant's position -- only with his or her right to be angry.

Throw the ball into the customer's court. Ask what can be done to resolve the problem. Your willingness to listen to what your customer wants will make you appear cooperative and helpful, even if you ultimately cannot meet his or her expectations. While you are discussing a possible resolution, remember not to make promises you are not prepared to keep.

Nothing is worse than not delivering on a promise designed to resolve a complaint. You can spend hours rebuilding a customer's trust, then lose the effort by not returning a phone call or not having a delivery truck show up on time. And if you have to break a promise, let the customer know as soon as possible. Be prepared to offer an alternative that will still resolve the problem.

To avoid confusion, have a clear understanding of what you have agreed upon with the customer. Reviewing the conversation gives both of you a chance to correct any misunderstanding and confirm what the other expects. Source: Council of Better Business Bureaus Inc., (703) 276-0100