Angry Customers Are No Laughing Matter

David Saxby | Oct 29, 2002

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Have you “HEARD” the joke about the angry customer?

There isn’t one. Angry customers are no joke!

How many times a day do your customer service representatives take a telephone call only to find an upset, angry or frustrated individual on the other end? Something your utility did or did not do has irritated that customer to the point of emotional distress.

The action and statements your rep makes in the first 10 to 20 seconds of that call can make the difference between losing or keeping a customer. The ones you keep, the loyal ones, will continue to do business with you. Those who leave obviously take their future business with them, but even more potentially damaging is the fallout from an unresolved conflict.

How many people does one dissatisfied customer tell about their “poor experience” and what does that equate to in terms of a financial loss? What’s the cost of employee turnover because reps can no longer stand the conflict and leave? The training you provide your reps on how to handle conflict resolution and irate customers is crucial to retaining your loyal customers and improving your bottom line.

So when in conflict with a utility, what is it that most customers want? Is it always to “get their way”? Or is it more about feeling like the utility actually listened to their concern, empathized with their position and tried to find a solution?

As humans, we have two natural instincts when confronted – fight or flight. At the most basic level, our natural tendency is to either “duke it out” or run away. How we choose to act upon our natural tendencies can vary greatly. Some choose to take the literal description while others choose some polished form of that. And your reps get to deal with all of them! We must all do our best to not personalize customers’ emotional outbursts.

Are you aware of the “HEARD” technique? This is a very simple technique to help those who deal with customer conflict.

H – Hear what your customer has to say. Let them describe the problem or reason for their emotional distress. Do not interrupt or attempt to cut them off – that, in and of itself, is rude. Give them the opportunity to express their feelings about the situation.

E – Empathize with their situation. It’s very calming to someone who is upset to hear the words “I appreciate” or “I respect.” By the same token, it’s very irritating to hear “I understand.” How can one really understand if they are not in the situation?

Train your employees to stay away from using trigger phrases such as “company policy” or “it’s a computer problem” or “we can’t do that.” Customers don’t want excuses – they want a solution to their problem! Train your reps to use appropriate phrases that help diffuse the emotion rather than escalate it.

A – Ask questions to determine what can be done to create a solution. The number one question your reps should ask is “What can we do to make this right for you?” It’s one of the simplest things you can do to understand the customer.

Most management is afraid to empower their staff with that question for fear the answer will be something ridiculous or costly. Research has proven that in most situations the customer’s suggestion for resolving the conflict is less costly than what the company would have offered as the final solution.

R – Respond with a solution to the problem. Creating a solution with the customer on their first telephone call is absolutely vital to customer retention. Research by T.A.R.P.(Technical Assistance Research Program) has shown that 90 percent of customers with a problem will continue to do business with the company if they feel the person handling their complaint is genuinely concerned with resolving the situation.

But in order for that to happen, you must first identify the conflicts your reps are most likely to encounter and then train them so they have all the possible solutions. Knowledge is power! But this knowledge will be useless unless you empower your reps to take the corrective actions. They must know what the possible solutions are as well as their level of authority to institute those solutions.

D – Deliver on the promise made to the customer. Make sure there’s a clear understanding with the customer as to what will happen and when it will happen. Restate these two items in very simple terms.

If you want to truly set yourself apart from your competition, go the extra mile and call the customer after the problem has been corrected. Ask if they are happy with the solution. Ask if there is anything else you can do for them right now. Let your customer know that you care!

People are just people. And it is our emotions that make us unique. Have you trained your reps on how to understand your customers and their needs? Do your reps understand that your customers are not all the same – and neither are their needs? Do your reps understand the bottom-line value of a satisfied customer?

Make sure your customers are being “HEARD” because if they aren’t being heard by you, they may just go find someone who will listen!

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Comments

David,

Here are a few more very important points:

1. Never say "You need to call...". Do it yourself and stay on the line until the problem is resolved.
2. If a customer must call more than once regarding an issue, don't make him talk to another CSR the second time. Design flexibility into your system that allows the customer to work with ONE person until the problem is fixed.
3. If you absolutely must place a caller on hold, check back with him at least every one minute to let him know that you are still there.
4. Keep extremely accurate records of a call so that a customer will not have to repeat his complaint every time he calls. Knowledge is, indeed, power. A CSR who knows all about the problem will get more patience from the customer.
5. Follow up. Every time! With a personal phone call. Yes, it costs money -- but its worth it in the long run to keep a satisfied customer.

Phil Smith
ABB Inc.
Houston, Texas
jphilsmith@yahoo.com

Great article. This applys not only to customers but people in general. I have come to find that a calm, reassuring voice works best at calming an irate or agitated person down.